Saturday, September 4, 2021

Six Degrees of Separation: from Second Place to The Pilgrim's Progress

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @ booksarmyfavouriteandbest


I usually try to stick to the classics, though that isn’t among the official rules. 


This month’s chain begins with Second Place by Rachel Cusk (haven’t read it). But, as the Olympics just wrapped up last month, second place reminds me of the silver medal, and that reminds me of…


The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, which I also haven’t read, but it’s in my TBR. And silver reminds me of…


Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, wherein a silver mine is central to the plot. This is a very good novel by the way, better in my opinion than Conrad’s better known novel…


Heart of Darkness, which was adapted to film as Apocalypse Now...a very loose adaptation, with geographic and historical setting completely changed. That reminds me of...

The Tempest by William Shakespeare, because it was also loosely adapted in film as Forbidden Planet. The Tempest has the character Caliban, and that reminds me of…


Vanity Fair by William Thackeray, because one of the characters refers to Caliban. And finally, Vanity Fair reminds me of…


The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, as Thackeray quotes from Pilgrim’s Progress, and of course Vanity Fair, is one of many allegorical settings in Pilgrim’s Progress.




And that’s how you get from Second Place to Pilgrim’s Progress.



Thursday, September 2, 2021

A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is probably best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (the
one work cited on his tombstone). He was also a versatile short-story author, writing across numerous genres: horror, sci-fi, macabre, and realistic fiction. A Medicine for Melancholy is a collection of some of his short stories. 


I liked the fact that it had a sampling from all of the different genres, but I chose this collection primarily because it contained one story that has haunted me for half century. 


Sometime in my childhood, I read "All Summer in a Day", about adolescent Earth girl, Margot, whose family moved to Venus when she was very young, but not so young that she could not remember the warmth and sunshine of Earth. Margot’s Venus-born classmates dislike her and are incredulous of her Earth stories, because you see, on Venus it rains 24-7. On the day of the story however, there is a weather phenomenon that will result in a 2-hour period of clear skies and sunshine. Even as they prepare for the glorious summer in a day, the children continue to tease Margot, until their teasing escalates to a cruel prank. The rain stops, and they revel in the glorious summer. The rain returns, and...they remember Margot!


Oh, it is so beautifully heart breaking! The children could not, would not understand Margot because her experience was different than their own. And then, when they could know what Margot knew, their empathy came too late. 


Sigh! If only we could…


Medicine for melancholy indeed. The collection is worthwhile for this story alone, but it is filled with numerous gems. The cover depicts “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit”, “A Medicine for Melancholy” is an individual short story, as well as the name of the collection. There is a macabre homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado called, “Pillar of Fire”. Bradbury is a grand story teller. His elegant prose, at times, feels more like poetry.


I highly recommend him for his novels and short stories.


Saturday, August 28, 2021

R.I.P. XVI - A spook inspired reading challenge



An annual Halloween themed reading challenge that runs from September thru October. It’s pretty relaxed as to what qualifies – horror, suspense, mystery, gothic, etc. I try to stick to classics, which apart from the two most obvious, Frankenstein and Dracula, it can be a little challenging to find books of these genres amongst the classics. They’re there, just takes a little digging to find them. 


For R.I.P this year, I will read:


Rebecca   by Daphne du Maurier




The Collector   by John Fowles

(titles in Century Gothic font...see what I did there?)



Previous R.I.P. reads




Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison (novel #186)

Kings and governors that do exult in strength and beauty and lustihood and rich apparel, showing themselves for awhile upon the stage of the world and open dominion of high heaven, what are they but the gilded summer fly that decayeth with the dying day? ~ Lord Gro


The Worm Ouroboros is high fantasy, ostensibly set on the planet Mercury, but it is really just a fantasy version of earth.


It tells of a war between Demonland and Witchland, and although the citizens of those lands are named Demons and Witches, they are mortal men. The same goes for the other realms of Goblinland, Impland, and Pixyland. 


Whom am I to cheer for if the choice be Demons or Witches?


This confused me for a bit, but soon I learned the Witches were cruel and treacherous – misnomer notwithstanding – the Demons were the good guys.


And two of them, Lord Juss and Lord Brandoch Daha embark of a classic hero quest, to rescue a friend and brother in arms held in enchanted fortress. And while her greatest heroes are thus away, Demonland is perilously beset by the forces of Witchland.


Both races are mighty warriors and heroes on both sides pay respect to the valor and duty of their mortal enemies, as described by three-time turncoat Lord Gro…


Such glamour hath ever shone to me all my life’s days when I behold great men battling still beneath the bludgeonings of adverse fortune that, howsoever they be mine enemies, it lieth not in my virtue to withhold from admiration of them and well nigh love.


There are mythical beasts, including a hippogriff, enchantments, curses, and such, but the eponymous worm, or dragon, Ouroboros hardly plays in the tale. You may see on the cover that Ouroboros forms a circle and is swallowing his own tail; the never-ending circle is symbolic of the wars in this fantasy world.


And of course, there are ladies fair and brave. 


As high fantasy, this work is sometimes compared to the writings of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (both read it, with qualified praise), but I think it is more like Norse mythology. I enjoyed it, but I felt Eddison’s world building left much to be desired. 


First, it starts as a frame story, where an observer – presumably the narrator – is taken by enchantment to observe a world he is told is Mercury. But I think it’s false to call it a frame story, because the other side of the frame is missing. The story begins with this observer, but he is never mentioned again. That’s not a frame, merely a prologue, and unnecessary. 


Second, the notion that this world is Mercury is ridiculous. I have no problem that it doesn’t comply with what we know of Mercury. I can suspend disbelief, but this world is clearly a fantasy version of Earth. The characters refer to Greek mythology, a tree is described as an Irish yew, and one character even quotes Shakespeare. It is a fantasy, and unnecessary to pretend it is set on Mercury.


Finally, the names of Demonland, Witchland etc., were confusing at first, and then, just silly when I realized there were merely differing realms of men.


It was a fun diversion, but Tolkien and Lewis are still the Gold Standard of the genre.


My rating 3.5 of 5 stars


I read this as my novel for The Classics Club Spin #27.


Excerpts: The Worm Ourboros written in 16thCentury English, which is a bit challenging at times, but it also adds romance and beauty.


I was never so poor a man of my hands that I need turn braggart. ~ Lord Brandoch Daha of Demonland


You men do say that women’s hearts be faint and feeble, but I shall show thee the contrary is in me. Study to satisfy me. Else will I assuredly smite thee to death with thine own sword. ~ Lady Mevrian of Demonland


So, in the golden autumn afternoon, in the midst of that sad main of sedgelands where between slimy banks the weed-choked Druima deviously winds toward the sea, were those two men met together for whose ambition and their pride the world was too little a place to contain them both and peace lying between them. And like some drowsy dragon of the elder slime, squat, sinister, and monstrous, the citadel of Carce slept over well. ~ narrative


…to strenuous minds there is an unquietude in over-guietness. ~ Lord Juss of Demonland


One last excerpt, that I loved, but needs a bit of context. When an enchanted and peace loving Queen observes the retired armory of Demonland, she is asked by Lord Juss if she despises the instruments of war. Her reply...

O my lord, I think nobly of them. For an ill part it were while we joy in the harvest, to contemn the tools that prepared the land for it and reaped it. ~ Queen Sophonsiba





Monday, August 2, 2021

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (novel #185)

The Corrections is set in the fictional mid-western town of St. Jude. It concerns
senior citizens Albert and Enid Lambert, and their three adult children, Gary, Chip, and Denise. It takes place in the late 1990s with numerous flashbacks to the family’s past.


Albert the strict patriarch and retired railroad engineer has Parkinson’s and shows increasing signs of dementia. Enid, deludes herself that he will get better and desperately tries to arrange one last Christmas with the entire family – but it doesn’t look likely. The eldest Gary, is a successful banker, alcoholic, and probably clinically depressed. Chip, is an intellectual, and something of a flake. The youngest Denise, is a rising star chef, but her personal life is a mess. Each suffer guilt, and try in some way to do their duty to their parents, but never to Albert or Enid’s liking. Each of them have left the Mid-West, and its values, to pursue their dreams and passions in the fast-paced bustle of the East Coast. 


They didn’t want the things that she and all her friends and all her friends’ children wanted. Her children wanted radically, shamefully other things.


Nor do Albert and Enid care for each other’s way of dealing with their new reality. 


But against all odds, all three children make it to St. Jude for Christmas. Gary without his wife and children, Denise after being fired, and Chip barely escaping Eastern Europe with his life. But Enid, blissfully ignorant of these details exclaims...


This is the best Christmas present I’ve ever had!


But the euphoria does not last, as all are confronted with Alfred’s condition, and numerous uncomfortable changes it seems to require.


The “corrections” refers to the down-turn in technology sector stock prices of the late 90s, concurrent with events in the novel. It is a metaphor for gradual “corrections” to the lifestyle, behavior, and expectations of the Lambert Family, and on a larger scale, emblematic of the changing American values of the day. 


It’s a poignant depiction. Superbly written, believable, quirky, and funny at times. But, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s meant to be enjoyed, but, in spite of dealing with aging parents myself, I didn’t relate very well to any of the three children.


I may be the exception though. The story received high acclaim and resonated with many, winning the National Book Award in 2001.


My rating 3 of 5 stars



The title is an homage to William Gaddis’ novel The Recognitions, which I will be reading sometime in the next year or so. 




Saturday, July 24, 2021

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021: Wrap-up post



Announcing my completion of the Back to the Classics 2021 Challenge

(hosted by Books and Chocolate)






Thank ya, thank ya very much.


And here is my wrap-up. I completed all 12 categories.


19th Century Classic:

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

20th Century Classic:

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Classic by a woman author:

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

Classic in Translation (from French):

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Classic by Black, Indigenous, Person-of-Color (BIPOC) author:

Journey to the West by Wu Chen'en

Classic by New-to-Me author:

Sybil, or the Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli

New-to-Me Classic, by a favorite author:

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title:

Ratman's Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert

Children's Classic:

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf

Humorous of satirical Classic:

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

Travel or adventure Classic:

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Classic Play:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...a play by Tennessee Williams

This is probably Tennessee Williams best known play. It won a Pulitzer Prize, and Williams said
it was his personal favorite of his works. Fortunately for me, I had never seen a film or stage production, so it was all new to me.


I’ve always been intrigued by the title.


The play takes place in a single day, late 1950s, in a single room of the Mississippi cotton plantation of Big Daddy Pollitt. Big Daddy is dying of cancer, though he doesn’t know it. His dysfunctional family has just learned the truth, and intends to break the news to Big Momma after Big Daddy goes to bed.


Big Daddy is bombastic, rude, and bullies his family. Big Momma desperately wants to believe – and pretends – that all is well. Oldest son Gooper (Gooper? I know, right?) and his wife Mae, are two-faced and conniving to win the estate. Younger son, and clear favorite of Big Daddy is Brick, who is an alcoholic and lives platonically with his wife Margaret aka Maggie aka the cat on the hot tin roof. 


In short – they’re a mess. Ordinarily, I dislike stories about self-destructive people, and at first I didn’t like this one for that very reason. But somehow, Maggie grew on me. She was the closest to being morally or emotionally healthy – and she has her issues. But I felt sorry for her, and admired her determination to save Brick and her marriage. And Brick is even sort of likeable, as he is completely honest about his alcoholism, and utter uselessness. 


My copy contained two different versions of the 3rdand final act. The first as Williams wrote it, and the second, with changes suggested by stage director Elia Kazan. In a note about the alternate version, Williams opined that Kazan’s suggestions improved the play. I agree. 


This play read pretty easy, almost like a novel. But plays are meant to be performed, not read. I watched two film versions: 1976 starring Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, which was quite true to the play (version with Kazan’s suggested revisions). The 1958 version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman is more iconic but far less faithful to the play, though I thought Taylor and Newman were more convincing as Maggie and Brick.  


Reading this play satisfies a classic play in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021, and completes the challenge for me, having read all 12 categories.