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A Reader’s Manifesto by B.R. Myers

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Reader's Manifesto by B R MyersBefore anything else, you need to know the subtitle: “An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose”.

This should be required reading everywhere. Especially those big-name writer’s workshops that churn out so many who will clutter up the bookshop shelves for years to come…

Now, it’s irrelevant whether you agree with each and every example. The desperately important thing is that he dares to critique these modern gods of “literary” fiction. What a glorious relief! Someone thinking critically about these things! And of course I don’t just mean fault finding, I mean analyzing the work — having a poke at it with a stick and seeing what it’s made of.

Yes! Let’s use those brains!

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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Thursday, August 10th, 2006

Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles - review[I read this back in May, but was too busy to post then, so here’s a mini-review.]

I came to this one with a really bad attitude. I was convinced I wasn’t going to like it. The people who recommeded it to me or said they liked it were usually trendy, pretentious types who only read cool (i.e.: trendy & pretentious) books. Yeesh. No thanks!

Well, you can’t always judge a book by the people who like it.

I wasn’t very far into it before I realized it was just plain magnificent. A real masterpeice of beautifully chosen, perfectly described detail that bit by bit comes together to create not only an atmosphere of place, but an immersion into the worldview of the characters.

I was going to say more and give a few quotations, but I don’t want to ruin the pleasure of discovery. Dash out and find a copy now!

(P.S. Here’s the official Paul Bowles website.)

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In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

With a subtitle like: “The epic true story that inspired Moby Dick” and the gorgeous design of the cover I was rendered helpless. The book came home with me. And that was two years ago, before I even read MD. So of course, it was the first thing I picked up after finishing same.

To be honest, I was expecting something a little on the dry side. Despite my love for MD, I find that sea stories don’t usually do much for me. (They’re ofter these strapping adventures with brave lads and dashing officers and everyone is exceedly brave save for those dastardly cowards who get their comeuppance in the end.) What a surprise! Who’d have thought the story of the last voyage of a ship that sunk two hundred years ago would have me holding my breath at one in the morning, as I read, huddled under my covers. My god it was intense: agonizing and unbearable. And so immediate. I felt like I was right there with them.

The details are well chosen and from all manner of sources: from first-hand accounts of the event written by survivors to a study done with volunteers in the US during the Second World War to study the effects of starvation.

Made me think again how vulnerable we puny humans are on this earth. At the same time, it’s astonishing how much punishment the human body and mind can take. (Of course, not without a price.)

Mr. Philbrick is a fabulous writer of non-fiction–no easy thing. He turns what could have been a dull recounting of facts into a thoughtful, insightful account of men in an utterly hostile environment, with interesting observations on how variously people respond to psychological and physiological pressures.

Highly recommended!

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Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

Oh, this was brilliant!

I’m tempted to just stop there. It’s like trying to tell you about being alive. Where do you start? What can you say that won’t just sound limp? This book is funny and terrifying, beautiful and nauseating. The whole world is stuffed inside it. I was shocked at how moved I was by it.

I suppose the most important thing is to encourage you to forget the hype, the reputation, the capital letters that everyone uses when talking about MOBY-DICK. All that stuff. Open the window and shove it out. (And just pray no one is standing underneath!) Really, it drives me crazy when people turn things into Classics (whether this title is deserved or not. Often not.) Immediately a good portion of the population suddenly assumes the book is inpenetrable, painfully dull, and about as thrilling and personally relevant as a moth in a coma. The worst is when people are intimidated. No, no, no. Out the window with that one too.

Okay, now that you’ve got a blank slate, let me give you a few excerpts to get you excited:

“For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air.”

“The three mast-heads are kept manned from sun-rise to sun-set; the seamen taking their regular turns (as at the helm), and relieving each other every two hours. In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant the mast-head; nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful. There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes. There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner — for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable.”

“…lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him…”

“He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.”

“Now then, I thought, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves…here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction…”

from the chapter The Whiteness of the Whale : [about the color white and its associations: purity and beauty, and at the same time ] “…yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”

“for whatever is truly wonderous and fearful in man, never yet was put into words or books.”

That may be, but this book comes closer than most.

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