Tag: Literature

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Mr. Tom Wolfe accompanied his first novel, The bonfire of the vanities, with a manifesto, Stalking the billion-footed beast. (Available in pdf here.) This is an unusual thing to do in a novelist, inasmuch as he wishes people to read the work rather than consider it as part of the social life of the country. […]

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I was once impractical enough to waste a college credit on a course devoted entirely to the Arthurian legend. Even if the stories were good, the course would have been wasteful. But the stories were not good, to my surprise. It was like reading a soap opera over and over again.  The 1981 film Excalibur […]

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Is Horror the Most Conservative Fiction Genre?

 

shutterstock_232268611In two days, I’ll be a panelist at the World Horror Convention. This surprises me as much as anyone: Horror, I’ve always thought, just ain’t my thing. But on the other hand, if I run down my list of favorite books from the past ten or fifteen years, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas Series holds several slots. Many books that I read and thoroughly enjoyed — thinking they were fantasies or thrillers — take some very dark turns; a reasonable person could look at Tim Powers’s Declare, for example, and be forgiven for thinking it belongs on the shelf next to Steven King instead of sitting next to Terry Pratchett.

In preparing for WHC, I reviewed some notes from a discussion I listened to at Comic Con Salt Lake. I wish I could remember who said it, but one of the authors in the discussion made the following statement: “Horror is the most conservative of all genres because, as the story builds to a climax, the protagonist is stripped of everything artificial and is left with only the core of who they are as a person to defend themselves against the Evil that’s coming at them.”

I don’t think it’s a truism that the protagonists of horror stories are the most moral people in the room. Maybe that used to be true, but in the post-Scream world, the sex-obsessed teens aren’t always the first to get knocked off. I’ve stopped reading some novels (both horror and otherwise) because the author kept taking me into the minds of people I found too repulsive to want to spend time with, even when they were being stalked by something/someone worse than them. But if I look at the darker stories that make my cut of my best novels of the past several years — especially the Koontz — I find over and over that I’m reading about good people who get themselves trapped in horrible places, battling against some truly evil forces, and yet manage to remain good people throughout. They’re often given a choice to betray their core values–but in the end, they remain true to their principles.

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In September 1843, Dickens started writing this little book, which seems to be our only modern Christmas myth. He was done in early December &, after deciding to pay for publication himself, he failed to make anything like the profit he expected. But the book has never been out of print & to it we […]

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Progressives have often been ridiculed on Ricochet for emphasizing feelings over actions, intentions over results. What good is a hashtag against terrorism or colored ribbons against a disease? Be serious!  But must we always be serious about serious problems? If sympathetic expressions are cheap and easily dismissed, why are emotionally detached jokes not dismissed with […]

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This summer, I finally started working through The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck. I’d always wanted to read her work, because she had an interesting background: child of missionaries to China, and, as I found from the bio last night, resident of China as an adult because of her husband’s job. Has anybody else […]

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Honor Books

 

HonorBooksExteriorAllen, MI, is the kind of town for which the expression “wide place in the road” was coined. Its “downtown” retail strip is just two shuttered brick buildings with tall Italianate windows that stare vacantly at the barely-slowing traffic of US 12.

Between the buildings is a gap filled by a remarkable oddity: Honor Books. As you can see, it’s a lean-to of discarded two-by-fours, plywood sheets, and barn skylights. There is no door, only a yawning gap. The sign up top has not aged gracefully but still entreats, “Serve Yourself.” The sign out on the sidewalk cheerfully declares, “Yes, We’re Open” as if the not-to-code construction left any doubt. (I have driven by at all hours of day and night and never seen that sign withdrawn.)

Inside, the “customer” finds a few mismatched bookcases displaying perhaps as many as a couple hundred books. There is some evidence the books have been sorted by topic. The uncontrolled environment has allowed mildew to play havoc.

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I was showing the family an old comedy starring the inimitable Mr. Eddie Murphy. Then it was over; then came the news, where the local PM under indictment or in the environs thereof told some EU gathering about transparency in government. Then an advertisement on TV for a newspaper: Buy this rag / tabloid & you’ll […]

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Underwhelmed By Greatness?

 

RearWindowHave you ever had this experience? Have you ever sat down with a book, a film, an album, what have you, that you’ve heard from time immemorial was a classic and thought…eh? Maybe you would have liked it if you had come to it cold, but it just couldn’t bear the weight of its own legacy.

I’ve always been a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. Vertigo is one of my favorite films of all time. The episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled “Breakdown” is one of the most gripping 30 minutes of television I’ve ever seen (you can find it on Netflix or Amazon). While I’ve worked my way through most of the Hitchcock corpus, I had, until recently, somehow failed to make the time for Rear Window, considered one of the director’s all-time classics. Finding myself with some unexpected free time on a recent Sunday, I popped it up on Netflix. And, well…eh.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid film. The acting is stellar, confining the action primarily to Jimmy Stewart’s apartment was clever (it’s essentially the movie equivalent of a bottle episode), and there are some moments of genuine suspense. Overall, however, I came away underwhelmed. Without giving too much away (although, to be fair, the film is 60 years old, so a spoiler alert is an act of charity), the tension in the plot runs as follows: one of the main characters either did A or did B. In the end, it turns out he did B. Not exactly white-knuckle stuff.

Weekend Contest: The Greatest Easter Art and Literature

 

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Ricochet, you’ve very narrowly been spared. Our discussion of the framework nuclear deal with Iran led to a suggestion by our resident curmudgeon Ball Diamond Ball that I carefully re-consider the work of Saul Alinsky for insight. I was game, and I was even on the verge of opening our weekend literature contest to those who wished to spend it reading Alinsky and tracing his influence on the Obama Administration.

Then it occurred to me that this could not possibly be how anyone on Ricochet would wish to spend this weekend. (I know for sure I don’t.) Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but I suspect we would all prefer to spend it with a great work of art or literature more suitable to the Easter holiday.

So our weekend contest is now open. In fact, this weekend, we will hold two contests simultaneously.

What Books Don’t You Need to Read Before You Die?

 

The Internet world inundates us with lists about things we need to read or do or see before we die:  thus “Fifty Places You Must Visit Before You Die,” “The Twenty Movies You Must See,” “Twenty-Five Herbs You Must Integrate into Your Cooking,” and on and on and on.

In the literary world, we have the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century list and Radcliffe College’s competing list.  For broader historical coverage, you have The Guardian’s 100 best books of all time , or the 50 greatest books of all time,which is a synthesis of 107 great books lists.  Time has a list of 100 best novels (1923-2005). Heck, there’s even one entitled “50 Books to Read Before You Die.”

It May Not Be The Rumored “Atlas Shrugged” Sequel, But…

 

Daniel Day LewisI’m pretty excited about the sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The best thing about “Go Set a Watchman” that I’ve gotten from the news reports is that it’s not a new novel: Lee wrote it back in the 1950s and it was “rediscovered.” Again, this is a sequel to Haper Lee’s work, not Allan Moore’s.

Of course, expectations for most will probably be set too high, but it can’t help but be an interesting read as a grown-up Scout goes home again to visit her Dad and hometown.

Is it too early to speculate who can play Atticus Finch in the inevitable film adaptation? It has to be Daniel Day Lewis, doesn’t it?

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Of Cartoons and Advertising

 

My younger generation might not know symphonies and concertos by name, but we recognize many melodies. Relatively few of us have attended classical performances — and fewer still seek them out — but we have at least a passing knowledge of the great composers’ works, even if we never listen to the songs all the way through and know little about the composers themselves. 

How did we gain this basic familiarity with classical music?  Through TV advertisements, film soundtracks, and (like Baby Boomers) through Looney Tunes.  The latest generation is learning these songs through video games like Peggle.  

Not a Good Week for Hillary Clinton

 

HillFirst, there was this. Then, there was the fact that Diane Sawyer of all people laid into Clinton over Benghazi (which, lest you forget, is not a scandal, so don’t worry your pretty little heads about it, darlings). And then, there is the fact that her book . . . well . . . isn’t so good:

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s new memoir “Hard Choices” officially launches Tuesday morning, but it’s already being savaged by critics for being overly cautious and, as a result, uninteresting.

“TRUTH BOMB 1: ‘Hard Choices’ is a newsless snore,” Politico’s Mike Allen wrote in his Monday-morning newsletter. He went on to describe the book “written so carefully not to offend that it will fuel the notion that politics infuses every part of her life.”

What the Piketty Errors Mean

 

PikettyRemember the Reinhart/Rogoff spreadsheet error? In the event that you do not, here is a summary. Those who follow debates between economists will recall that the spreadsheet error led to all kinds of excoriations of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff on the part of liberal economists, who claimed that they were responsible for austerity policies that killed off economic growth. Even Stephen Colbert got in on the act. Their spreadsheet error was considered to be the worst tragedy that befell the planet since that one time when Oedipus and Jocasta had a super-awesome first date.

Of course, the excoriations were vastly overstated, but that didn’t stop intellectual opponents of Reinhart and Rogoff from engaging in hyperbole on a grand scale. Now that Thomas Piketty has been caught making his own significant errors, comparisons have naturally been made between Piketty on the one hand, and Reinhart and Rogoff on the other.

These comparisons fail. Reinhart and Rogoff may have made a spreadsheet error, but there is a very plausible argument that the error did not affect their conclusions, and there was no serious accusation on anyone’s part — not even the most severe critics — that Reinhart and Rogoff engaged in intellectual or scholarly fraud.

Facts Are Stubborn Things . . . As Thomas Piketty Is Beginning to Find Out

 

I have bought Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and while I have posted many an item that takes issue with the books claims and conclusions concerning wealth inequality, I do plan on reading Piketty; his book has made quite the intellectual and cultural impact, and although I know what his basic arguments are, I want to be sure that I read the whole of the book to be fully aware of his claims.

But even before reading the book, one can conclude certain things about Piketty, as my previous blog posts indicate. And today, we learn that we may well be able to conclude one more thing still about Piketty, his research, and his arguments: They may be completely wrong. And yes, those words were worth emphasizing.

The Knightly Ideal

 

Knight1-500x330Some time ago, in a discussion about books on a different forum, I mentioned that one thing I didn’t care for in George R. R. Martin’s works was the denigration of the concept of knighthood. For this comment, I got a severe dressing down from all his fans. His books were well researched; his portrayal of knights is far more accurate than the idealized images we see in Romanticism. (Also included were, if I recall, a few comments about my poor character based on my criticisms of great fantasy literature. It wasn’t made on Ricochet, you see.) However, I remain undaunted. For the most part, it’s not the portrayal of actual knights that caused me to be troubled, but rather the view of knights as expressed in the “more worldly” of Martin’s characters: a view that the ideal of knighthood is a lustrous fiction with no basis in reality. Martin presents the ideal of chivalry as false and even deadly. Holding fast to honor can get one killed and make one an object of ridicule. Having no honor can certainly be deadly as well, but there appears to be no merit in restraining oneself. If either path leads to the same destination, why take the difficult one?

Here we find postmodern progressive nihilism. The perfect is the enemy of the good. If we cannot meet an impossible standard, we should abandon that standard — even if we have no alternative save dissipation. Those who try and fail short are examples of the ideal’s failure.

I look to another great author of fantasy fiction, however: Gene Wolfe. I like how he explores this concept in his work, The Wizard Knight. In the first part, The Knight, the protagonist meets Sir Ravd. Sir Ravd is an honorable knight. It is in witnessing Sir Ravd’s deeds and integrity that the protagonist becomes inspired to take up arms and become a knight as well. The knight instructs our hero,”It is honor, Able. A knight is a man who lives honorably and dies honorably, because he cares more for his honor than for his life.”

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So today you needn’t worry about spoilers, television and literature fans. Yea, even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of plot threads, I fear no spoilers. I’ve only seen the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, and I’ve only read the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire. […]

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