Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How It All Began by Penelope Lively

Author's reputation: 10 (Booker Prize Winner)
Character depth: 9.
Plot anxiety-level: 3.
Believability of plot: 5.
Description of characters' financial situations:  Meh.
Cover title font: 1. (looks sloppy)
Sentence quality: 5.
Deployment of immigrant man's pidgin dialect: 2.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

An Edwardian birthday party overrun by ghosts.

Dubliners by James Joyce

This is a nearly perfect book of short stories.  From "The Sisters," about the wake for a newly-dead priest who went mad and was found laughing quietly by himself in confessional, to "The Dead," an epic story about a New Year's musical recital and the memory of a dead first love, Joyce writes minutely about ordinary Irish lives and summons a monumental tone of liveliness and regret.

Prized Possessions by L.R. Wright

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

James Joyce by Richard Ellmann

This is a tremendous literary biography.  It has compelled me to go back and read James Joyce again, and as I progress through Ellmann's book, it has become impossible for me to not to try to write about Joyce, as I'm thinking about him so much.

Three things stand out in my mind as I come to a new, larger understanding of the man and the author.

First, from age six to age twenty, he was almost without interruption educated by Jesuits and boarded at Jesuit educational institutions.  This led Joyce himself to say that though it wouldn't be accurate to describe himself as a Catholic, describing himself as a Jesuit did seem appropriate.

Second, and via the first fact, Joyce's most extraodinary mental ability seemed to be his tremendous Jesuit-led instruction in rhetoric, the ordering and advancement of argument in language.  Even his most brutish physical descriptions, piled on as they are, always appear to be grasped within a ligament of argument.

Finally, As J. M. Cohen suggests, Joyce seems to come to things through words, instead of to words through things.  This has more than a little to do with his vision problems:  born with weak eyes, he developed severe ocular disorders that progressed throughout his life.  So seeing things physically, while certainly important, was not his finally wrestling ground for language.  He put things in words before they made sense to him.

His sins became serious, and his sense of sin, 'that sense of separation and loss,' brought him to consciousness, from which vantage point he sloughed off all but the vestiges of Christian guilt.

On top of that Howth train alone crying to the rain:  naked women! What about that, eh? (Ulysses)

To become greater than our sins is worth more than all the purity you preach. (Sudermann's Magda)

Silent Years by John Francis Byrne, coded memoir, largerly about Joyce. "One of the most crotchety and interesting of the many books of Joyce's friends."

Women: "soft-skinned animals."

Shakespeare= "Literature in dialogue."

Lermontov's "Hero of Our Days."

Schnitz:  "The writer must write every evening the history of his day."

GB Shaw had a very complex reaction to ULYSSES, who had once been a young man in Dublin himself.
 “I was attracted to [Ulysses] by the fact that I was once a young man in Dublin, and also by Joyce’s literary power, which is of classic quality. I do not see why there should be any limit to frankness in sex revelation; but Joyce does not raise that question. The question he does raise is whether there should be any limit to the use in literature of blackguardly language. It depends on what people will stand. If Dickens or Thackeray had been told that a respectable author like myself would use the expletive “bloody” in a play, and that an exceptionally fastidious actress of the first rank, associated exclusively with fine parts, would utter it on the stage without turning a hair, he could not have believed it. Yet I am so old-fashioned and squeamish that I was horrified when I first heard a lady describe a man as a rotter. I could not write the words Mr Joyce uses: my prudish hand would refuse to form the letters; and I can find no interest in his infantile clinical incontinences, or in the flatulations which he thinks worth mentioning…

    Ulysses is a document, the outcome of a passion for documentation that is as fundamental as the artistic passion — more so, in fact; for the document is the root and stem of which the artistic fancy works are the flowers. Joyce is driven by his documentary demon to place on record the working of a young man’s imagination for a single day in the environment of Dublin. The question is, is the document authentic. I, having read some scraps of it, reply that I am afraid it is, then you may rise up and demand that Dublin be razed to the ground, and its foundations sown with salt. And I may say do so, by all means. But that does not invalidate the document.”

Shaw famously concludes:  “If a man holds up a mirror to your nature and shows you that it needs washing — not whitewashing — it is no use breaking the mirror. Go for soap and water.”

Joyce thought very highly of Yeats, that he was a true imaginative talent.  Later he (Joyce) said to Jacques Mercanton, “Why regret my talent?  I haven’t any.  I write so painfully, so slowly.  Chance furnishes me with what I need.  I’m like a man who stumbles: my foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I’m in need of.’  On the other hand, he often agreed with Vico that ‘Imagination is nothing but the working over of what is remembered,’ and said to Frank Budger, ‘Imagination is memory.’”

Joyce's favorite song:  "The Brown and Yellow Ale."

His daughter Lucia struggled her entire life with mental illness, and was finally confined for schizophrenia.  Joyce took his daughter's illness extremely personally, and Ellmann notes that several scholars find the father and daughter very similar creatively.  One notes, though, that though they both spent their lives as if they were jumping out of a boat into the ocean, but that James Joyce was "diving" while his daughter was "jumping."

"I ask myself what then will happen when and if she [Lucia] withdraws her regard from the lightning-lit revery of her clairvoyance and turns it upon that battered cabman's face, the world."

Joyce's beautiful later poem, "Epilogue to Ibsen's Ghost," which begins:

Dear quick, whose conscience buried deep
The grim old grouser has been salving,
Permit one spectre more to peep.
I am the ghost of Captain Alving.

Silenced and smothered by my past
Like the lewd knight in dirty linen
I struggle forth to swell the cast
And air a long-suppressed opinion.

King Suckerman by George Pelecanos

Bicentennial week in Washington DC, 1976. Get some body bags!

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