Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Leopard's Prey (Reprinted Review)

The Leopard's Prey: A Jade Del Cameron Mystery    by Suzanne order for
Leopard's Prey
by Suzanne Arruda
Order:  USA  Can
New American Library, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Following in the glorious wake of her hair-raising adventures in three previous novels (Mark of the LionStalking Ivory, and The Serpent's Daughter), the plucky photographer and amateur sleuth Jade del Cameron makes her fourth excitement-packed appearance in the latest Suzanne Arruda mystery, The Leopard's Prey.

Once again in Kenya in July of 1920, the spirited Jade is working near Nairobi with an American company responsible for trapping animals for shipment to American zoos. Not surprising to readers who know her, Jade even goes so far as to put herself in great danger in efforts to capture a particularly dangerous leopard. The leopard, however, may not be the most serious threat to Jade's safety.

Though warned by a Kikuyu native that she 'will face danger' and 'must always watch for the madness in the eyes of a killer,' Jade - true to form - quickly immerses herself in plenty of complicated problems - including a murder investigation. A farm supply salesman is found murdered on a friend's nearby coffee plantation, and Sam Featherstone (appearing again after very interesting early appearances in the previous novels), a dashing young aviator and adventurer (of whom Jade is particularly fond), finds himself on the wrong end of the policemen's investigation. Of course, Jade - in order to sort out the truth (and in order to come to grips with her true feelings toward Sam) - will not rest (and will not be safe) until the murderer (much like the aforementioned leopard) is captured.

Like its predecessors in the series, this latest Jade del Cameron mystery is remarkable and commendable because of the historical and geographical settings as well as the vivid characterizations. More particularly, with the following description intended in the most positive terms, The Leopard's Prey - again, like its predecessors - is an old-fashioned cozy mystery adventure. Engagingly entertaining, consistently exciting, and infused with just the right amount of romance, The Leopard's Prey is another highly recommended winner from Suzanne Arruda.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Mystery books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Murder on the Oceanic (Reprinted Review)

Murder on the Oceanic by Conrad Allen order for
Murder on the Oceanic
by Conrad Allen
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Set sail on board the Oceanic, and join the ship's two detectives, Englishwoman Genevieve Masefield and American George Porter Dillman, on their latest adventure on the high seas. Posing as single passengers who are traveling separately in order to work more effectively as a covert team of sleuths aboard the luxurious ocean liner - although Masefield and Dillman are happily married - the sophisticated pair is sailing from Southampton, England, to New York City in the spring of 1910.

The Oceanic is also carrying a colorful assortment of passengers and crewmembers. An important short list from among the thousands of passengers includes the following: The elegantly attired and rather naïve Blanche Charlbury and her protective fiancé, Mark Bossingham; the unprincipled womanizer, Jonathan Killick; the lackluster couple from New York City, Ethan and Rosalie Boyd; and the controversial Welsh artist, painter of provocative nudes, Abednego Thomas who is traveling with his intriguing wife, Veronica, and his voluptuous model, Dominique Cadine. Several of the more significant crew members are also worth noting: the conscientious purser Lester Hembrow, and three colorful and resourceful ship's stewards, Edith Hurst, Manny Ellway, and Sidney Browne. Finally - by the way - the Oceanic is carrying one other rather noteworthy passenger: the internationally famous financier and business tycoon, J. P. Morgan.

As Masefield and Dillman quickly realize, the infamous Morgan is going to become the center of a dangerous maelstrom through which the Oceanic and the detectives must navigate. With an impressive treasure trove of valuable objets d'art in his stateroom, the arrogant and fractious Morgan remains indifferent to the ship's detectives' concerns about the security of his property; ignoring Masefield's and Dillman's advice, Morgan is determined to rely exclusively upon his own security specialist, Howard Riedel, a former New York City cop with a very unpleasant personality.

However, when some passengers' jewels and personal property are stolen, when items worth more than half a million dollars are stolen from Morgan, and when someone is found to have been brutally murdered in someone's stateroom, Masefield and Dillman find themselves embroiled in one of their most difficult and dangerous cases.

This enjoyable romp - recommended reading for anyone who takes pleasure in good old fashioned escapist mysteries - is Conrad Allen's seventh mystery featuring the elegant and charming duo of Masefield and Dillman. All of Allen's entertaining tales are set aboard some of the most famous luxury liners of the early twentieth century, and Murder on the Oceanic - like its predecessors - is undeniably enjoyable.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons

Personal Postscript:

Regardless of what I have previously posted or promised here at Informal Inquiries, I am changing the direction of this blog, and I will for the most part within my future postings include cut-and-paste copies of my previously written and published book reviews. Most often these reviews from past years, not edited and not updated, will appear without any of my typical personal postscripts, and almost all of the reviews previously appeared online at BookLoons, which I encourage to visit, but any exceptions to that source will be noted. Moreover, even though I may not include questions or invitations with the reprinted reviews, you are always invited and encouraged to comment, ask questions, or otherwise provoke discussions. 

Mary Shelley's biirthday and questions about S/F

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (books by this author), born Mary Godwin in London, England (1797). She is famous as the author of Frankenstein (1818), which is considered the first science fiction novel ever written.

It begins: "It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. ... It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs."

And there is this personal postscript:

Frankenstein gets credit for being the first science fiction novel (according to the article above and a lot of other sources), but I have my doubts and a few questions. 

First, what is a science fiction novel? 
Is Frankenstein really the first?
Do definitions of S/F simply conform to that novel? 

This sounds like a chicken or egg problem. 
Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Pondering Oliver Wendell Holmes on his birthday

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of the man who said, "Love is the master-key that opens the gates of happiness, of hatred, of jealousy, and, most easily of all, the gate of fear. How terrible is the one fact of beauty!" That's 19th-century poet and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (books by this author ), born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1809).

He ran in the same circles as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and other Boston intellectuals. He helped found The Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1857, and it was Holmes himself who came up with the name. He published his poetry and articles in The Atlantic Monthly at the same time he practiced medicine and taught at Harvard Medical School. He's also the father of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

He's perhaps best-known for his essays that make up the "Breakfast Table" series. In The Poet at the Breakfast Table (1872) he wrote, "We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible."

He said: "Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtasked. Good mental machinery ought to break its own wheels and levers, if anything is thrust among them suddenly which tends to stop them or reverse their motion. A weak mind does not accumulate force enough to hurt itself; stupidity often saves a man from going mad."

And there is this personal postscript:

Holmes had a great mind. On the other hand, I have a weak and not accurate mind, and I'm infected by tribal beliefs, yet I feel like I'm going quite mad and being harmed and must face death on my own terms in an insane world. Perhaps Holmes was wrong. 

John Locke's birthday and my return to literary criticism

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of the man who said, "The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts": British philosopher John Locke (books by this author ), born in Wrington, Somerset, England (1632). He believed all of our knowledge is derived from the senses. He also believed that we can know about morality with the same precision we know about math, because we create our ideas. His Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1688) was an instant success and sparked debate all across Europe.

Locke said, "Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours."

And there is this personal postscript:

I do not know much (enough) about John Locke, but I agree with his words quoted above about reading, knowledge, and thinking. The quotation reminds me that I should take time to think more clearly and more deeply about much of what I read. You see, I have been guilty of superficial reading -- evidenced by the quality of the many book reviews I have written and published in the last twenty years -- and I should avoid mere simple-minded reviews and simple-minded book-blog postings (superficial glosses on books). Yes, I should instead pursue more focused literary criticism; my academic background included substantial training and work in literary criticism, and I have irresponsibly abandoned that kind of disciplined, intellectual reading. So, with that thought in mind -- thank you, John Locke -- I will be making an effort to think more about my reading.

Now, though, let me ask you two questions:

What do you see as the differences between book reviews and literary criticism? Which do you prefer writing or reading? 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Leo Tolstoy's birthday celebration and a postscript

First, from Christianity Today's website, there is this brief notice of an important birthday:

August 28, 1828: 
Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist and social reformer, is born. Though the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him in 1901, his later works emphasized Christian love and the teachings of Jesus.

And there is this personal postscript:

Perhaps others would say much more about Tolstoy, but I think it is for me sufficient simply to note his birthday and the Christian themes of his later works.

If you have something else to add about Tolstoy -- because my comments are insufficient -- then let the discussions begin. Perhaps you can say something about your favorite works by Tolstoy. One of my favorites among several top contenders is Hadji Murad. Read more about the short novel here.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tarzan, a paradox, and an argument

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1912, the character of Tarzan, King of the Apes, came to life in All-Story Magazine. Tarzan's creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs (books by this author ), had failed the entrance exam to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and fared poorly in other occupations like cowboy, shopkeeper, gold miner, and railroad policemen. It was after devouring a lot of pulp magazines that he tried his hand at writing, believing "if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines."

He'd had success with his John Carter stories, which would later be novelized for the first time as The Princess of Mars  (1912), but it was the creation of Tarzan, a white baby orphaned in the coastal jungles of Africa and raised by the she-ape Kala, that would make his legacy. Burroughs had considered naming his feral child "Zanter" or "Tublat Zan," but settled on "Tarzan," born John Clayton, son of Lord and Lady Greystoke of England. The name "Tarzan" means "white skin" in ape language. He teaches himself to read when he discovers picture books his parents left behind. And later, when an American gentleman and his daughter, Jane, arrive in the jungle looking for buried treasure, they find Tarzan, who falls instantly in love with Jane.

"Tarzan of the Apes: A Romance of the Jungle" was a hit. Two years later, in 1914, Burroughs' story of a tall, gray-eyed, athletic man who can swing from vines, kill an ape, fill out a loincloth, and wield a knife with expert precision was published as the novel Tarzan of the Apes and became an instant sensation, spawning 24 more Tarzan novels and more than 40 films. The first Tarzan movie was made in 1917 and grossed over a million dollars. Burroughs was a consummate businessman, controlling the rights and licensing to all things Tarzan-related, like television shows, comic books, radio shows, jackknives, and even multivitamins. 

The Tarzan novels had a profound impact on pop culture and science. Anthropologist and primatologist Jane Goodall, renowned for her work with chimpanzees, began reading the books when she was 11 and credits them with inspiring her determination to work in Africa. She said: "I fell passionately in love with Tarzan — this glorious creature living out in the jungle doing all the things I wanted to do, and what did he do? He married the wrong Jane."

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury spent his childhood memorizing passages from the Tarzan novels and reciting them to his friends. He said, "Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the history of the world."

In the novels, Tarzan is well-spoken and thoughtful. Burroughs didn't care for the film versions, which made Tarzan out to be a rough-hewn semiliterate, reciting lines like, "Me, Tarzan, you, Jane," which he never says in the books.

In the course of 24 Tarzan novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan finds remnants of the Roman Empire hidden in the mountains of Africa; prevents Russian communists from looting the lost city of Opar; stumbles upon a real-life Jurassic Park filled with angry dinosaurs; travels to Baltimore, Maryland, to win Jane's hand in marriage; and runs afoul of the Veltopismakusian scientist Zoanthrohago, who reduces him to one-fourth of his normal size.

Edgar Rice Burroughs made so much money from the character of Tarzan that he formed his own publishing house and bought 550-acres of land east of Los Angeles and called it "Tarzana Ranch." Today, it is known as the city of Tarzana.

And there is this personal postscript:

It seems to me that Burroughs, an under-rated writer of -- dare I say it -- literature, captured in his popular fiction a brilliant paradox: human beings are uncomfortably civilized primitives, and the conflict between the two qualities -- primal solitude v. social intergration -- lies at the heart of all human challenges in our lives.  Yes, sometimes the civilized world in which we must live is almost too much to endure; the primitive world beckons. 

But now let me put aside that paradox (sounding a bit too much like stuffy literary criticism) and proffer a less abstract argument with a different perspective: we read escapist adventure fiction (like the Tarzan tales) as a healthy and much needed release from all the ugly realities in the world around us. (Three cheers for escaping from reality!) 

Tell me what you think of Tarzan, the paradox, the argument, or anything else on your mind. I look forward to your comments. 

Now, while I await our discussion, because I so much need an escape from unpleasant realities, I will look for something by Burroughs to read.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Robert Frost, "The Pasture," and a postscript

Here is "The Pasture," a poem appearing as the epigraph in the Library of America edition of Robert Frost's collected poems, plays, and prose. 

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may);
I shan't be gone long. -- You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan't be gone long. -- You come too.

Personal Postscript:

In my quiet moments, I've been browsing through the LOA edition of Frost's poems, and I've also been reading Jay Parini's biography of Frost. I've decided that I have a high regard for and fascination with Frost's poems, but -- because of my reading in the biography -- I think I would not care very much for Frost if I had known him; I might say more about both of those conflicting attitudes in future postings. 

On the occasion of this posting, though, I leave you with two questions: 

(1) I think the poem -- as an invitation to someone (readers?) -- goes beyond a lyrical, pastoral representation of the "pasture spring" and "the little calf," and it says something more profound (either about life or poetry or something else); however, I remain undecided about what that something might be, so I ask you: How would you explicate (explain) the poem?

(2) I have a tendency (perhaps some people would call it a weakness) to seek out biographical information about writers, and sometimes that information enhances and sometimes it interferes with my experiences with the writers' texts, so I wonder if others have the same tendency (weakness):  To what extent do you seek out biographical information about writers?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Charles Wright: poetry puts music in our ears

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of American poet Charles Wright (1935) (books by this author), born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, a tiny, rural community named for the title character of Charles Dickens's novel The Pickwick Papers . Wright was named for his great-grandfather Charles Penzel, who at age 23 took a bullet in the mouth when shouting "Charge!" during the Battle of Chickamauga during the Civil War. Wright's father was a civil engineer for the Tennessee Valley Authority and they moved often during his childhood, living comfortably in government housing. His father also worked on the Manhattan Project, the research and development project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

Wright was an active and diligent student in high school, helping to coach the football team, serving as vice president of his class, and being named to the honors program. He read all of William Faulkner by the time he graduated (1953), but he didn't start writing poetry until he served four years in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Italy when he came across Ezra Pound's Cantos, which he used first as a kind of guidebook to Italy and then as a way to begin writing his own poems. He's never thrown away his poems from Italy; they are stored in a footlocker. He says: "They don't know how to do anything . Mostly, I guess, because they didn't know what they were supposed to do. And I myself had no clue."

When he returned to the United States, Wright enrolled in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where the workshops were held in Quonset Huts left over from World War II. He was reading voraciously, especially poems by Dante, Emily Dickinson, and Arthur Rimbaud, but he was unprepared for the rigors of the workshop. He says, "I'd never written a proper poem in my life." When he graduated, he began teaching and publishing in magazines. His first collection, The Grave of the Right Hand  (1970), received good reviews and established the basis for his style: expansive, almost cinematic language. About his writing, he says: "I once said if a guy can't say what he has to say in three lines, he better change his job. I haven't gotten that far yet, but I'm down to six lines."

Wright's other collections of poetry include The Southern Cross (1981), Country Music (1982), Black Zodiac (1997), Littlefoot (2007), and Caribou (2014). He won the Pulitzer Prize (1998) for Black Zodiac. Wright served as U.S. poet laureate of the United States from 2014 to 2015.

On writing poetry, he says: "Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there's just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts music in our ears."

And then there is this poem:

"The Appalachian Book of the Dead" by Charles Wright
Sunday, September Sunday ... Outdoors,
Like an early page from The Appalachian Book of the Dead,   
Sunlight lavishes brilliance on every surface,
Doves settle, surreptitious angels, on tree limb and box branch,   
A crow calls, deep in its own darkness,
Something like water ticks on
Just there, beyond the horizon, just there, steady clock ...

Go in fear of abstractions ...
                                                       Well, possibly. Meanwhile,
They are the strata our bodies rise through, the sere veins   
Our skins rub off on.
For instance, whatever enlightenment there might be   
Housels compassion and affection, those two tributaries   
That river above our lives,
Whose waters we sense the sense of
                                                                   late at night, and later still.

Uneasy, suburbanized,
I drift from the lawn chair to the back porch to the dwarf orchard   
Testing the grass and border garden.
A stillness, as in the passageways of Paradise,
Bell jars the afternoon.
                                            Leaves, like ex votos, hang hard and shine   
Under the endlessness of heaven.
Such skeletal altars, such vacant sanctuary.

It always amazes me
How landscape recalibrates the stations of the dead,
How what we see jacks up
                                                  the odd quotient of what we don’t see,   
How God’s breath reconstitutes our walking up and walking down.   
First glimpse of autumn, stretched tight and snicked, a bad face lift,
Flicks in and flicks out,
                                            a virtual reality.
Time to begin the long division.

Charles Wright, “The Appalachian Book of the Dead” from Black Zodiac. Copyright © 1997 by Charles Wright. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.

Finally there is this personal postscript:

I have a favor to ask of you. Please ignore all previous postings here at Informal Inquiries: a few are filled with doom-and-gloom pronouncements, and a few others include declarations of half-baked reading-and-posting plans, but all postings have been polluted by inconsistencies and contradictions, so they should all be ignored. Can you do that for me?

Now, beyond the favor being asked of you, here is the point of today's posting: I do not know from day to day what I might feel like; moreover, I do not know what I might feel like saying here at Informal Inquiries; therefore, you never know what might show up here on any given day, but I hope you will stop by and comment every now and then.

Today, however, because of what I discovered at The Writer's Almanac this morning, I am interested in Charles Wright (perhaps you also will be interested), and I like what he says about poetry (perhaps you also will like what he says): poetry poles us across the river and puts music in our ears.

Moreover, I am much intrigued by the poem, "The Appalachian Book of the Dead." I admit that I do not know what it all means, and I am not sure that is necessary in reading poetry, but because of the powerful imagery and diction and lyricism, I have an inkling of meaning here and there (especially in phrases like "fear of abstractions," "passageways of Paradise," "God's breath," and "virtual reality"), and when I read the poem aloud I really do feel as though I am being ferried across the river, and I really do hear the music in my ears. The poem for me is a transcendental experience. Yes, "transcendental" is the word!  More than that, I cannot yet say.

So, I turn to you. What are your thoughts on "The Appalachian Book of the Dead"? Let's talk about this interesting poem. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Gutenberg Bible, God, and Informal Inquiries

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1456 that the first edition of the Gutenberg Bible was bound and completed  in Mainz, Germany. The Gutenberg Bible was the first complete book printed with movable type. The press produced 180 copies of the Bible. Books had been printed on presses before, in China and Korea, with wood and bronze type; but Gutenberg used metal type, and made a press that could print many versions of the same text quickly. His contributions to printing were huge: he created an oil-based printing ink, he figured out how to cast individual pieces of type in metal so that they could be reused, and he designed a functioning printing press. But others before him had come up with similar ideas. Probably the most important thing that Gutenberg did was to develop the entire process of printing — he streamlined a system for assembling the type into a full book and then folding the pages into folios, which were then bound into an entire volume — and to do it all quickly. The techniques that Gutenberg refined were used for hundreds of years, and the publication of the Gutenberg Bible marked a turning point in the availability of knowledge to regular people.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

In my two previous postings -- predictable repetitions of my many previous "termination" postings -- I announced the end of postings here at Informal Inquiries. However, as has happened before, I have reconsidered the "termination," and will resume postings, but there is an important caveat, which I will explain below.

The paragraph from The Writer's Almanac at the beginning of this posting contains the catalyst for my reconsideration. You will notice that the focus of the paragraph is the printing process and its impact upon the world. However, what interests me more -- and what motivates me to resume postings for the indefinite future -- is the Bible and its impact upon the world. More particularly, I am interested in readers' responses to the Bible (i.e., the ways in which people have responded to, thought about, and acted upon the words in the Bible). Also, since so many people consider the Bible to be the word of God, I am interested in the ways in which people have responded to and thought about God. 

So, for whatever it might be worth, I am dedicating myself to my own reader's response to the Bible -- which I will be reading (and reading about) -- and I will do so in terms of the Bible as historical, literary, and religious text. And -- more particularly within the religious perspective -- I am interested in better understanding the role of God in my life; also, going a step further, which I hope will make sense, I am interested in better understanding my role in the life of God. 

Now, you may wonder, why am I doing this -- resuming postings (again) -- when I had so clearly announced (again) an end to postings. Well, I believe the Gutenberg article at The Writer's Almanac this morning was a "sign" for me to snap out of my doldrums and do something useful and interesting. I will go a step further: Perhaps God is urging me forward via The Writer's Almanac. Yes, some of you might think that such a notion is instead the ravings of an old man, another sign of my Swiss-cheese mind and my encroaching senility. So be it.

Well, friends, there you have it. Future postings, perhaps not daily but frequent, may include readers' (and my) responses to the Bible (and God).

I invite you to respond to this and future postings. However, I leave you with a question: why do you think the Bible has been so influential for so many years? That's not an easy question to answer, but give it your best shot. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Farewell to the World

First there is this:

A Farewell to the World by Ben Jonson
FALSE world, good night! since thou hast brought
That hour upon my morn of age;
Henceforth I quit thee from my thought,
My part is ended on thy stage.

Yes, threaten, do. Alas! I fear
As little as I hope from thee:
I know thou canst not show nor bear
More hatred than thou hast to me.

My tender, first, and simple years
Thou didst abuse and then betray;
Since stir'd'st up jealousies and fears,
When all the causes were away.

Then in a soil hast planted me
Where breathe the basest of thy fools;
Where envious arts professed be,
And pride and ignorance the schools;

Where nothing is examined, weigh'd,
But as 'tis rumour'd, so believed;
Where every freedom is betray'd,
And every goodness tax'd or grieved.

But what we're born for, we must bear:
Our frail condition it is such
That what to all may happen here,
If 't chance to me, I must not grutch.

Else I my state should much mistake
To harbour a divided thought
From all my kind--that, for my sake,
There should a miracle be wrought.

No, I do know that I was born
To age, misfortune, sickness, grief:
But I will bear these with that scorn
As shall not need thy false relief.

Nor for my peace will I go far,
As wanderers do, that still do roam;
But make my strengths, such as they are,
Here in my bosom, and at home.

Personal postscript: 
This is my final posting for a while (days, weeks, months or more).  I say that because I have other, more important issues to deal with in my life. Yes, I have other fish to fry, the oil is hot, and it's nearly closing time at the Davis Fish House. So, as Jonson says so well, farewell.
And, as a food for thought coda, there is this, "Invictus," from William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Aubade" by Philip Larkin -- and a bit more

First there is this:


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.   
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.   
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.   
Till then I see what’s really always there:   
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,   
Making all thought impossible but how   
And where and when I shall myself die.   
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse   
—The good not done, the love not given, time   
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because   
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;   
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. 

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being 
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,   
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,   
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.    

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,   
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill   
That slows each impulse down to indecision.   
Most things may never happen: this one will,   
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without   
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave   
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.   
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,   
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,   
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring   
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Philip Larkin, "Aubade" from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.  Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd. Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)

And there is this:

Larkin's poem says quite correctly and clearly much of what is now on my mind these days. I thank Frank Wilson at Books, Inq.; he reminded me this morning in an email that this poem is very much worth reading and pondering. So, as I ponder the poem in the hours, days, and weeks in front of me -- with death being too much on my mind -- I will try to figure out how to live better and more completely. Blogging may or may not be part of that living. Well, time and impulse will tell.  

Now, though, also because of something Frank told me in the email, I'm going to spend some time reading Willa Cather's wonder-filled novel about life and death, Death Comes for the Archbishop.  If you wish to comment about anything in this posting, I look forward to your thoughts and words. 

Ray Bradbury's birthday and crimes against books

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury(books by this author ), born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. He spent a lot of his childhood in the Waukegan library, where he fell in love with L. Frank Baum, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. One summer he went to see a local carnival act named Mr. Electrico, a man who sat in an electrical chair and knighted audience members with a sword while electricity flowed through his body. When he reached Bradbury, he put the sword on his head and shouted at him, "Live Forever!" Bradbury couldn't get that out of his head, and the next day he made his father drive him to the carnival again, even though his uncle had just died and he was supposed to be at the wake. Mr. Electrico introduced the boy to all the carnival performers and then sat with him on a sand dune and told Bradbury that the boy was the reincarnation of Mr. Electrico's best friend, a man who had died in his arms during World War I. Ray Bradbury said that Mr. Electrico "gave me a future and in doing so, gave me a past." The next day his family moved cross-country, and as soon as they got to their new house, Ray Bradbury got out a piece of butcher paper and started to write. That was 1932, when Bradbury was 12 years old, and he said that he wrote every single day of his life from then on. His books include The Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Farewell Summer (2006).

Ray Bradbury, who said: "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."

And: "I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."

And: "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down."

And there is this personal postscript:

I confess to being a criminal: No, I have not burned books, but I do have many on my bookshelves that I have not read; moreover, all those books in the local library keep beckoning. 

And here is the worst crime: there are a number of books I've long wanted to read but have neglected yet hope to read before I kick the bucket and "the library closes its doors forever." 

(Note: The complete novels of Charles Dickens are among my nettlesome oversights; I've read only two by Dickens. Also, I want to read everything by Mark Twain; yes, I've read a few but so much more beckons. And then there are the stories and novels of Hawthorne and Melville; I've read too few by these American masters. But wait! There is Shakespeare. There is the Bible. In all cases, I'm sure that level of neglect violates some book readers' criminal code.)

Well, what about you? What crimes (i.e., unread books) most bother you? In other words, which books have you neglected but hope to read before "the library closes forever"?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Oedipus: first among sleuths

Sharon Henning at Gently Mad (at this link ) discusses Oedipus the King, and her discussion has me wondering more about crime, detective, and mystery fiction. You see, Sophocles' play, to my mind, ranks as one of the early ancestors of the modern genre; yes, even though Poe is given credit for being the "inventor" of the genre, I argue that Sophocles and others might be able to lay claim to that honor. 

But I might be quite wrong. So you tell me: as you see it, what is the earliest ancestor of crime, detective, and mystery fiction?