Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bleak House. Moody. Noir-ish.

Ever read Dickens' Bleak House? Me neither. I've wanted to, ever since my mother told me that someone in the book dies of spontaneous combustion. Being aware that my one-time literary hero Vladimir Nabokov admired the book and wrote about it in his Lectures on Literature, (something else I never got around to reading) only added fuel to the fire.

I resisted until I saw the recent BBC adaptation (excellent, except for a bizarre use of melodramatic jump-cuts) via Netflix, which inspired me to overcome my lifetime of Bleak House-related sloth. I mooched an old hard-bound copy from someone in Australia (it was originally owned, according to the pencil signature on the flyleaf, by one A. Beange in Wellington, New Zealand, who bought it in September 1918). Once I finally started it, I was startled to discover that Dickens opens the book with reams of incomplete sentences:

London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes -- gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers ... Fog everywhere.
I almost felt I was reading a moody contemporary thriller. Was Dickens deliberately pushing the form, or was he writing fast, in shorthand, and decided later it could stand? Either way, I sure wish I could've used it in my never-ending arguments with my high school English teacher, who was trying to force me to abandon sentence fragments. (Never did. Loved 'em.)

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hilton Als on Jean Stafford

Following closely on the heels of my earlier Emdashes post singing the praises of Jean Stafford's "In the Zoo," The New Yorker featured a story of hers in May's fiction podcast with Hilton Als. It wasn't one of her stronger stories, in my opinion, though The New Yorker seems to like it, since they not only published it the first time, but they reprinted an excerpt in the June 27, 1994 issue, and now feature it on a podcast. De gustibus non est disputandum.

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Shirley Hazzard - When Transit of Venus Was Young

Catching up with my Emdashes posts: I've commented before now on how much I enjoyed re-reading Shirley Hazzard's Transit of Venus. More recently, over on on Emdashes I performed a detailed review of four of Hazzard's stories from The New Yorker which later made up a good chunk of Transit. If I haven't convinced to read it yet, I hope this will do it.

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Lorrie Moore, Read by Louise Erdrich

Catching up with my Emdashes posts: I strongly recommend that you check out the fiction podcast. In particular, I can't say enough good things about Louise Erdrich's reading of Lorrie Moore's story, "Dance in America." Phor phun, phollow the link!

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Catching Up

I've been remiss about cross-posting from Emdashes. So the next few will be re-posts of recent things I've done over there. For those of you who've already seen them, I apologize for the repetition.

I've been consumed with reading a fantasy series by Steven Erikson, which begins with Gardens of the Moon. (Pictured is the second volume in the series, Deadhouse Gates.) It's not up to the mark set by George R. R. Martin, but it's pretty good, if you like the grim stuff. Erikson's not nearly as casual about offing major characters as Martin is, but the bodies pile up by the thousands, and his characters all have a tendency to muse on mortality -- in fact, they all sound like TheSilver Surfer. Still, this is a series where the backstory grows more complex with each succeeding volume, and Erikson's imagination is epic in scope and grandeur. Once he gets going, he's a lot of fun, provided you have stomach for martial epics, and every other person seems to herald new and terrible forces unleashed upon the land. (I keep giving him left-handed compliments, but the fact is, I'm closing in on p. 900 of volume 3 of his 10+ volume epic, so the guys' got something going for him.)

Anyhow, all this to explain why, in part, my posts have been even scarcer than usual.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

The King's English in Top 12 Online Literary Journals

... at least if you rank them by the number of stories nominated for the Million Writers Award. Congratulations to the other journals on that list; on behalf of the editors of The King's English, however, I want to let out a dignified, cultured, "Wahoo!"

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