I am reading Jerusalem

And I figured I need a lot of help with this. Reading this book is a marathon-like undertaking. I was looking for a family tree-crib sheet and instead (a) discovered so are a lot of people, and (b) found instead this excellent review. No spoilers, I think. Not that it would make any difference in this book.
I initially bought the hardback book and the Kindle edition. Now I have also joined Audible and got the Audiobook.


Book review - Vienna mysteries by Frank Tallis - plus: A digression on American editions

Frank Tallis's Max Liebermann mysteries, set in Vienna, are engaging if at times a little macabre. I have visited Vienna only once in my life, in my early 20s, and I would love to return and explore it more. The historical Vienna holds a powerful fascination for me.
In Tallis's novels and stories, we see the Vienna of the very early 1900s, the time of Sigmund Freud. In fact, his main character Liebermann is a young psychiatrist and a student and follower of Freud. Liebermann also has a number of atypical friendly associations. The main one, for plot purposes, is with a middle-aged inspector of police named Oskar Reinhardt, who consults with him in a way that (unsurprisingly) foreshadows the modern methods of criminal profiling. The other interesting connection is his unrequited lust (which is a strongish word, perhaps, for Max's rather delicate and protective feelings) for a former patient of his, a precocious Englishwoman named Miss Lydgate.
I did not have to look at the author bio on the books to know that Frank Tallis is British and the books first published in Britain, then re-edited as an "American edition." I really disapprove of this practice, but it's too ingrained for me to hope that it will ever go away. So I take a perverse satisfaction when it fails like this. Let me explain.
If an American book is published in the UK, the editors do not go through the book and attempt to sanitize the American spellings for fear of offending or confusing British readers. Readers are expected to know that the national standards for spelling are different, and the idioms, slang and even grammar conventions are different as well. American readers are not afforded the same respect of their intelligence by American editors. Even great classics like Dickens and Austen are subject to this editing, which applies only to the spelling, however, and not to the language choices, except for some of the more obvious word differences. Thus you will see "petrol" changed to "gasoline," but the editors may not be savvy enough to know to change "pavement" to "sidewalk," or "loft" to "attic," probably because pavement and loft are American words as well.
There are two modern grammatical conventions in British English that crop up a lot in books, and that Americans will be shocked to know are acceptable there and even used by quite well-educated Brits. The one I saw twice in the latest Frank Tallis is the back-construction "disorientated." British people in turn would be shocked and dismayed to know just how illiterate that sounds to an American. The other one, though less common, is even worse to the American ear - the "was sat" and "am/are/is sat" construction. For instance, a Brit will say "I was sat there for half an hour" even if s/he was sitting there waiting for an interview as an English teacher or editor.


Now Is Gone

Katy and Dmitri on their wedding day in 2009.

On my blogroll, you will still find the blog of Katy Sozaeva, a friend of some 20+ years. Her last post, from just about a year ago, states "Yes, I'm Still Alive! :-)" But unfortunately, she is not. Katy departed this life on August 23 after a long battle with cancer. Drop by her blog and see how lovely and lively and intelligent and wonderful she was in life.


My Antonia, by Willa Cather

One of my greatest pleasures is to "discover," at this late point in my life, a well-known classic that I somehow have never read, and to discover that it is perfectly wonderful and amazing. And if the qualities that make it so amazing are such that I probably wouldn't have appreciated it at the age of 20 or even 30, so much the better!
I just finished My √Āntonia, by Willa Cather. I read it in a large-print edition from the library. I loved it. One of the outstanding features of this book (it sounds so trite to say this) is its amazing wealth of sensual detail about the appearance, sounds, smells, and feels of the early prairies, farms, and towns of Nebraska. I am not generally a great admirer of that kind of detailed scene-setting writing. I often get bored with it. If it's painting a picture, I think how I would much rather have the picture, and skip over it. But some of this writing, it's like poetry rather than prose, it's like music, music about history, dancing about architecture, it just defies category and opinion and sweeps you up into itself. Luscious. I loved it.


E. L. Doctorow dies, age 84

E. L. Doctorow, a leading figure in contemporary American letters whose popular, critically admired and award-winning novels — including “Ragtime,” “Billy Bathgate” and “The March” — situated fictional characters in recognizable historical contexts, among identifiable historical figures and often within unconventional narrative forms, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 84 and lived in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, N.Y.

Some quotes:

“The consumption of food was a sacrament of success. A man who carried a great stomach before him was thought to be in his prime. Women went into hospitals to die of burst bladders, collapsed lungs, overtaxed hearts and meningitis of the spine. There was a heavy traffic to the spas and sulphur springs, where the purgative was valued as an inducement to the appetite. America was a great farting country. All this began to change when Taft moved into the White House. His accession to the one mythic office in the American imagination weighed everyone down. His great figure immediately expressed the apotheosis of that style of man. Thereafter fashion would go the other way and only poor people would be stout.” 
― E.L. DoctorowRagtime

“Emily supposed the modern world was fortunate in the progress of science. But she could not help but feel at this moment the impropriety of male invasiveness. She knew he was working to save this poor woman, but in her mind, too, was a sense of Wrede's science as adding to the abuse committed by his fellow soldiers. He said not a word. It was as if the girl were no more than the surgical challenge she offered.” 
― E.L. DoctorowThe March


Laura Hillenbrand - author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken

Photo from this article in The Daily Beast

I just happened upon this wonderful, in-depth article about Laura Hillenbrand in the New York Times because it was featured in the margin when I was reading something quite unrelated. Which is interesting, because this was sort of how she got the idea to do Unbroken and also her next book, which she has not started yet and did not disclose the topic of.


Galway Kinnel dies at 87 in Vermont

We note the passing of Galway Kinnell, Pulitzer Prize winner, State Poet of Vermont.

St. Francis and the Sow
The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   
began remembering all down her thick length,   
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.


Brain Pickings' "Best of" list

This is a list of atypical non-fiction books. Some have been celebrated elsewhere, but I am sure no two of them in the same place. What a glut of excellence! Life is so short.


Life of the World to Come vs. Thirty Bob A Week; republished and enhanced in honor of National Poetry Month (US) April 2014

Editor's Note: This blog was published in January 2010 in Deborama's Book Reviews and Store, my old book blog in the UK. I decided to re-do it a bit and publish it in real-time, rather than in its spot in the transferred posts. 
I just want to add that John Davidson is one of my favorite of all the dead poets. Most, not all, of my favorite living poets are actually songwriters, and a bleak lot they are, too: Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt (oops, he's dead!) and now joining them is John Darnielle.
Links to all the relevant works are below. 
I have been listening to the most recent Mountain Goats album, Life of the World to Come. My son Carey turned me on to this excellent group, with its poetic, often cryptic lyrics by the singer songwriter and leader John Darnielle. For some reason, I have noticed an influence, a precursor, very unlikely, and I doubt JD is even aware of this poet from over 100 years ago - John Davidson.
(I should explain what I mean by influence, then. See Harold Bloom's seminal short book, The Anxiety of Influence, for a better explanation than I can hope to give.)
Some people have said that this album is "religious". All the song's titles are Bible verses. There is a lot of religious imagery. But poets as diverse as John Milton, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, William Blake and Dylan Thomas have used religious imagery in their poetry. This does not make them all religious poets.  At first, I thought Darnielle uses religious imagery mostly like Dylan Thomas, but no. Although Thomas was not a devout man by any stretch of the imagination, and although Thomas's themes were as soaked in alcohol as Darnielle's are imbued in drug abuse, I think DT would have just called himself a sinner, not a rebel. What would JD call himself? And here I have to invoke Bloom again, for he constantly compares writing, in fact all acts of creativity, to Jacob's wrestling with God (referred to in the Scripture as an Angel but it was really God.) And all these men and women, even Milton, even the ultra-devout Hopkins, do wrestle with God.
But the first poet who did not walk away defeated from the match, in my opinion, was John Davidson. Back in the late Victorian era, this JD had an air of jaunty defiance to the Almighty that JD of the 21st century really harks back to. Mainly I am thinking of two poems.
In "A Ballad of Hell," a woman is enticed to commit suicide by a man who no longer loves her, thinking she is in a suicide pact with him. Arriving in hell and being told of his betrayal, she declares she won't stay, and marches across the fiery river to heaven.
Seraphs and saints with one great voice
Welcomed that soul that knew not fear.
Amazed to find it could rejoice,
Hell raised a hoarse, half-human cheer.
This seems pretty tame now, but I imagine it was deeply shocking to the Victorians, and similarly Darnielle often lulls listeners into thinking they are about to hear a moral lesson, only to turn the tables and blaze a new thought trail, as in the song "Psalms 40:2." The verse this derives from is all about salvation and how after raising one from the pit, God will "establish your goings". In this song, our protagonists are raised from a pit, and then apparently trash the beautiful temple, sleep off the drunk, feel better, hit the road.
Head down towards Kansas we will get there when we get there don't you worry
Feel bad about the things we do along the way
But not really that bad
In "Thirty Bob a Week," Davidson has this to say in response to the Victorian idea that a downtrodden workingman should accept his lot and be grateful to God:
My weakness and my strength without a doubt
Are mine alone for ever from the first:
It's just the very same with a difference in the name
As 'Thy will be done.' You say it if you durst!

They say it daily up and down the land
As easy as you take a drink, it's true;
But the difficultest go to understand,
And the difficultest job a man can do,
Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
And feel that that's the proper thing for you.
And here is John Darnielle, in the lyric he has named for the verse in Genesis where God kicks Adam out of the garden. Here the protagonist has broken into an inhabited comfortable home that he used to live in, and it's not such a paradise after all:
Pictures up on the mantle, nobody I know
I stand by the tiny furnace where the long shadows grow
Living room to bedroom to kitchen, familiar and warm
Hours we spent starving within these walls, sounds of a distant storm
And then he concludes:
Steal home before sunset, cover up my tracks
Drive home with old dreams at play in my mind and the wind at my back
Break the lock on my own garden gate when I get home after dark
Sit looking up at the stars outside like teeth in the mouth of a shark


April is Poetry Month, and the Hennepin County Library system is running a hashtag program called #spinepoetry in conjunction with Instagram, of all things. (I have heard Instagram called Twitter for the illiterate, which makes for an odd association with a library. Maybe it's because of that that it's just about the only major social media platform I haven't joined.) Anyway, the idea is to create a poem by stacking books, so that the titles are the text of the poem. Then you post a picture of it on Instagram with the hashtag. Here is a good one my friend Lia did on Facebook (also the picture above), although she didn't use the hashtag nor (I think) Instagram. But who says you have to follow the rules? It's just fun for us booky/creative types to do stuff like this.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today at age 87

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today at age 87
Colombia declares three days of mourning for Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of the enormously influential 100 Years of Solitude, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, passed away Thursday, April 17. He was 87.


Things that make a difference to ones literary experience

I have been experimenting with CD audiobooks from the library. I had a good experience with a John LeCarre novel, Our Kind of Traitor, narrated by Robin Sachs. I have fading hearing, but I was able to hear everything just fine with a set of moderately-priced noise-cancelling headphones plugged into an old, cheap CD off-brand "walkman". I mostly listened to it on a brief out-of-town break I took to my friend Lulu's house in Chisago City, lying in one of her luxurious recliners, with Koby sleeping in my lap. Bliss, for the most part. My ears did hurt after a while, and it was darned cold that weekend and we were staying in the basement, which although also luxurious, is heated only by a roaring woodstove. So the temperature was rather uneven, and then I got interrupted from time to time to eat or be sociable or get in the hot tub (ho, hum) or take Koby out to relieve himself in the snow. Sometimes it's hard livin' the easy life. But no, it was a great, a much-needed break. I anjoyed the visit, and Lulu is a wonderful hostess.

Having enjoyed that audiobook a lot, the next time I was at the library, I got a few more. I just now tried to listen to my second audiobook, The Mystery Woman, by Amanda Quick, narrated by Justine Eyre. This was not such a good experience. Same piece of equipment, now lying on my bed, which is where I finished the LeCarre after I got back from my little trip. But first, there was a fault in disc 1, and I couldn't listen to it at all. Disc 2 played OK, but I only listened about two minutes before giving up in disgust. And this is the topic of my post. It makes a huge difference who the narrator is! And I do not like Justine Eyre, although I don't think, after Googling her, that I have seen her in anything. She is an extremely beautiful, if distinctly unfriendly-looking, young woman, but that could be because she has also been a model. (Or she could have been a model for the same reason she looks so distant and miserable, who knows?) Canadian by birth, raised in the Phillipines, educated in the UK, she is described as a classically trained actor. Her voice, how shall I say this? is horrible. Cut glass, but a little bit too much so, with backnotes of a suburban midwestern Canadian. A timbre somewhere between brittle and wheezy, like it's been overbaked on cigarettes and coke, and yet at the same time, flat in that very young way of very bored and snooty youngsters. I'm sorry, Justine, but I could not get past my appalled fascination with your ridiculous voice enough to even hear the content. Which I would probably like if I were reading it myself.


Poem for a late February snow that nobody wanted

The snow lies gloopily, Dr. Seussally, across land like a badly-frosted cake.
The trees are iced with such cliched crystals as would make a cheap Christmas card blush.
Improbable pastels overlay the dark of twilight and the quarter moon disdains to shine,
Hiding herself behind sullen heavy clouds that keep their secrets.
It's funny weather, all right, but nobody's laughing.


Friends of the Roosevelt Library Facebook page

I finally posted something on the Friends of the Roosevelt Library page. In fact, I got carried away and posted two things at once.  That second one is a share of an event sponsored by the parent group, Friends of the Hennepin County Library The links below are to three authors we read in the Adult Mystery Book Club.



Best SF of 2013

I didn't think I would have read any of these, since SF, especially the new stuff, is not my genre so much anymore. But one I have not only read, but recommended to scores of people, I liked it that much.


Reading the world in one year

Writer Ann Morgan (pictured) set herself the interesting project of reading a book from every UN country in the world plus former member Taiwan. Then she wrote this engaging post about it on the BBC Culture blog.
Right away, you begin to realize the technical challenge if you think about this. Sitting in the UK, where only about 4% of books are translations, and those only from a few major languages, you immediately wonder, how to get the books? Her first step was to create a blog and use it to reach out to book lovers around the world and ask for help. She discovered that storytelling, not written works, were still the main literary medium in some countries, such as the Marshall Islands and Niger. But then even in adapting to the difficulties, she was learning, and sharing on the blog, a new and deeper layer of cultural knowledge about the world. Here is the list, by the way.


Roosevelt Library Book Club

I have been appointed to the board of the Friends of the Roosevelt Library. There has not been an election of board members because we are the first one. The group just got started this spring, in time to host the Grand Re-opening on June 1st. We just held our first Book Sale last Saturday and made $550 with a five hour sale, which is not too bad for just starting out. Our next project is to get some book clubs going. We may have Teen Book Clubs later on, but we're starting out with two Adult Book Clubs. Mine is just called Adult Book Club and it is being kicked off as a follow-up to the One Minneapolis, One Read event, which is October 3rd. Everyone in Minneapolis who wants to take part reads the same book - A Choice of Weapons, by Gordon Parks. Then your local library or your school if you're a student will be holding a discussion session. At Roosevelt we will announce that one month hence will be the first Adult Book Club meeting. The first book is The March by E. L. Doctorow (reviewed way down below) and the meeting will be November 7 at 6 pm. The second book will be Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and that one will meet the first Thursday in December, also at 6 pm.  The other book club starting out in November at Roosevelt will be the Mystery Book Club. It will meet the first Saturday of the month, and you can find out more details in the library.