Fear of disillusion; a point to poetry

I felt a moment’s temptation to try and go see Mary Oliver. But what if she’s a twit? It was rather upsetting when I went to hear Margaret Atwood, though we’re all ambivalent about her these days for being a snotwad about science fiction some of the time, I still have my admirations… and she was cool, but came off as oddly stuckup for someone who is so boasty about growing up in the backwoods.

Anyway I have this nightmare-universe vision suddenly of Oliver being so eastcoast and upperclass that I will want to scream no matter how much i like her poetry. It’s so unfair to say this; I know nothing about her!

Considering imitations. People who try to write like Oliver, they bother me more than people who try to write like Ginsberg. Why is that? Certain literary styles that are good in the original but when the emulators spring up, it makes it all seem cheap.

And I imitate her too including the yuppie moments of aetheticization and thoreau-like musing combined and the neat little wrap-up at the end. Sometimes I write that kind of poem and then I’m disgusted with myself. And then i know someone will publish it somewhere because it is easy to grok. It’s simple and digestible. And then I feel dirty, a lowdown rotten dirty liar, because my moment of aestheticizing nature is essentially false given the way I live, in an urban/suburban environment, so that it’s like this blinder-vision where I’m staring as if hypnotized at a tree or an acorn or a star, when all around me are streets and houses, bags of cheetos, paperclips, trashcans, dinner tables, people going to work. If I were actually living out in the woods like Thoreau it would seem more intellectually honest to write about the tree like it were the most important thing in my world. (Though I read all about how Thoreau’s mom or aunt or someone would come and clean his house and bring him his dinner so he could loll about the trails gazing at groundhogs — so he’s rather bogus himself.)

This is not at all a new thought for me; I became obsessed with it when I was about 16 and I set out to try to aestheticize everything and ended up with a lot of that sort of poetry that exalts paperclips and trashcans to positions of tawdry glory. At that age I was filled with a lot of wild determinations like, “I’m going to combine Art and Science in a way heretofore never seen in the history of the entire world!

And later I tried to feel a spiritual & poetic bond while musing on the nature of the artificial, the spirit of manufactured objects and mass production. I can get in that mode where an empty milk carton is a tragic miracle! The effort required to make it, its moldedness, its nearly severed connection with the things used to make it and with people. But central nature-y things come up, or one is just too conditioned to go around “feeling poetic” when the moon is up, or when gazing at the ocean with no pressure to go anywhere, and the moon and stars become poetic archetypes, part of a pantheon of symbology, and the trashcans, paperclips, urbanness, etc. are harder to internalize. And then one doubts completely whether the aestheticization of everything is a good idea at all! If we accept that poetic musing as part of the process of art or the point of art, then we’re lost to poltitical awareness.

So, back to the small precious illusions about other poets: Part of the reason I can believe in Marge Piercy’s poems is that I believe in the picture of her I have constructed, that she spends a lot of time in her garden, that she has a huge real-life commitment to composting her lettuce beds. I imagine her recycling everything, and wearing only all-cotton tunic-dresses made by non-sweatshop labor, and you know, the salty Cape Cod wind blowing in her hair. And it kinda ruins it when I imagine her going to K-mart and buying some socks, tampax, and a bag of cheetos and going home to eat the cheetos, grumpily pop some Midol, and watch Tivo-ed episode of “Cops” until she falls asleep in front of the TV, even though surely that or its Marge Piercy equivalent must happen. How unfair that my romantic myth of the poet should interfere with the poetry itself! And that the poetry should construct this unrealistic wind-blown portrait of the poet! Is that really necessary? I don’t think it’s right!

At poetry readings, part of what we like about them as poets — I’m thinking of Waverley Writers here, or some other small “page poet” readings around the Bay Area — is that we see evidence of other people who seem like regular cheeto-consuming people, confessing to those moments of tender aestheticization, of romanticizing some aspect of the world. And that makes them vulnerable, I think, and we mutually recognize the vulnerability of “being like that” and walking around in a sort of fog where we attach our attention to some object– or situation –and stuff all this meaning into it. We’re a little embarrassed. And yet we love it – and admire it when other people do it, no matter how it may seem to the rest of the world like pointless navel-gazing wankery.

Poetry readings and what they mean

When you read a book of poems, you know that someone else has likely read that book, so on one level you become a member of a community of people who have read it and developed a response to it. But you don’t have much awareness of that community. Your membership is not active or visible.

For an example of readerly membership, consider old-fashioned library cards. When I was in grade school, I’d check a book out by signing my name on a lined index card that was in the front of the book. The librarian would take the card and date stamp it. I could see on the card in the book a list of everyone else who had read the book before me. I could make myself known to them, and I’d be known as a reader of that book by anyone who read it after me or who had the impulse to look at the card. In this way I became aware of other kids who shared my reading tastes, my interests; as meta-information one level removed I became aware that two or three other kids in the school read as much and as widely as I did.

A poetry reading or spoken word event creates a visible literary community. The sharing of information is visible. You know who’s heard what you’ve heard. Even if you don’t say anything, by attending the event you become engaged in public discourse, or potentially engaged.

In blogging communities, the visibility of readership creates strong reading communities. For example, I feel a kinship of shared knowledge with someone who has been a regular commenter on a blog that we both read. I can see not only that they read it, and not only the tenor of their responses, but a glimpse of their level of engagement with the text. I may not know their own blog or their work, but I have a textual relationship with that fellow commenter.

Wanting a lot of people to come to your reading goes way beyond wanting to feel a diva-like popularity. When people come to a reading, their presence magnifies the importance of the event in each others’ eyes, because they personally become visible to a larger literary community. They have an opportunity to make connections with other listeners and to have conversations about the work. Events with only 6 people attending can be powerful too, if those 6 people respond strongly and put their information visibily into the mix. If they all go off and write reviews of the event, or poems in response to what they heard, or have a blog discussion the next day, then an event of literary importance has probably occurred.

In literature as it is treated in the literary-academic world, there are authors, readers/listeners, and critics. The categories overlap. It’s particularly powerful when we see their strong overlap, for example when poets write poetry about other poets’ poems, or when a novel has complex intertextual relationships. When this happens, we as readers realize we have a relationship to the text that is potentially creative and critical. In addition, the subjectivity of the critic is strongly exposed. We also as readers can now see something of the internal library, or the blogroll, the information feed, of the author. As a reader and critic, I want to know the information feed of whoever I’m reading.

I take notes at readings and think about what I’m hearing, about patterns and fashions in poetry. It’s difficult to write frankly about what’s good and bad in other people’s writing without being offensive or hurting people. I’m hoping I can strike a balance: focus on the positive without pulling my punches. I’d like to practice exercising judgement and drawing other people into critical thinking about poetry and translation.

Here’s a list of some of the readings and open mics that I have been going to over the last 5 years in the Bay Area:

Waverly Writers, in Palo Alto
Art 21, also in Palo Alto
Writers With Drinks, San Francisco
Kvetsh, San Francisco
Edinburgh Castle, San Francisco
The Saturday Poets, in Burlingame
San José Art League, in the Minor Street house around 2000-2002
Willow Glen Books, San José
Poetry Center San José
Redwood City Not Dead Yet Poets’ Society
Various reading at City Lights, Modern Times, Valencia St. Books, Chimera, Kepler’s, & other bookstores.

I hope I can expand this list and take a peek into other readings, other scenes that have their own particular thing going. I recently wrote an article for a book on the Waverley Poets on this specific subject: the academic/literary page poets and the spoken word poets don’t have a context for judging each others’ works, because they don’t know each others’ information feeds.

I’d like to get some of the people in different scenes around the Bay Area reading or listening to each other, and looking for each others’ ways of being intertextual and literary.

Textual and imaginary worlds

I think of books and literature as texts, as information. Texts interconnect with other texts and exist as parts of dynamic systems of reading, interpretation, rewriting, and references. People have relationships with each other, and with objects, and I would argue that their relationships with literary texts fall somewhere in between, because texts carry more complexity than, say, a car or a hammer.

The judgement of literary quality has something to learn from the web’s management and judgement of textual information. Context is important. Who is reading is important. Relevence to a specific need, query, person, or community is important.

Introduction

In this blog I’d like to keep notes on information, books, literary/poetry readings, thoughts on writing, and translation projects. I am interested in mixing up my technological and literary worlds; applying blogs, wikis, databases, MUDs, and more to literature, and vice versa.

Bookmania reviews, Dec. 1996

Six Records of a Floating Life, Shen Fu

A slacker from long ago….

Chinese poetry

Damn it, what was that book called… ugh! A cool book of literary criticism type rambling about Chinese poetry. Cool stuff about a poem’s “chi”.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carre (rr)

A Small Town in Germany, John Le Carre

The Book of Mars, NASA, circa 1960

Not a book to read all the way through, but the section on the possibility of life on Mars, and contamination of the Earth by virulent Martian plagues, was rich. It’s nice to know our government has some imagination…

Bookmania reviews, Nov. 1996

The Deep and Beasts, John Crowley.

The Deep haunted me by sounding awfully like it was taken from some real historical incident. Great for the moment when they come to the edge of the world… mind twisting… and Beasts is really beautiful literature. The leos are good but Reynard the genetically engineered fox-man kicks ass… I am even more reconciled to the fantasy genre than I was last month reading M. John Harrison. _Engine Summer_ is the last novella in the book, and I’m saving it for dessert some other day.

The Sea Wolf, Jack London.

More manly men doing manly things. Violent sailors beating each other to pulp and whetting their knives, in between bouts of philosophy and seal-clubbing.The philosophical conflicts are between the optimistic, upperclass, Humprhrey “Sissy” Van Weyden and the natural anarchist, Wolf Larsen. But this scary testosterone roller coaster was unfortunately cut short and a lame-ass love story creeps in. Maud Brewster was particularly interesting to me because she is robust enough to survive long journeys in open boats, but she gets exhausted whenever she exerts herself and lies down on the floor for a few minutes… sounds less like corset-induced faintness and more like… fibromyalgia! The best moment in the book for laughing hysterically is when Van Weyden, as cabin boy, comes across Wolf Larsen naked, and breathlessly describes his manly perfection. What else can you expect from someone named “Hump”?!

Knights Castle, Edward Eager

Excellent E.Nesbit-ish book of kids being magically whisked away to the land of Ivanhoe, castles, sieges, and giants. I liked how Eliza was described as being like an insane battle goddess, and she was completely unruffled by having hacked several knights to pieces, while her brother was grossed out by it.

Ancient Egyptian Construction and Architecture, Somers Clark & R. Engelbach.

A really, really boring book. Analysis of the patterns made by copper chisels on blocks of stone, 3000 years ago. It had beautiful illustrations of obelisks, pyramids, quarries, and Egyptian boats. As I chipped away at a frozen block of hash browns that evening, I was imagining that I was in a limestone quarry with a bunch of sweaty men in white sarongs. What can I say– boring books add to my rich fantasy life.

Hellcats of the Sea.

WWII propaganda about submarines and sonar detection of mine fields in the Sea of Japan. Written by some Navy guy who backed sonar when it was a new and unproven technology.

Brave Men, Ernie Pyle.

More WWII propaganda. Pyle was apparently a well known war correspondant. Endless, emotional stories of hanging out in the trenches with Joe Blow of Cleveland, Ohio, who owns a filling station back home and has only seen his infant daughter once while he is on leave. The invasion of Sicily was the most interesting bit. It seemed very impressively organized…I liked the description of quickly repairing blown-up bridges.

The Mark of Conte, Sonia Levitin. (rr)

A classic! Conte Mark exploits a computer error, bureaucratic sluggishness, and teacher stupidity to get double the credit for his high school classes. The book that inspired me to graduate early from high school.

The Secret Language, Ursula Nordstrom. (rr)

Two boarding school girls become best friends. Their oddly different temperaments go well together… Martha is bold and tomboyish, Victoria is shy and imaginative. Leebossa! Or, lee-lee-leebossa!

The Complete Jack the Ripper.

Complete with gruesome photos. Why, why, why do I read books like this. Why did I ever read that Hannibal Lecter book? I knew it would give me the creeping heebie-jeebies late at night. Well, same with this. Don’t read it! Yuck!!!

Bookmania reviews, Oct 1996

The Mummy!, Jane Webb Loudon

“In the year 2126, England enjoyed peace and tranquility under the absolute dominion of a female sovereign.” Not such a surprising first sentence for a science fiction novel, until you realize that Webb wrote _The Mummy!_ in 1827. Her vision of technological progress knocks me out: everything is steam powered, women wear big hats with fantastic, lit-up neon tubes instead of ostrich feathers, weather control increases crop productivity, passengers on trans-continental aerial balloon flights sleep on comfy air mattresses. But for some wacky reason, women still can’t vote!

Space of Her Own, edited by Shawna McCarthy (Asimov series, 1983)

Excellent collection of science fiction short stories by women. All excellent. The one that struck me most was “Belling Martha” by Leigh Kennedy. Gritty post-disaster, widespread cannibalism, outside of the walled city of Austin, Texas. Martha is sort of a feral teenager (if she is even supposed to be that old- it wasn’t clear). Breaks all the usual conventions of this genre- epecially as the teenage boy babbles on to Martha about his visionary belief in technology, and she is just looking at his arm muscles and thinking how MEATY they are. Yum!

Farrier’s Lane, Anne Perry.

Another mystery novel. Unremarkable, except that it holds up the usual good quality of Perry’s stories and characters.

The Best of C.L. (Catharine) Moore

Lurid, Lovecraft-ish science fiction with a sexy horror twist. Trashy and fun…. Midwest Henry was just another tough geek, haunting the dingy streets of the net. Little did she know, before she cracked the spine of this book, of the unspeakable pleasures and torments that lurked within, the nameless being that would thirst to drag her soul into the black depths of a vortex of madness from a dimension too terrible for any human to bear!

Other Nature, Stephanie A. Smith

More post disaster science fiction. Builds slowly & becomes almost unbearably intense. It’s bleak, and there are interesting gender-related tensions, but not dystopian… What I mean is, the pressures of decaying civilization don’t divide people along gender lines as in books like _The Gate to Women’s Country_, or _Walk to the End of the World_. Instead it is closer to Von Scyoc.. the fear of mutant children underlies everything. I have a longer review of this book which I’m posting on the Fem. SF pages soon. A book worth buying in hardback; gorgeous writing, hard to sum up in a paragraph.

In Viriconium, M. John Harrison

Vivid mythic characters and even more vivid sense of place, of the streets and cafes and apartments of the city of Viriconium. Incredibly compact and beautiful writing. I am saying beautiful, but really the scenes that stick with me are the most grotesque. This goes on the Golden Bookshelf of fantasy literature…

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Another fun mystery novel. Heavier on the obviously autobiographical feminist introspection than any of her other books I’ve read so far. She, Lord Peter, and the rest of the characters, are more fleshed out, more real. Coincidentally, I recently read Sayers’ translation of The Song of Roland.

Have His Carcass, Five Red Herrings, Strange Poison, all by Dorothy L. Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey is completely uninteresting, until the later books when Harriet Vane appears. They’re good mysteries, but the timetables and alibis, especially in Five Red Herrings, made my eyes water with their hideous complexity.

Desert Peach series Donna Barr

The fictional and goofy adventures of Pfirsch, Rommel’s queer younger brother. Interesting to find a comic book that makes you sympathize with Nazi soldiers. We so very automatically think Nazi=bad guy, but when you think about it, your average soldier in the desert was miserable and clueless like any other soldier… I don’t know how accurate Barr’s research is but she seems to know what she’s talking about. The ways that the British and German soldiers interact in these stories remind me of Bruce Catton’s descriptions of Union and Confederate soldiers, calling unofficial truces and fishing from opposite sides of the same stream.

Immigrant Song, Colleen Doran

Another graphic novel. Has promise of interesting things to come, but so far, it seems like a standard “telepathic kids who escape from evil scientists” story. In short, good but not Fabulous.

The Sandman series Neil Gaiman

Fabulous graphic novels/comic books. I should put some links here….

Charlegmagne and His World, Friedrich Heer

Unremarkable history book, with lots of pictures of nifty Carolingian artifacts.

Souls, Joanna Russ rr

A somewhat disturbing science fiction novella: the story of Radegunde, prioress of a medieval nunnery, and a Viking invasion.

Collected Short Fiction of Ngaio Marsh

Techniques of Criminal Investigation

A dry and boring textbook. Good sections on interrogations, playing good cop / bad cop, how to investigate burglaries, explosions, and homocide. Why am I reading this? Because I got it for free, because I’m twisted, because it might be useful for writing mystery stories or playing detective characters in role-playing games, I guess.

Bookmania reviews, Sept. 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Medieval People, Eileen Power

A classic of history; Power reconstructs the lives of several actual people, obscure peasants, a prioress of an abbey, Marco Polo. She is remarkable mainly for writing about the lives of medieval women.

The Female Man, Joanna Russ.

Mind-blowingly good feminist classic. Multiple identities and timelines. Janet, from the feminist utopia; Alice/Jael, violent, greedy, power-hungry spy; Jeannie, insecure, confused, manipulative femme from the timeline where the 1940’s go on forever; Joanna, sarcastic english professor from the present.

Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450-1500,
Henrietta Leyser

Just what the title says. I got some cool story ideas out of it. Leyser argues, from analyzing grave goods, that there was a tradition of “noble” women priestesses/healers in prehistoric England, and this tradition continued to the Christian era, with women from the nobility becoming high ranking nuns or prioresses. I didn’t know before that a lot of the illuminated manuscripts, from famous scriptoriums, were done by nuns.

The Hyde Park Headsman, Callendar Square (rr), Anne Perry.

More fun mystery novels, with Inspector Thomas Pitt, Charlotte Pitt and assorted female relatives, friends, and a scullery maid, as theintrepid detectives. Perry’s mysteries stand out for their cool characters- the people have very restrained yet intense analytical discussions of each others’ characters and of ethical issues; very thoughtfully done.

Lying, Sissela Bok. rr

Charlemagne, Harold Lamb

The life of Charlemagne, romanticized for a younger audience. On the historical fiction end, but gives a vivid impression of life among the barbarous Franks, and the slow awakening of ambition in the young king.

Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars, Margaret Wertheim

Moomintroll Midwinter, Moominsummer Madness, Comet in Moominland
and every other possible Moomin book. Tove Jannsson.

I had a cold, and these were comforting! The one that stands out in my mind is the one where the Moomin family and Little My go to the lighthouse.
As Moominmama watches her husband cast about for projects to bolster his ego, and endures uncomfortable living conditions, bad food, dead rosebushes, and loneliness, you begin to realize this book is much more adult than the others. When she began painting idyllic scenes on the lighthouse walls, and then stepped into the painting, I got shivers.

The Lost World and Other Stories, Sir A.C. Doyle

Fabulous tale of warring scientists who travel to the depths of the Amazonian rainforest and discover the original Land of the Lost, complete with ferocious dinosaurs and a racist subtext; the noble cavemen and the brutal, hairy ape-men. Just like Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard. “The Poison Belt” should be a classic of science fiction
along with H.G.Wells stories- but no one knows about Doyle’s science fiction, overshadowed for so
long by Sherlock Holmes. *I recommend you skip the Spiritualist propaganda novella- it sucked!!!! *

Jenny: Lady Randolph Churchill, vol. 2

Can’t wait to find volume one. “Lady Randy” had hundreds of devoted admirers and lovers, including the Prince of Wales (future King Edward); she used her influence with them to help Winston. Their letters to each other are truly scary. Winston worshipped the ground she walked on, even when she scandalously married a man younger than he was. She also started a serious literary magazine- I believe she was the first woman in England to do anything like this. And she hung out with actors, like Mrs. Pat Campbell, who is famous for the quote “It doesn’t matter to society what you do in bed, as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten
the horses”.

Hunting Party, Elizabeth Moon

Tough, military Captain Sheri Tepp. . . , oops, ‘scuse me, Heris Serrano, whips a posh space yacht into shape, disciplines bratty teenagers, learns to ride to hounds with decadent 25th century aristocrats. The hunting party turns out to be the most serious kind of “blood sport”. Exciting and well written. If you groaned in pain reading Sassinak, never fear, Moon’s later books are WAY better, in fact not even to be compared. Hard SF and the cooler, feminist facets of the romance novel blend perfectly.

5 Novels by

Dashiell Hammett.

Red Harvest The bloodiest one. Practically everyone dies. An extremely groovy bad girl, who charms me by being sleazy, mercenary,
and always cursing about having runs in her stockings. Not to be missed.

The Dain Curse Undermining of sanity. Hallucinations. California religious cults. Heroine is a junkie. No one comes out of this one clean.

The Glass Key The most anti-heroic of all Hammett’s heros. All these people are despicable!

The Maltese Falcon Read it a year ago, didn’t re-read.

The Thin Man Just like in the movies, Nick and Nora Charles quaff cocktails and champagne like there’s no tomorrow. Strangely light
hearted compared to the others. “Have a drink!”

Strangers on the Train

Scary for the feeling it gives you that insanity and murder lurk just around the corner, waiting inside your soul to spring out and take over your life. . .

Bookmania reviews, August 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Western Trees. Petersen Field Guide. Also Trees.
(Golden Nature Guide) and Pacific Coast Tree Finder.

I have been poring over these
tree
books lately, trying to identify trees in my neighborhood, although all my books are for the west coast. Eastern cottonwoods, various other poplars and aspens, ash, elm, sycamore,
maple, black locust, Alianthus, and catalpa trees are all common in Hyde Park. No oaks yet, but
on the U. of C. campus, especially noticable down Ellis, several nifty gingkos. Why this strange obsession with trees? I don’t know, but at least they sit still to be identified. Birds are too difficult.

The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister, Earle Stanley Gardner

Playback, Raymond Chandler.

Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare, Paul Conlinvaux, 1978.

Fire with Fire,

Naomi Wolf. rr

This has my vote as the coolest book of the year. It is very heartening to read Wolf’s arguments that women are the political majority (51%). Her analysis of Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas & also TV commercials, other media- hilarious & interesting. The positive trends she was predicting a few years ago are continuing.

“This is a book written for Jill Blow, not Gloria Steinem. Wolf encourages feminists to live fruitfully and responsibly in the mainstream. In a voice
remarkably free of backbiting or jargon, she speaks compassionately of the problems that women still face, encouraging women to be successful as individuals; the more economic clout and personal satisfaction you have, the more resources and energy you have to give to your cause.” – review by Barbara Strickland

Nova, Samuel Delany .

Three Plays, Turgenev

A Month in the Country was the best. Everyone in it was in constant emotional anguish. It is hard to keep all their names, nicknames, and patronymics in mind. Vera should definitely NOT have married the farmer, that’s all I can say.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare. rr

100 Selected Poems, ee cummings.

O sweet spontaneous earth

Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, Abraham Maslow. rr

The Complete Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Illustrated. rr

Vinland Sagas

Another Icelandic saga. This has the story of the discovery and settling of Greenland and Vinland. Especially memorable: Eirik the Red’s evil daughter Freydis, when the colonists are running from the Skraelings with flint tomahawks, screaming that they are all cowards, and standing off the whole tribe of attackers, even though she was in advanced state of pregnancy. She comes to a bad end, though.

More on Vikings in New World

The Ink-Dark Moon, Transl. by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani. rr

Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu.

    How invisibly
    it changes color
    in this world,
    the flower
    of the human heart.

      –Ono no Komachi

Slow Funeral, Rebecca Ore.

I recommend this book to people who don’t usually read speculative fiction. Well written, made me feel that my sense of reality and sanity were twisting a bit, just like Maude’s was when she confronted her witchy Appalachian family. Better
crossing of the line between sanity & schizophrenia than in Woman on the Edge of Time. Very moving portrait of her dying grandmother, of how people act around old & dying people, the tensions in families. I especially liked it when Maude “hears” what people are actually thinking/meaning behind their ordinary small talk.

Impossible Things, Connie Willis.

Great science fiction short stories. Hilarious realistic details of the way people act, of the bureaucratic obstacles of life, of marriage, family, & midlife crisis. She is quite versatile- from hard to historical to psycho-social SF- I can’t wait to read her novels.


Quote for August:
If you are no true men, be at least true animals. Be unaffected, and you will, of necessity, be useful or agreeable to somebody.” — Baudelaire, Intimate Journals.

Bookmaniac reviews, July 1996

From my first web site back in 1996, Bookmania!

Sadie's Big Beaver Restaurant

Daughter of the Samurai, Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, 1926.

Autobiography of a woman who grew up in Japan & moved to the U.S. to marry her brother’s business partner. If Louisa May Alcott were Japanese,
this is what she would be like. I felt dissatisfied reading this book- it was interesting, but kind of ponderously written, and towards the end I wanted to know what happened to Etsu’s two daughters, who grew up with the relative freedom of American girls, then were uprooted and taken to Japan. Their fate is unclear but probably they were married off
just like Etsu was.

Njal’s Saga, 13th cent. Iceland. rr

Another Icelandic saga, re-read. Lusty sword and axe-fighting. Evil women wearing red velvet robes marry and kill husbands, start hundred year feuds. Njal is the central figure, trying to stay outside of all the feuding, giving wise advice, but eventually he and his family are doomed. Best character in this saga is Njal’s son, Skarp-Hedin- fey, tough, and sarcastic.

Complete Poems, Emily Dickinson. rr

City of Illusions, Ursula K. LeGuin rr

Seventh Son, Orson Scott Card.

First of the Alvin Maker series. Witchery, dark religious conflict, old U.S. pioneers.
As usual centers around moral choices of strangely powerful central character and those around him. The alternate history of Pennsylvania/Ohio stuff is compelling, and you have to admire his nerve for lifting William Blake and just plunking him down into the countryside.

Incontinence. Susan Hahn, 1993.

Poems. I like her writing style- reminds me oddly of Marge Piercy and
Anne Hebert
, two of my favorite poets.

The Invisibles
Grant Morrison. Issues 13-23.

An intense comic book series. Dark conspiracy, interdimensional weirdness, outcast “superheroes” without official identities. I noticed the team of people working on this comic book had
several women, like
Jill Thompson
, but for some odd reason, I have never heard of them thru feminist comic artist circles, which perhaps tend to glorify “independent” work by women.


Voyages and Discoveries
, Richard Hakluyt. Penguin classic edition. rr

Entertaining and oddly comforting to hear people long dead whining about the inconveniences of travel. Scurvy. Fleas. Robbers. Infidels. Audiences with capricious kings. Doomed search for Northwest & Northeast passages. But in the face of it, the intrepid 16th century British merchant trudges onward, searching digilently for new markets for the stodgiest product possible- woolen cloth. The one flaw of this book: No index! For shame!

The Tempest, William Shakespeare. rr

Makes me feel like all other attempts to write English are thin and weak. I wonder if WS’s original audiences liked Caliban despite of or because of his brutishness. The actual plot isn’t at all what makes this play so thought provoking- it’s Ariel & Caliban
& Prospero. Is it just my tendency to deconstruct everything, or does the perfect, prince & princess love story of this fairly tale ring hollow, purposefully, to set of the actual tragicness of
all the other characters’ flaws, hopes, and fears?

Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare. rr

It takes some gall to write a 2-line review of a Shakespeare play but if I’m doing it, I might as well give my real reaction to it. It’s boring! Boring boring boring!

Conference of the Birds, Farid Ud-Din Attar. rr

12th century Sufi allegorical poem. The birds
set off on a quest to find their king, the mythical Simorgh. Each bird has different excuses and problems that get in the way of their quest; they are models of different types of people. On the quest,the hoopoe bird
tells them moral fables about famous dervishes, lovers, and sheiks. My favorite is the story of Sheikh Sam’an, who was a respected religious leader; on a journey to Rome he falls in love with a Christian girl, who makes him renounce his faith. Then she laughs & spurns him. Of course eventually she falls in love with him after all and renounces HER faith. It is extremely melodramatic.

Caravan, Dorothy Gilman. rr

A good story about the adventures of Caressa in the Sahara Desert. But too far-fetched even for me, too many co-incidences and psychic power incidents. Camels. Sandstorms. Being sold into slavery. True Love. Interesting, but not as gripping as the Mrs. Pollifax books.

Ten Plays by
Euripides
.
(A more modern translation than the ones I linked to here)

I’m only halfway through but will review my favorite one of the ten, soon. Intense. Medea,
Ion, Alcestis, Hippolytus, Andromache,
so far. Euripides has the reputation of being extremely negative about women. I find this odd since his plays have excellent female characters
who show the frustrations and dangers of their lives & who are used to express universally tragic themes.

Laexdala Saga;
13th century, Iceland. Penguin classic edition. rr

The saga builds a complex, detailed web of colorful characters; you see their histories and motives laid out over generations, until events build to the beginning of a horrendous series of feuds.

Gudrun Osvifsdaughter
is at the center of it all. Women in pre-christian Iceland had equal rights
under the law, accumulating wealth, founding families, travelling. Everyone seems terribly proud and ready to draw their noble swords and do some slaying.

Sunwaifs; Sydney Van Scyoc.

More eco-science fiction, with fascinating mythological twist. As usual in her fiction, Van Syoc features a mutant teenage girl who is obsessed with death and violence. This one, Corrie, gets to have a better ending than the one in Starmother. Outcast teenagers grow up to be gods; transgender echoes, mystical drug visions, soul-shaking encounters with
Mother Destiny, the planet itself.

Driftglass; Samuel Delany. (about 1965?)

Chaotic beauty, love, grief, complicated families, complicated sexuality. Mesmerizing short stories. I admire Delany so much I can’t sum up his writing very well. Absolutely the best.

Fourteen Byzantine Emperors; Michael Psellus. 11th century.

Gossip and scandal of the rich and famous. Psellus is great at claiming that he is about to praise an emperor, and then scathingly, sarcastically, tearing him or her down. Also amusing: he constantly praises himself, his own wisdom and breadth of learning, and eloquence. Why do all these emperors have such disgusting ailments? Also, be warned, there are lots of eyes put out and noses chopped off. Ugh.

Black Hearts in Battersea; Joan Aiken.

Will the orphans turn out to really be long lost noblity? Hmm I wonder. See Sophie save the old duke & duchess, each time using the duchess’s
humonguous embroidery project, from: burning buildings, sinking barges, deflating hot air balloons, collapsing opera boxes, and ravening wolves. Excellent and I can’t wait to read the rest in the series!

Tarka: His Life and Death in the Two Rivers; Henry Williamson. 1927.

Incredibly realistic story about an otter, from the otter’s point of view. Beautiful, entrancing descriptions of English riverside. Full of cool Devonshire dialect words. My favorite: “oolypuggers” = bulrushes.

Third Eagle; R.A. MacAvoy.

Science fiction with native american-y twist. Adventures of Wanbli, naive martial artist, going offplanet to become a movie star. MacAvoy’s books have been consistently excellent beyond much of the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read. She avoids being didactic but get a lot of cool messages across.

I, Zombie;
Doris Piserchia
writing as Curt Selby. 1982.

Piserchia’s usual tough, seven foot tall, orphan girl hero, this time dead and re-vivified to be a zombie worker on a glacial mining planet. Cool psychic frog-like aliens. Vivid descriptions of people diving into a vat of molten metal.

Quote for July:

Critic does not mean criticize. It means to open the eyes. To be the
translator of the demon of creation… transforming the seed into a substance soluble and palatable so
that the people may eat. –Patti Smith