Friday, December 25, 2009

goodreads book review: the obscene bird of night, jose donoso

The Obscene Bird of Night The Obscene Bird of Night by José Donoso

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
themes of identity, humanity, reality, and belonging cycle through and circle the obscene bird of night. it's not really pleasant to read, though there are moments where a smile is not out of order. but most often it's really bizarre, and misleading, horrific even as its compelling. before philip k. dick died he was trying to write a book called the owl in daylight. i suspect he would have written his own version of the obscene bird of night. i think he would have understood this book. i cannot say i do. i am certainly in awe of it, in all its monstrosity, its virtuosity, despite the fact that it left me depleted and brain sore, overwhelmed by images of the grotesque, yes, obscene scenes that came alive, that are still burning in my mind. i will likely read it again half a dozen times, if not more, in trying to comprehend it. most of the action takes place in a rest home for old servants, owned by an old and respected family, and later, in the summer house of that same family, where a grand experiment is made, both buildings edifices that are bigger inside than out, and labyrinthine in nature, much like the book itself.

the main narrative voice is often one "i" but not always, a male servant. the fluidity of this "i" means it shifts and tricks you, so that it is no longer he but yet someone else, and just when you think you are beginning to understand, the "i" slaps your hand, and shows you something else. there's not really a central figure in this novel for me, unless it is the imbunche, the mythological creature story that has at its heart a witch that steals children, and seals up their nine orifices. the shards of the narratives are dark, stark, and nasty, yet somehow donoso (who is the ultimate "i" though not the only writer in this book) is matter of fact, makes you want to keep looking into all the different mirrors that he holds up, makes you want to keep reading even though your mind is reeling. the effect of his facility with these characters softens the blow somewhat; he makes horror palatable, as nabokov did when he made me empathize with humbert humbert. to me, it makes perfect sense (and i wondered if it was a tip of the cap to lolita) that the most-of-time-narrator is most-of-the-time called humberto. when he is not mudito. or an old lady. or a child. or a lover. or a papier-mache head. and iris is also gina. and ines can do everybody's voices, she's a natural mimic, so you can imagine where that might go. there are no villains really, there are no saints, though these capering fools will try to invent some, as the story unfolds.

since pkd never wrote the owl in daylight, i'll say this book is like a south american nightmare mutation of the sound and the fury. i didn't immediately understand all the threads in that book either but that's what keeps me coming back to it, and it's why i will read the obscene bird of night again -- that slap is a challenge that still stings.

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goodreads book review: the magnificent ambersons, booth tarkington

The Magnificent Ambersons (Modern Library Classics) The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
the magnificent ambersons makes you think about how humans value things, and other people, and reputation, for what reason, and in what proportion. it is a book that i want to talk to other people about because i keep rolling it over in my mind, the choices and observations tarkington made in some cases baffle me, and i'm still not sure what to think, of it, the world, or myself.

had i not read penrod just prior to reading the magnificent ambersons i'm not sure i would have liked it as much as i did. tarkington had already softened me when it came to whims and importunate desires of boys so i was somewhat prepared for the dark and evil epitome of boys who never grow up: the monster at the heart of this book, george amberson minafer. part of me still chafes at the injustices of the world revealed in this novel, reminding me that somebody who is only beautiful on his outside can wreak such harm and destruction on the people that love him. the relationship between georgie and his mother isabel amberson is the most destructive in the book, and the pattern continues when he takes up with lucy morgan, the daughter of eugene, isabel's true love whom she spurned when he lost sight, for a brief moment, of propriety. i revolted against these relationships until finally i came to this passage:

"But though she was a mistress of her own ways and no slave to any lamp save that of her own conscience, she had a weakness: she had fallen in love with George Amberson Minafer at first sight, and no matter how she disciplined herself, she had never been able to climb out. The thing had happened to her; that was all. [..:] But what was fatal to Lucy was that this having happened to her, she could not change it. No matter what she discovered in George's nature she was unable to take away what she had given him; and though she could think differently about him, she could not feel differently about him, for she was one of those too faithful victims of glamour. When she managed to keep the picture of George away from her mind's eye, she did well enough; but when she let him become visible, she could not choose but love what she disdained."

and for all that i still hate georgie, these words helped me understand, and identify with lucy, and at least took me down from my moral highground for a moment to remind me that our rational minds are not always in control of our hearts, and sometimes we love people who aren't good to us, or for us, but it is nigh impossible to revoke our love once we give it.

all of these entanglements play out in turn-of-the-century american society where the established ways of business were changing, and people began calling horseless carriages automobiles, and one way of life began to die out, while another began. this backdrop is almost another character in the novel, and tarkington's interest in the culture that was and his horror at what it was becoming is vivid, and real, and easily identifiable for contemporary readers, in this, our own moment of change. i am now interested in reading the rest of the growth trilogy, and alice adams.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

goodreads book review: penrod, booth tarkington

Penrod (Penguin Classics) Penrod by Booth Tarkington

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
penrod is an amusing book. it's not laugh-out-loud funny but the misadventures of this inscrutable and bad boy are captivating, and knowing, and made me smile. tarkington lets us into the hallowed halls of an adolescent male mind which is itching for experiences, and wily in its meeting of any consequence that these experiences might bring. penrod, as the epitome of boys, an untroubled huck, breathes life into the archetypal boyhood. he is good at getting into scrapes whether they are of his own devising or not (usually they are), and things often spiral wildly out of his control despite his efforts at containment. he is popularized as the "worst boy in town" by the girl he likes best, and he's hotly defensive of his honour. he is curious, vindictive, but also sometimes kind. if you have spent any time with an unruly young man, with some brains, and too much energy, you have met penrod. the other characters too, are well drawn and quite familiar: his family, frustrated, amused, and perplexed by him; the other kids who are his friends and enemies all-at-once live in awe or fear, or collude with him; the other townsfolk cluck, or cause calumnies for him. the characterizations in this book feel real even if they also sometimes smack of caricature, as real people sometimes do.

some of the caricature in this book i had trouble with: specifically the endemic racism. i realize that it is a by-product of the society in which tarkington was raised, and understood, but it's distracting and painful to read some of these sentences that are tossed off, and in some cases, weaken the narrative. here's an example, with square brackets mine:

He sat staring at the an open page of a textbook, but not studying; not even reading; not even thinking. Nor was he lost in a reverie: his mind's eye was shut, as his physical eye might well have been, for the optic nerve, flaccid with ennui, conveyed nothing whatever of the printed page upon which the orb of vision was partially focused. Penrod was doing something very unusual and rare, something almost never accomplished except by [coloured people or by] a boy in school on a spring day: he was doing really nothing at all. He was merely a state of being.

cut those four words out, and it is marvellous writing, and cements the portrayal of a boy's mind which is the novel's central theme. and i can't even say that this is the worst of it. penrod has two black playmates named herman and verman, who have a raccoon they eventually name sherman after their dead brother, and they are wonderful characters, and is often the case, in some ways much more attractive than penrod himself. yet, we are forced to endure narrative that characterizes them as in the "lower stages of evolution" and the like. at least these racial slurs are relatively few in number, and the brothers are treated with respect by penrod and their other colleagues in the arts of chicanery.

i'm really glad i read this book despite the racism. each time i come across this issue, i face the quandary of to read or not to read. it is troubling, that a book that brings so much pleasure can also knock it out of you with a careless, and often useless remark. it is also a relic of the way the world was, and i can curse the editor of penrod for not seeing that the strength of the above paragraph was dimmed by the stupid addition of a folksy slur, and be glad that times have changed. boys and their spirits however, have not altered in essentials since the publication of penrod, and i cannot say that that is a blessing or a curse, so much as shake my head wryly at the epitome of boys so embodied in this book.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

goodreads book review: the sundial, shirley jackson

The Sundial The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
this is among my favourite novels. every time i read it i am just as struck by its harmonious discord as i was the first time: this story is to me, a perversely uneven amalgam of a drawing room comedy, and creepy gothic haunted house tale. i think i only like the book more for the fact that the pieces don't quite fit together, and the scene that scares me the most isn't the one i'd expect, though there are several claustrophobic and uncomfortable moments in the sundial, and i always smile at this book at the dialogue which i think is some of jackson's wittiest writing. it almost feels like oscar wilde briefly inhabited the mind of jackson when she wrote this book because the characters are so pert, and alive, that even when they are cruel, or shallow, or stupid, i am fond of them. the drunk villagers are a joy each time, and i am as foolishly in love with essex as i ever was, though i know he is a cad.

people i have loaned it to never seem to like this book as much as i do: perhaps it is because i am as crooked and misbegotten as it is. several found fault with the ending which makes me perfectly content -- the ending they want i think would have to be a whole other book. i find everything i want in a book here: poetry, and confusion, loneliness, and fear, and the waiting for something bigger than yourself, so that you don't have to think about yourself, or what the point is, anymore.

thank you shirley for leaving me stories that understand me so well.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

goodreads book review: perdido street station, china miéville

Perdido Street Station Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
some interesting ideas in a book that seemed bloated with words to me. i knew it wasn't going to be favourite even into the first four pages that introduce us to the reek of the rivers of the city new crobuzon. i thought it was london at first, a gross yet achingly familiar dickensian london, but as the book unfolded i realized that the author had created a different world, steampunk in flavour, with a weird populace that includes humanoids like the scientist isaac who is in love with lin, a khepri sculptress with a human body and the head of a bug. there are also what i think are toad people, the voldanoi (frustratingly i felt not enough time was spent introducing these people and other parts of the universe, and he wasted exposition on wyrman, i could have figured those out because they are akin to gargoyles). there's also cactus people, and bird people called the garuda, and the first two hundred pages tell the story of the two lovers, with lin accepting a sculpting commission with a crime boss, and isaac being engaged by a garuda that wants his wings back. abruptly all hell breaks loose, and then the book becomes about an adventure quest/chase through the city following isaac and a motley crew of cronies.

the most intriguing thing in this universe was the idea of the "remade", people who had bodies that were altered, either out of their own choice, or more usually, as punishments for crimes, usually with a pointed and horrific flair. people have dog parts and metal parts, and sealed mouths, and more eyes, and arms than usual, or less. metamorphosis, transition, body, and self-image are ideas that underpin the novel, with big questions asked, and left unanswered.

there are too many sub-plots, and too many words on things that didn't seem important. all through i felt impatient because everything was taking too long, and that's the reason why i can't give this book a better review. it's inventive, and creepy, but it was hard work for me to get through all of it. there's too much of it, and too many pieces. it's too florid. it's just too too. i would have edited this book right down, and structurally some of it frustrates the hell out of me.. this is a common complaint of mine. so if you like books that meander in the telling, don't mind my two stars.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

goodreads book review: that summer in paris, morley callaghan

That Summer in Paris (Exile Classics series) That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
that summer in paris was like old home week for me: i got to visit with hemingway, fitzgerald, and joyce back in the heyday of paris in the 20s which i haven't done in some time. callaghan writes cleanly and well, but sometimes his ego is exhausting. despite the fact i'm canadian as he is, and from toronto, none of his books were on my school syllabus growing up, whereas mordecai richler, robertson davies, and margaret atwood are staples, and i'm sure that would have burned him up because he had such a high estimation of his own talent. nonetheless, it is an easy read, filled with interesting little observations and memories of some of the greatest writers we have yet seen. it warmed the cockles of my heart to walk with callaghan and hemingway on the streets i know so well, in the centre of my city. the book was written in the year after hemingway's death, and begins at the beginning with callaghan's luck in joining the newspaper staff at the toronto [daily:] star when hemingway worked there.

lesser figures like robert mcalmon are also old friends to me, and even buffy and graeme make an appearance. buffy was john glassco's nickname, and he wrote another account of these days, from the perspective of a very minor writer entitled memoirs of montparnasse which i read and enjoyed many years ago. glassco never palled around with hemingway, but i recall a very fascinating and poignant portrait of lord alfred douglas, (affectionately known as bosie to his friends, lover wilde, and to posterity) in his later years.

perhaps the most interesting thing to me about this book was the stand against florid writing that hemingway and callaghan and others made during this era. the journalistic school that they embraced changed the face of literature for a time, and while i see strengths in all styles of writing, i am coming to a crossroads for myself about what i need the writing i read to be, and his observations shed some light on that.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

goodreads book review: sharp objects, gillian flynn

Sharp Objects: A Novel Sharp Objects: A Novel by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
i'm not sure what to say about this book because while i think it reads like a bestseller should, i didn't enjoy it. the prose is compelling in that i felt compelled to finish it, and i did. i couldn't put it down but i wanted to get it over with. i think the writing is engaging but nothing special. i will remember no turns of phrase, or kernels of wisdom but then again, this is not shirley jackson, or daphne du maurier.

i can say it seemed pretty obvious to me who would turn out to be guilty of the crimes in the end, and i was right. all of the characters in this book except for the guilty and the protagonist seemed clear types to me: the out-of-towner cop, the sheriff, the older brother of one of the girls killed, his girlfriend, all of the women of the reporter protagonists generation, of her mother's, of her sister's.. i have seen all these characters on sicker episodes of law and order or some other crime procedural, which for the record, i usually have no trouble anticipating the conclusions of either. i won't say i was surprised when i read that author, flynn, was a former television critic for entertainment weekly, in addition to a film degree. she has a very firm hold on characterization, and tropes, and she knows just when to serve up something that seems contrary to what you expect, to turn it on its head, and sufficiently creep her reader out. certainly, i exclaimed "this is disgusting" in a crowded subway because i couldn't help myself.

if you are looking for a dark and shocking read that includes shades of southern gothic, perversion, and self-mutilation, this may be the book for you. having finished this book, i don't think i ever want to see it again because it didn't really give me anything. it grossed me out, yes, but it never really scared me, or enlightened me, or surprised me. i respect the writing crafted here, but i don't admire it. i'm glad that it's finished and i don't have to read it anymore.

sharp objects had nuances of an elizabeth george book called missing joseph i once read that i liked better, probably because it was more difficult to figure out and a lot lot less grotesque.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

goodreads book review: ali smith, girl meets boy

Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis (Canongate Myths) Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis by Ali Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
a book that plays out at a break-neck pace, except for the moments where the language is allowed to meander into scenes of poetry and gives one pause in the midst of beauty it captures. there is much to love in ali smith's finesse with language. this novel contains re-tellings but i don't think this novel is so much a re-telling of the myth of iphis, even though that's how it was positioned as part of "the myths series" published by canongate books, but rather it uses that story as the fulcrum on which it turns. there are very interesting characters here, and notions about people, and love, and sexuality, and the myths that we tell and re-tell to ourselves, to each other.

there's not really much in the way of plot but that doesn't much matter because the writing is so engaging, and the book is so short that you don't miss it. i had trouble with some of the pop culture references at the beginning of the novel which made it harder for me to find my bearings: it seemed that if i was british, i would understand some of it better. i didn't know what the generation game was and it wasn't really explained, and the description of blind date confused me because i'd only seen american blind date, and it didn't seem to be anything like british blind date.

ultimately i did find myself wishing that the book wasn't so short, and that the writer had given me a bit more time with some of her characters, especially the grandparents we meet at the beginning of the novel. the book has potentials oozing through its pages, and when it was over, it did feel like there was book wasn't finished, that it was a sketch of a book, that it could say much more.

interestingly, girl meets boy was a lot more like what i had expected middlesex to be than middlesex actually was. i will definitely read this again, perhaps when more in the mood for a love story, and i'm interested in reading more of ali smith's work.

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how like people

The worms had risen again in the rain. They were strewn across the pavement. To the unsuspecting eye they might look like long, slightly swollen pine needles, or some other tree relics; mostly inert, merging with the twilight, they showed only in faint relief, except for that one that undulated purposefully across my path and tipped me off to their coming.

I stepped gingerly through them, hoping to avoid contact, wondering how there could be this many, and how it was that they performed this trick, this act of levitation, rising through the earth and then somehow through the concrete, to make the world a worm mine field.

I didn’t want worm guts all over my shoes. I just wanted to get by and not be hemmed in by all these beings who couldn’t shout a “look out!” to me, who aside from that lone go-getter, seemed resigned to stay in the place where they miraculously appeared and trust to fate that they would not end up a smudge in my rubber tread.

How modern of you, I thought. How like people. I was glad that it was dark, that i did not have to take responsibility for their deaths, and I wiped my feet vigorously on the mat when I came back to this place while everyone else slept.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

goodreads book review: a handful of dust, evelyn waugh

A Handful of Dust A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
i found this to be much, much better than the two other waugh books i read: vile bodies, and the loved one. i would have liked it immensely had it ended about three quarters in, as stopping there would have satisfied my need for comeuppance for jerks but that comeuppance never came. the last quarter of the book is almost a sequel to the first part, and left a darkness in its wake.

and yet, from what i have come to understand in reading waugh, he never would have let me have what i craved, and i have to come to believe he is much like the other e.w., edith wharton, after all. the tarnished polished people they describe wallow, and they wallow deep. there is no rising above here. there is only a hard, empty entitlement or failure, or death. his books always have shocking deaths in them -- i have actually gasped aloud. i felt waugh had a much better handle on his characters here: they are more believable to me than the caricatures of the previous novels, and breathe, if pathetically, or malignantly.

that last quarter ending i have since found has also been published previously and separately as a short story called "the man who liked dickens". it was in fact a prequel rather than a sequel. it is intensely creepy: never before has the reference to the works of charles dickens left with me such dread. and yet, i do think the casual reader might feel a slight disconnect when they embark upon this as a section of the novel. they feel like two different works, i think.

(when the lovely mariel left me a comment, i did a bit more research and found a link to a paris review interview with waugh. he mentions this novel and the separate story and their genesis there, so i thought i'd post it here:
paris review art of fiction no. 30.)

Creative Commons License
This work by Maureen de Sousa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

cross-posted at booklikes and
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goodreads book review: all fires the fire, julio cortazar

All Fires the Fire All Fires the Fire by Julio Cortázar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
i like cortazar's facility with language, and inevitably, as with any latin literature, it resonates with my own understanding of how families operate and cultural proclivities. and yet, for the most part these stories did not move me. there are a few that i admired very much, most of all, the island at noon, the most simply told of the stories, of a male flight attendant who happens to glance out with the window, and espy a small island which he comes to see as the focus of his life. he calls it the golden turtle island and he plans and thinks and daydreams for the day he will be there: swimming in its coves and sheltering under its trees. it ends in an ingenious, and satisfying, yet disturbing way. simple and visceral: just the way i like it.

the southern thruway, instructions for john howell, and the other heaven are quite good, and fascinating, in their ways. the rest of the stories are stylistically innovative and yet leave me cold. i think well worth reading as a first cortazar to give an appreciation of his style, and interests as a writer, and am interested in reading another sample. for some reason he reminds of the richard ford stuff i read, but some of his ideas aspire to borges and dick.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

meteors/goodreads book review: charles portis, the dog of the south

The Dog of the South The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
so far, my favourite portis. it felt like it was of the same tenor of true grit, which i also really enjoyed, and there are parallels: both protagonists are on a journey to retrieve things stolen from them, and travel with men who uphold the law as they see fit. it also reminded me of jim thompson very much. i really do see a relationship between portis' books and vonnegut's, and joseph heller too.. my understanding is he is a reclusive man but i do like to imagine what it would be like for the three of them to meet: surely it would be utterly boring or bizarre. this book is a lovely collection of non-sequiturs, and common-place odd habits. i was surprised that ski, the man that dr. symes warns may be tracking him never appeared, but only after i read the book through a second time. i am left wondering why it was that doctor insisted on leaving only with his mother's cane. i expected there to be something in it, but if there was, i suspect i'll never know. there are truths here but i don't think portis really has any answers for me, only a wild ride. a passage i enjoyed very much:

I explained that I was very far from being a college professor and that I had never read poems or fictional stories and knew nothing about them. But the doctor kept on with this and Melba brought me her stories. They were in airmail tablets, written in round script on both sides of the thin paper.

One was about a red-haired beauty from New Orleans who went to New York and got a job as a secretaryon the second floor of the Empire State Building. There were mysterious petty thefts in the office and the red-haired girl solved the mystery with her psychic powers. The thief turned out to be the boss himself, and the girl lost her job and went back to New Orleans where she got another job that she liked better, although it didn't pay as well.

Melba had broken the transition problem wide open by starting almost every paragraph with "Moreover". She freely used "the former" and "the latter" and every time I ran into one of them I had to backtrack to see whome she was talking about. She was also fond of "inasmuch" and "crestfallen".

I read another story, an unfinished shocker about a father-and-son rape team who prowled the Laundromats of New Orleans. The leading character was a widow, a mature red-haired woman with nice skin. She had visions of the particular alleys and parts where the rapes were to occur but the police detectives wouldn't listen to her. "Bunk!" they said. She called them "the local gendarmes" and they in turn called all the girls "tomatoes".

A pretty good story, I thought, and I told Melba I would like to see the psychic widow show up the detectives and get them all fired or at least reduced in rank.

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meteors/goodreads book review: e.f. benson, queen lucia

Queen Lucia Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson

i knew about e.f. benson because ben had read some of his ghost stories, and i am wont to read ghost stories just about any where i can get my hands on them. it is not at all astonishing that i would read, for example, a collection of edith wharton ghost stories after i had forsworn reading any more of her novels (for the foreseeable future) because every time i read one i am even more depressed than i was when i started, and that is not why i want to read. that i feel that wharton's novels are wonderfully written is beside the point. in any event, even though i was looking for ghost stories i picked up this first novel in the lucia series (which is nothing at all like any ghost story i have read -- well maybe like wilde's canterville ghost, but that's it) by benson which much more like another favourite: wodehouse. i would like to transcribe a portion of the book here:

Dear Georgie:
It was such a lovely day that when we got to
Paddington Ursy and I decided to bicycle down
instead, so for a lark we sent our things on
and we may arrive tonight, but probably tomorrow.
Take care of Tiptree; and give him plenty of
jam. He loves it.
P.S. Tipsidoozie doesn't really bite: it's only his

Georgie crumpled up this odious epistle, and became aware that Tipsidoozie, a lean Irish terrier, was regarding him with peculiar disfavour, and showing all his teeth, probably in fun. In pursuance of this humorous idea he then darted towards Georgie, and would have been extremely funny, if he had not been handicapped by the bag of golfclubs to which he was tethered. As it was, he pursued him down the platform, towing the clubs after him, till he got entangled in them and fell down. Georgie hated dogs at any time, though he had never hated one so much as Tipsidoozie, and the problems of life became more complicated than ever.
i will be back to give you the rest of my review, but i must say i have a weakness for this kind of silliness: my favourite bits from robert benchley are those where he carries on a war with birds, even though i like them myself. i just think it's funny to set man up with some other animal nemesis. i have one myself. i acknowledge it's right to exist but i set myself at odds against the raccoon.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

meteors, part III -- robert benchley, my ten years in a quandary and how they grew

my apologies for the abrupt silence in this blog of mine. it appears my brain decided to take a vacation and thus, i have trouble typing things that i want other people to read. but tonight i read a very funny little diversion, and i wanted to share it with you all. it's a piece called "isn't it remarkable" from a collection of very short shorts (i imagine they were newspaper columns) written by robert benchley. benchley is best known for his membership at the algonquin round table alongside dorothy parker, alexander woolcott, harpo marx, and charles mcarthur, to name just a few. there is plenty to know about benchley, as comic writer and actor, but like i said, i'm not typing just now, so i can only advise you to find out more about him.

Isn't It Remarkable?

On a recent page of colored reproductions of tomb paintings and assorted excavations from holes in ancient Egypt there appears a picture of a goose with the following rather condescending caption:

Remarkably Accurate and Artistic Painting of a Goose from Pharaoh Akhenaten's Palace, Drawn 3300 Years Ago

What I want to know is-- why the "remarkable?" Why is it any more remarkable that someone drew a goose accurately 3300 years ago than that someone should do it today? Why should we be surprised that the people who built the Pyramids could also draw a goose so that it looked like a goose?

As a matter of fact, the goose in this particular picture looks more like a goose than that of many a modern master. Just what do we think we are, in this age of bad drawing, to call an Egyptian painting "remarkably accurate and artistic" I don't know, but we have got to get over this feeling that anything that was done correctly in 1000 B.C. was a phenomenon. I say that we have to got to get over it, but I don't know how.

People managed to drag along in ancient Egypt, from all that we can gather. They may not have known about chocolate malted milk, and opera hats, but, what with one thing and another, they got by. And, presumably, every once in a while somebody felt like drawing a goose. And why not? Is there something exclusively twentieth century about the art of goose-drawing?

We are constantly being surprised that people did things well before we were born. We are constantly remarking on the fact that things are done well by people other than ourselves. "The Japanese are a remarkable little people," we say, as if we were doing them a favor. "He is an Arab, but you ought to hear him play the zither." Why "but"?

Another thing, possibly not exactly in this connection, but in line with our amazement at obvious things. People are always saying: "My grandfather is eighty-two and interested in everything. Reads the paper every day and follows everything."

Why shouldn't he be interested in everything at eighty-two? Why shouldn't he be especially interested in everything at eighty-two? What is there so remarkable about his reading the paper every day and being conversant on all topics? If he isn't interested in everything at eighty-two when is he going to be? (I seem to be asking an awful lot of questions. Don't bother answering them, please.)

It is probably this naive surprise at things that keeps us going. If we took for granted that the ancient Egyptians could draw a goose accurately, or that Eskimos could sing bass, or that Grandpa should be interested in everything at eighty-two, there wouldn't be anything for us to hang our own superiority on.

And if we couldn't find something to hang our own superiority on we should be sunk. We should be just like the ancient Egyptians, or the Eskimos, or Grandpa.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

cowboy trick at hanlan's point

last friday, the city workers strike that paralyzed the city was finally over after 36 days. while it was on, garbage piled up in the city parks and stink saturated their grounds, people litigated that loved ones were lost as a result of limitations of strike EMS service, and my friends and i pouted, through the quietly outraged whispers of clandestine cruisers carrying carousing tourists, when public ferry service was suspended to the islands.

of late, j had acquired a taste for laying about at hanlan's point beach, where you can choose to wear a bathing suit, or let it all hang out. yep. a nude beach in toronto. and even though i have a framed photo of signage from this beach "clothing required beyond this point" in my bathroom, i had never been since i am not a naturist, or nudist, at least when i am outdoors. but the enthusiasm of my friend piqued my curiousity and so it was that we ventured forth this past holiday monday.

we went late: it was after three, but there were plenty of people on the ferry over. we walked a bit after they let us off at the point, and i stopped to take a couple of fairly typical photos of the island scenery: trees and water and boats and birds.

we walked on and were hailed by a couple who told us they'd found an excellent supply of wild catnip, and suggested we harvest some ourselves. as much as hexter likes the weed, i was anxious to get to the beach and we moved on. soon we reached the sand and we took off our shoes, and i found myself passing the desolate stretch of sand designated for shy sun lovers, and moving onto the clothing optional strip of shore. immediately my eyes were assailed by penises of all types and dimensions, cut and uncut, cute, and uncute, and flopping around for all to see. j guided me through the maze of naked body parts until we found some people who looked around our age, and i pulled out the fuzzy sheet office give-away with plastic on the bottom that had confused me until somebody explained it was an outdoor blanket. that made a lot of sense because the plastic was kind of itchy when i tried to snuggle in it on the couch, and it was a disaster as a blanket dress from minute one. i plopped down on it while j arranged his normal blanket, and we began to people watch.

it should be understood that i went to the nude beach without any intention of getting nude myself. in fact, the idea never even occurred to me. as fond as i am of my birthday suit, it was not going to appear to honour the generic civic holiday. i simply went because my friend likes going and i like to look at naked people. though i suppose there were plenty of people still in clothes on the beach. there were families, and children and all kinds of humanity on the beach that day. but mostly there were naked men. naked men standing solidly, mimicking lazy susans by wheeling their hips in an arc, as they pressed their fists in the flesh just above, and surveyed the scene. some of them reversed status quo by wearing only t-shirts, leaving their cocks out. a lone, nude boy-man spread out close by us sat scribbling with an hp pencil, and he reminded me of somebody i knew that i had never seen naked. he lay down the pencil and picked up a novel for a while but eventually went out into the water to bathe, returning to shake out his towel conspicuously but considerately moving in front of us, ostensibly because he did not want to shake his superfluous naked sand in our faces.

i realized i should not take pictures while the beach was full or i would look like a pervert. so we watched the promenade of people moving up and down the shore, and all their shapes and sizes. some people i envied, and some i feared. the fashion of nudity continued to fascinate, as i witnessed people wearing hats or back packs or fanny packs as their only accessory. at one point i thought i saw a man wearing a condom, but j opined that it looked like a cock ring. on further inspection it seemed to us the man was using a woman's hair accessory to keep his penis from bouncing around. no, it wasn't a scrunchy.

j told me stories he'd heard about assignations on the beach, and we muttered directions and angled our heads in order to point out various appendages to each other. clouds had rolled in and the sun started to go down, and it was becoming cold. and that's when he told me about the cowboy trick.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

arresting my eye/i at the toronto outdoor art exhibition

i usually go to the outdoor art show at city hall every year. i like checking out the art, and there is so much of it to see! sometimes i will go expecting to see friends there, and never bump into them. sometimes i know people exhibiting and i never manage to find their booths. this year, there was lots of beautiful stuff, and signs at the tents suggesting that you get the artist's permission before photographing their work (only right and polite). i did take a few photos this year but it's hard to capture all the striking pieces of art that are gathered together here. there is always a great mix of media though i'll usually gravitate toward the paintings. sadly, the piece of paper on which i wrote some of these artists names is not making itself readily apparent so i won't be able to tell you everybody who was responsible for this great stuff. if anybody recognizes an artist, shout out. and if any artist happens to come along and find their art here and would like me to take the photos down, just let me know.

first up some photos of julia hepburn's dioramas. i fell in love with "fausta", a diorama of hers in a boutique, and then saw more at this show last year. i love her projects because they are so wonderfully bizarre and detailed. i can lose myself in her little scenes for a long time and i wish i had some in my house. i really recommend looking at these pieces in the largest image size possible. i can only put small sizes here, or they won't fit on my blog but you can find larger versions of these photos by clicking on 'em.

these last two i tried to get a little closer so you can see the detail of the tiny books..

these next two photos of beautiful and delicate ceramics are just a sampling of great work by an old friend, ms. julie moon. she also gave me one of those lovely poppy pins. i know you're envious.

here's where i start to lose it on the artist names. i have no clue who this was by. it was beautiful though. we saw a lot of painting on plastic? plexiglass? it's interesting to see the trends that emerge at the art show each year. this was definitely a medium that was being used a lot.

i really liked these paintings. the artist had an eastern european name. i think the initials were m.j. or m.r. i love the texture of these paintings. if i was to write a gothic novel i think i would like him to do the cover. the first one of these three was initially my favourite, but now i am leaning towards the third.

corry was a big fan of these bees painted on reclaimed metal cabinetry though after she cooled somewhat and i warmed. i thought it was interesting that he seemed to paint on them as is (spills and stains and marking were kept intact, rather than cleaned off). i want to say the artist's name is brian turnbull? trenchard? but i don't think it is. something like that though.

this was a very popular booth -- mixed media metal art. i can't remember his name. first name started with a t. it was a busy people-filled art show, so inevitably you are seeing shoulders in some of these photos.

these were neat but hard to photograph. again, can't remember the artist's name. the pieces were made of books that had been treated in some kind of wash, and they all these little cut-out windows in them with almost a holographic ghostly image inside. you can barely see the woman in this one peeping out. i am always torn when books are used as a medium for something else (i think the same artist had created a bunch of purses with old hard cover book covers) but these were really allusive, and i liked them.

it was hard to get a clear shot of this fibre art but i thought my bird-lovin' friend patty would like it. it was a like a lovely curtain of hemp birds. i think it won a fibre award too.

i think the initials for this artist were a.o. but don't quote me on that. i really liked this little metal forest. it kind of broke my heart. funny how art is like that. corry was musing on it too when she went crazy for the bees. sometimes you can never understand what it is about a piece of art that draws you to it, and yet it's capable of drawing you close over and over again.

sucker for pop culture that i am, i left these three by jason edmiston, for last. i really enjoyed the fusion of the cereal monsters with the classic film versions -- while it seems to me that those cereals were inspired by the films this painting really makes the iconography meld together. look at bela lugosi/count chocula! and who could resist the creature of the black lagoon in a bubble bath? while i was standing there a boy came along with his mum, and said, "that stormtrooper is the coolest" and i turned to him and agreed emphatically. it's nice that there are always kids at the show, it gives them a chance to see that art isn't stuffy, or stuck up, or always meant to be shut up and away from people. it gets a chance to take a great big breath of open air and saturate one place until it is bursting at least once a year in toronto.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

the beguiling: a character

he has the most peculiar personal energy. i think that it's benign but being in his presence is like accidentally walking into a hall of silence. it's as if he emits a dampening field, and your voice is swallowed whole by his calm. or perhaps it's like stepping into a pit that is padded at the bottom, encircled in egg cartons, and just deep enough to blot the sounds above. he carries the aura of a library quiet with him; he exudes it.

it's a curious thing, being around him, or i guess more properly, for him to be around us, sucking in all the noise as he stands there. of course, he will speak quietly of authors he's lured me to but doesn't press his favourites too hard. he wants to know if i read french. he knows about books that i don't know about, and he tells me about them. i rarely answer his questions directly because words seem to resist even being formed when he's around yet he always seems to know what it is i'm seeking. when he sees me there is always a pile to go through, and he always makes me an offer i can't refuse. sometimes i avoid him because of this.

rarely, he hazards a joke (at least i think it's a joke), and i laugh into the well of him, but he doesn't acknowledge i have got it, or even twitch. he has floppy hair he runs his hand through, and rimless spectacles. he's already a character in a book but he goads me to write about him. he has sent me on many journeys, and blotted me out. i like being blotted.

Friday, July 3, 2009

goodreads review crossover 1 - p.g. wodehouse

it appears i can copy and paste my thrilling goodreads book reviews right here into my blog. saves me double duty in a pinch i suppose. i should note that the star convention is goodreads' rating system, and not always satisfactory. in this case, wodehouse gets six of five.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
another one that draws the guffaws from a disgruntled girl. :) the greatest complaint i can make about these books is about the titles: jeeves' feudal spirit is referenced in other works, so it doesn't really help to distinguish this story from the others. it might better be called "bertie grows a moustache" or "a lot of preamble about a darts tournament we never even get to witness", "how aunt dahlia tried to sell off her magazine because she was tired of always begging for cash". a very funny book.

View all my reviews.