Litlets

February 11, 2011

Maddeningly Poe

Filed under: books,General,reading,Writing — crcb @ 6:58 am
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It’s tempting to dismiss Edgar Allan Poe: his theories were humbug, he did so much wrong, and what he did right, he made look easy. But we still read him. His images and lines often echo through my head.

Similar statements could be made about the melodramatic Dickens, the modifier-intoxicated H.P. Lovecraft. But Poe, Dickens and Lovecraft are not just read; they are loved. Many of their contemporaries who were (by every rule book) better writers, who did not regularly commit the most wretched of prose crimes — those upstanding literary citizens are gone, or at best embalmed in academic dissertations. Poe, Dickens and Lovecraft refuse to stay in the Hell their crimes against style deserve. They walk among us.

Moral: It’s more important to do some things right than to do nothing wrong.

 

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November 7, 2010

Book Review: Brewing Fine Fiction

Filed under: books,e-books,Fiction,reading,Reviews,What I'm Reading — crcb @ 10:18 pm
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Brewing Fine Fiction: Advice for Writers from the Authors at Book View Cafe (http://bookviewcafe.com/)
edited by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff and Pati Nagle

Brewing Fine Fiction is a collection of fiction-writing articles by many authors. I read the ebook version, but it is also available as a printed book. (Disclaimer: I received this book for free through LibraryThing. Reviewing the book, whether positively or negatively, makes it more likely that I will receive other books in the future. I am receiving no other compensation for this review.)

The articles in BFF are primarily about genre fiction, mostly of the fantastic variety (fantasy and science fiction), but most would be just as relevant to mainstream fiction. Authors ranges from the famous (Ursula K. Le Guin) to the less well known, at least to me (Chris Dolley). The book is arranged into five categories: The Basics, Craft, Research, Marketing Your Work and The Writer’s Life.

I find little to take issue with in this collection. The distinction between The Basics and Craft escapes me; I can see any article in either section being put in the other. A couple of pieces made me wonder whether the editors were padding the book out to a contractually determined page count. For instance, “How to Escape from the Slushpile,” by Madeleine E. Robins, has the virtue of brevity (about 500 words), but makes only two points: follow standard submission and formatting procedures, and write a good book. Any writer who finds this helpful isn’t ready for most of the other articles gathered in BFF.

But the bulk of the articles are far better than this, and any fiction writer would find much in here to like and use. Standouts for me include Sherwood Smith’s “Sweating the Little Stuff” and Judith Tarr’s “The Alien in the Pasture: A Brief Disquisition on Horses for Writers.” The latter should be required reading for any writer of swords-and-sorcery fantasy, or westerns. (I’ve been guilty of treating horses as grass-fueled motorcycles in some of my attempts at fiction.)

One of the nice little features of this book is the use of literary quotations between articles, for reinforcement or counterpoint.

Overall, Brewing Fine Fiction is a worthwhile addition to any fiction writer’s reference collection. I know there are some articles I’ll be going back to multiple times.

September 30, 2010

Wordsworth, Blake and constructive criticism

Filed under: Poetry,reading — crcb @ 10:19 pm
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I was reading William Blake‘s notes on reading William Wordsworth (Blake’s verdict: conflicted), and I started thinking about the two poets together.

Wordsworth’s problem as a poet: he became possessed by Wordsworth. Anything was significant if he observed or experienced it.

Blake’s problem: he was a crank, with no one to tell him when he was being silly. As a “signal of solemn mourning” (Milton), a sandal on the head is hard to pull off with a straight face.

Both needed someone — someone loved and loving, respected and respecting — to laugh at them, or yawn.

But given such friendly critics, would either have written his greatest poems? Isn’t it their excesses that bring their work to life? Wordsworth could be full of himself and focused on minutiae, but close observation of his experience and inner life are the marks of his best work. Blake was eccentric, but if he hadn’t followed his imagination into questionable realms, we wouldn’t have the wonderful Marriage of Heaven & Hell, and we’d be missing at least half of Songs of Innocence & Experience.

Wordsworth and Blake willfully flouted the tastes of their time. The fact that they sometimes violate my tastes may not be a condemnation of them.

August 29, 2010

Looking at the Gnostics from an era of wizardry

I’ve been reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Gnostic Gospels, by J. Michael Matkin. I admire some things about the Gnostics, such as their poetic take on interpreting scripture and their DIY attitude towards mythology. Their view of creation as a mistake, though… not so much. But rejection of the world might have been an easier sell to people with harder lives than mine. I have it pretty good, compared not only to many of my contemporaries, but to most people (including the rich) throughout human history. Certainly I take for granted gadgets that would have been the most astonishing magic anytime before the last few centuries. Just the ability to conjure up music anytime I want puts me miles ahead of Hermes Trismegistus.

July 29, 2010

Random link: E-books article drinking game, from Bookavore

Filed under: books,e-books,Links,reading — crcb @ 1:18 am
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Haven’t seen this one done before. I suppose it takes a nerdy, yet boozy, audience to appreciate:

http://bookavore.tumblr.com/post/871178080/e-books-article-drinking-game

July 27, 2010

Algernon Blackwood’s A Prisoner in Fairyland

Super-librarian Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 states that you should give a book 50 pages to draw you in. If it hasn’t done so by then, abandon it. Since e-reader pages are so short, I gave Blackwood’s A Prisoner in Fairyland twice that. I shouldn’t have.

There’s entirely too much starlight and magic. I assume from the “prisoner” of the title that there will be evil and conflict, but there’s little sign of that yet. Trainloads of wistfulness and innocence, though. People who think children are innocent have forgotten their own childhoods. If they have children of their own, they must be very inattentive parents. Depravity is natural; virtue is learned.

It’s books like this that give fantasy fiction a bad name.

July 18, 2010

Container and contained: thoughts about books and ebooks

Filed under: books,reading — crcb @ 11:57 pm
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I read the following in Jeff Gomez’s Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age: ” I am who I am because of books, because of the words that others and I discovered between the hardback and paperback covers of worn and dog-eared novels.”

Now, Gomez’s book is no luddite screed, but I have heard similar statements from those who view ebooks with horror, when they can bear to look at them at all. I imagine like laments greeted the first appearance of paperbacks. Many who had grown up with hardback books probably considered these newcomers frauds, cheap pretenders to respectability.

Gomez’s hyperbolic title notwithstanding, printed books aren’t going away. Hardbacks didn’t vanish. They have their advantages in durability and mystique. Even now, any tome with claims to substance or scholarship must first appear in hardback (as Print is Dead did).

I love paperbacks, and still recall the sometimes brittle, faded or taped-up covers of many childhood and adolescent reads. My daughter might someday have fond memories of a scratched and scuffed e-reader, when prices drop enough for her to have one. But for her, for me, for any lover of reading, the physical object held in the hand is secondary: it’s the words that transport us out of our own physical containers that we truly cherish.

April 1, 2010

World’s Longest Poetry Reading

Prospero’s Books in KCMO is going for a new world record for the longest poetry reading, starting Friday, April 2nd at 10:00 AM and ending Wednesday, April 7th at 10:00 AM — 120 hours! I’ll be doing my part. If you’re in the area, drop in and hear me read Saturday morning, about 10:40. Should be fun!

February 10, 2010

A few sources for free ebooks

Filed under: books,Links,reading — crcb @ 6:59 am
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I’m assuming everyone already knows about Gutenberg and Bartleby.

February 15, 2009

Some Thoughts on The Worm Ouroboros

The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison; introductory material by Paul Edmund Thomas

Coleridge, and others after him, have written of the “willing suspension of disbelief” involved in reading imaginative literature, but I’ve seen nothing on the “willing suspension of disapproval.” Just as we must accept the physical world of the story – whether it includes dragons, shadow governments, or people who talk in aphorisms – we also must accept the moral world of the story.

For The Worm Ouroboros, this means accepting the glorification of war, which is implicit throughout. The virtues the characters admire are warrior virtues. It has this in common with the Icelandic sagas and Homeric epics that, according to Paul Edmund Thomas’s introduction, were major influences on Eddison.

I don’t read Icelandic or Greek, so I can’t say how much of Eddison’s prose style was based on his sources. Ouroboros is written in a pseudo-archaic dialect of Eddison’s own invention. This is part of the world the reader must accept. However, after a few chapters, I found the style mostly unobtrusive, sometimes delightful, and only rarely painful. As Tolkien and others have noted, the names of the characters don’t seem to belong to any unified cultural context, but I don’t think that’s a flaw. There are obviously a number of nations in Eddison’s world, with much contact and commerce among them. In the mundane world, my own circle of acquaintances provides names from at least five continents, and from too many languages to estimate.

Thomas, despite my snarky comments in an earlier post, is understandably defensive about Eddison’s powers of characterization. The heroes are mostly indistinguishable from one another. The one who stands out in my memory is Brandoch Daha, who is both a dandy and a berserker – and having told you that, I’ve told you all I remember of him. Eddison sometimes does a better job with the villains. King Gorice XII combines courage, cunning, charisma, and a number of other alliterative traits. The aptly-named Corsus, who panders his own daughter for a command position, is also memorable. But the most intriguing and nuanced character in the novel is the counselor Lord Gro, a bit player whose fidelity to his own principles (and they are not selfish ones) leads him to be a traitor to multiple sides.

As you might expect from a tale weak on character, events are plot-driven. Despite (or maybe because of) the careful construction of the symmetrical narrative, which circles around to bite its own tail, the novel feels episodic. Most acts and decisions seem to arise from force of plot rather than force of character. The “and so” is provided by a scheme outside the world of the story; within, all is “and then.”

According to Thomas, many readers have a problem with the beginning of the novel, which introduces a quickly-dropped framing narrative. I have more trouble with the conclusion, where the exaltation of war becomes explicit. If you can buy into that ethos, the ending gives the body of the tale more meaning. If your morals, like mine, are a little old and stiff and just won’t bend that far, the ending makes the main part of the book meaningless.

But I shouldn’t let that be the last word. I enjoyed the novel enough to go on to Eddison’s Zimiamvia trilogy, as soon as I find the volume I’m missing.

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