Thursday, June 27, 2019

Poem(s) For a Thursday: Philosophical Limericks

And he writes mysteries, too! And his niece is Penelope Fitzgerald!

There once was a man who said: "God,
Must think it exceedingly odd
  If he finds that this tree
  Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad." 
Dear Sir,
  Your astonishment's odd:
I am always about in the Quad
  And that's why the tree
  Will continue to be
Since observed by
  Yours Faithfully,

-Ronald A. Knox

A variant on the old saying: if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound? Bishop George Berkeley, whom I recently read about in Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, had the answer to that. This is Reverend Knox's summary of Berkeley's argument, quoted in Russell.

And that reminded me of this other philosophical limerick on pre-destination:

There was a young man who said, "Damn!
I perceive with regret that I am
  But a creature that moves
  In predestinate grooves;
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram.

-Maurice E. Hare

Be sure to go see the originator of Poem For A Thursday at Jennifer's Holds Upon Happiness. I'm posting this in advance but I will checking her poem out as soon as possible!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The story of Arthur Abdel Simpson, or that lying Eric Ambler

How about those book covers? No serious books here!

Dirty Story

I picked up Eric Ambler's Dirty Story (1967) at a charity sale last fall. It's one of the few of Ambler's spy novels I haven't read, and I was happy to find it. It starts in Athens where Arthur Abdel Simpson is a chauffeur, tour guide, and small-time crook. He's got passport trouble, with neither a valid Egyptian passport (his mother's country) nor an English passport (his father's.) The clerk at the English embassy is perfectly well aware of Simpson's criminal record in various countries, and simply refuses to renew his now out of date English passport, claiming his parents were never married. Simpson is left with no choice but to try to buy a fake passport on the docks at Piraeus. For which he doesn't have the money.

His attempt to scheme his way out of this results in various complications that lead to his taking a job as a mercenary in a war between small (fake) African countries over mineral rights.

The exposition was amusing, but took up too much of the novel; the adventure part was compelling and fun, but came a little late in the book, only the last 60 pages.

But it was early in the exposition I realized this was the same protagonist/narrator as in Ambler's The Light of Day, so I pulled that off the shelf.

The Light of Day

The Light of Day (1962) is the much better novel; here Simpson breaks into the hotel room of his client Harper after dropping Harper off at a house of prostitution, and sets himself up to be blackmailed into assisting in some illegal scheme. What is it? Simpson figures it's drugs; the Turkish policeman, Colonel Haki, who detects it almost right away, assumes it's political. The alternate title of the book, Topkapi (also the title of the movie, with Peter Ustinov as Simpson) half gives it away, but I won't say more. Much more thriller, less exposition, with Ambler's signature humor.

I'd read The Light of Day before, a while ago now, and so I didn't realize until I reread it, that Simpson's explanation of his checkered career is almost the same in Dirty Story as it is in The Light of Day. Pretty slack on Ambler's part. It's amusing, but reading them one right after the other is a bit disappointing, but it's the second novel that's the lazy one, of course, not this one.

Here Lies

I've long loved the title of Ambler's autobiography, and when I saw I could get it from the library, I thought, well, now's the time. It dates from 1985, when Ambler was 76, and comes after all of his novels, though he lived on for another thirteen years. It's pretty entertaining.

His parents were puppeteers and performers of musical theater, before his father decided he needed a more stable job during the Depression years. It covers his school years (decent public school education,) his first jobs (manufacturing of electrical equipment--this was full of technical information and often incomprehensible--,) and his war years (mostly with a film unit, writing for Carol Reed or John Huston.) It stops about 1950, but then author biographies often get dull once they're solidly established so maybe that's just as well.

Now I want to see the movie again.

Can't get much more fluffy/summer-y in one's reading than that!

and while I have an unread Orhan Pamuk novel around here, The Light of Day is definitely a Turkey book, so...

Friday, June 21, 2019

Russell's A History of Western Philosophy

"Many histories of philosophy exist, and it has not been my purpose merely to add one more to their number. My purpose is to exhibit philosophy as an integral part of social and political life: not as the isolated speculations of remarkable individuals, but as both an effect and a cause of the character of the various communities in which different systems flourished. This purpose demands more account of general history than is usually given by historians of philosophy."
-from the Preface
"Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge--so I should contend--belongs to science;..."
-from the Introductory [Yes, that's what he calls it.]

Some years ago I was beginning to collect the individual volumes of A History of Philosophy by Frederick Copleston, S. J., and a friend remarked, "Why would you read that? Aren't you worried about bias?" and suggested Russell's A History of Philosophy. I sputtered an incoherent argument, but the basis of it was meant to be there's always bias, and we'll need to read critically, though I doubt I actually managed that very well in conversation...But I did get a copy of Russell, too, when I saw it in some used bookstore, though for a long time it lingered unread or just browsed in, as have for that matter most of the volumes of Copleston. But no longer!

As for the bias of Frederick Copleston, S.J., I'm partly educated by the Jesuits, so I am presumed able to see through their wiles, or have experience of them at any rate, or, possibly, am so compromised by them, it's hopeless anyway. You can decide.

So: I've had this longstanding, but at best occasional, desire to have a working overview of philosophy in my head, and have even been known sometimes to do something about it. Russell's book turns out to have been a good addition.

A History of Philosophy is based on lectures Russell gave at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia in 1942 and 1943. The book first came out in 1945, and is cited as one of the books that led to his winning the Nobel Prize in Literature of 1950.

A recent review I read of Witcraft by Jonathan Rée said of that book: "Rather than whisking us from one prominent philosophical peak to another, it spends a lot of time wandering the fertile valleys in between them." Russell's is very definitely a work of the peaks. There are a number of philosophers whose names I know (a sign they must have some importance, right?) who don't get mentioned at all.

On those he does mention, he's generally quite lucid, and often witty. For instance, what he says about Kant was intelligible to me, which feels like a major accomplishment. I doubt it's a full picture of Kant, but that he can say something, anything, about das Ding-an-sich, and have it make sense to me, is a very good start, and likewise about a number of other quite esoteric authors, such as Hobbes, Spinoza, Plotinus, Locke. However, I'm not going to summarize Russell's summaries; you'll just have to take my word for it, or try it yourself. Which I do recommend.

There are flaws. Some of these are due to its date, 1945. He says at one point, we can't know that Mycenae and Tiryns were actually Greek; well, yes we can. But he sent me off to Wikipedia to remind myself that Michael Ventris didn't actually solve Linear B until the 1950s, so it is true that Russell could not know that Mycenae was actually Greek. I'm a lapsed classicist, so I'm more attuned to this period, but even in the field of classical studies we do learn things yet. Russell's instincts were relatively sound, I thought. While he couldn't have known about E. R. Dodd's book The Greeks and the Irrational, he would not have been shocked to discover that the Greeks were not paragons of reason, as so often thought.

A bit more problematic is his attitude toward German philosophers. Well, he was writing in the first half of the 1940s, with all that implies. He doesn't entirely accept Kant, but he likes Kant. On Hegel, he's much more condemnatory. I have never managed even a page of Hegel, but was Hegel personally responsible for Naziism? Hmm, I have my doubts. As for Nietzsche, Russell is still under the influence of the idea of Nietzsche of the first half of the 1900s. Whatever one might make of Nietzsche, he is not the same person as his avowedly Nazi sister.

Russell also tries to be fair to the great Catholic philosophers, such as Augustine and Aquinas, but, I'm afraid, can't quite manage it.

And, while I definitely appreciate his intention to place the philosophers into their historical and social context, it does lead to some rather potted recounting of history. His treatment of the dark ages and early middle ages is particularly unsubtle.

Existentialism, which was underway when Russell was writing this, though perhaps not yet in full flower, is completely ignored by him. No Kierkegaard, no Heidegger, no Sartre.

But that's now over-emphasizing the negative. What really struck me about this was how readable it was, and that's why I would particularly suggest it if you're interested in a history of philosophy. Sure, there are flaws. That's inevitable in any work with such a large remit. But this is the book you might actually finish, and, in a history of philosophy, there's a whole lot to be said for that.

Some things that amused me and got copied to my commonplace book:
"The typical romantic removes the bars and enjoys the magnificent leaps when the tiger annihilates the sheep. He exhorts men to imagine themselves tigers, and when he succeeds the results are not wholly pleasant."
"There has been a tendency to think that everything Xenophon says must be true, because he had not the wits to think of anything untrue. This a very invalid line of argument."
"Aristotle's metaphysics, roughly speaking, may be described as Plato diluted by common sense. He is difficult because Plato and common sense do not mix easily."
"There is, in fact, an element of sour grapes in Stoicism. We can't be happy, but we can be good; therefore let us pretend that, so long as we are good, it doesn't matter being unhappy. This doctrine is heroic, and in a bad world, useful, but it is neither quite true, nor, in a fundamental sense, quite sincere."
"Part II [of Hobbes' Leviathan] ends with the hope that some sovereign will read the book and make himself absolute--a less chimerical hope than Plato's, that some king would turn philosopher."
"No one has yet succeeded in inventing a philosophy at once credible and self-consistent. Locke aimed at credibility, and achieved it at the expense of self-consistency. Most of the great philosophers have done the opposite. A philosophy which is not self-consistent cannot be wholly true, but a philosophy which is self-consistent can very well be wholly false."
"The necessity of believing without knowledge, nay, often upon very slight grounds, in this fleeting state of action and blindness we are in, should make us more busy and careful to inform ourselves than to restrain others."
Highly recommended, if it's a thing you're looking for.

And there goes one of the larger books on my Classics Club list.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Poem For A Thursday: Hass

Meditation at Lagunitas

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

-Robert Hass

Robert Hass is an American poet born in 1941, and this, from his second book of poetry, is undoubtedly his most famous poem. 

When I was an undergraduate, I heard him give a reading, and the introducer compared him to Wordsworth (I think it was) and imagined undergraduates going around the quad, chanting, 'blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.' 

Despite all that I still like it...😄

Jennifer at Holds Upon Happiness has one of the great Auden poems this week.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

13th Annual Canadian Book Challenge Signup

I'm signing up again this year for the Canadian Book Challenge. Full details are here at the blog of new host Shonna of Canadian Bookworm, but basically it's a challenge to read thirteen Canadian books from one Canada Day (July 1st) to the next. The thirteenth year of the challenge, thirteen provinces and territories in Canada, thirteen books. What could be luckier?

Once again I have no idea what thirteen books I will read for the challenge, and the next Canadian book I'm likely to read will still be credited to the currently running challenge, but here are their placeholders:

1.) Malcolm Lowry's Under The Volcano
2.) Sparkle Hayter's The Last Manly Man
3.) David Elias' Elizabeth of Bohemia
4.) Phillip Ernest's The Far Himalaya
5.) Jim Nason's Spirit of a Hundred Thousand Dead Animals
6.) Joan B. Flood's Left Unsaid
7.) Phillip Ernest's The Vetala
8.) Carol Shields' Coming To Canada

Thanks to Melwyk who was hosting and to Shonna, our new host!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Poem For A Thursday: Sill

The Fool's Prayer

The royal feast was done; the King
  Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: "Sir Fool,
  Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!" 
The jester doffed his cap and bells,
  And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
  Behind the painted grin he wore. 
He bowed his head, and bent his knee
  Upon the monarch's silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: "O Lord,
  Be merciful to me, a fool! 
"No pity, Lord, could change the heart
  From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but, Lord,
  Be merciful to me, a fool! 
"'T is not by guilt the onward sweep
  Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
'T is by our follies that so long
  We hold the earth from heaven away. 
"These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
  Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
  Among the heart-strings of a friend. 
"The ill-timed truth we might have kept--
  Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say--
  Who knows how grandly it had rung? 
"Our faults no tenderness should ask,
  The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders--oh, in shame
  Before the eyes of heaven we fall. 
"Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
  Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
  Be merciful to me, a fool!" 
The room was hushed; in silence rose
  The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
  "Be merciful to me, a fool!"

-Edward Rowland Sill

Edward Rowland Sill was born in Connecticut, lived most of his adult life in California, where he was professor of English at the nascent University of California, Berkeley, and died young in 1887.

Sill is, perhaps, a bit more optimistic than I am at the moment: the court is hushed and the king affected by the prayer. Ah, well. We all live in hope.

This was one of my father's favorite poems, along with the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, and Poe's Eldorado.

Jennifer is featuring a lovely Judith Viorst poem this week.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Jason Lutes' Berlin

I'm not really sure how to say anything about graphic novels, so I'm mostly just going to "quote" from Jason Lutes' wonderful Berlin, a graphic novel about the last years of the Weimar Republic, before Hitler's rise to power. He completed it last year after starting in 1996, and it consists of 24 issues, gathered subsequently into three books, before being released in a single volume last year. I came across it in this review by Jeet Heer from earlier this year.

The two main characters are Kurt Severing, a reporter whose editor is the historical figure Carl von Ossietzky. Here Severing is being berated by a communist friend for his hope that a non-violent solution can still be found:

The other major character is Marthe Müller, who comes from Köln to Berlin to be an art student, but also to experience the life of the city:

It was easier for me to get the three individual volumes than the one omnibus from my library, and though I was interested from that first review, I only put the hold on the first one initially, and I've had to return it. But I was convinced by the series from a moment in the first volume when Severing walks into his editor's office: there's a desk with a full ashtray on it, and then a number of smaller panels where we see full ashtrays also on his bookcase, the window sill, etc. That was a man under stress. But I can't show you the picture anymore.

There are numerous other characters as well, representing both the political right and the left, Jews, Lesbians and gays, the spectrum of what we think of as Weimar period Berlin.

I know a little but not a lot about the period, but it fits with one's sense from things like Goodbye to Berlin. I was chuffed to see this panel:

because I knew that song from the Ute Lemper album of twenty years ago:

Highly recommended. Interesting, fun, and in these times, just a little bit scary.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Saul Bellow's The Dangling Man

"I feel I am a sort of human grenade whose pin has been withdrawn. I know I am going to explode and I am continually anticipating the time, with a prayerful despair crying "Boom!" but always prematurely."
Dangling Man (1944) is Saul Bellow's first novel.  It's in the form of Joseph's diary, from December of 1942 to March of 1943. Joseph, like Bellow himself, is a Canadian citizen who has lived in Chicago since he was a child. Joseph tries to join the U.S. Army, but since he's technically a Canadian, bureaucracy intervenes, and he's not accepted. He's 'dangling.'

Joseph had quit his job on the assumption he would soon be in the army; his work was for a travel agency, not a bustling business in war time, and when he tries to get his old job back, there's nothing doing. He still expects to be in the army soon, but now it's a year since Pearl Harbor and the army still hasn't sorted out his status. Joseph is supported by his wife Iva; he's a budding intellectual, and hopes to spend the time usefully, reading and writing; instead, he does little and becomes irritable.

Underground, Dangling, Invisible. Bellow's Man is alienated from society and undergoes an existential crisis like those of Dostoevsky's or Ellison's Men, (or Turgenev's Superfluous Man, but I haven't read that one.) This novel is the least of those: well, nobody, I believe, thinks this a major Bellow novel.

Still I found it interesting. My sense, I can't tell you offhand where it comes from, is that the prose in this is considered different in kind from what would be Bellow's mature style, and certainly nothing in it has the panache of the opening of Augie March, "I am an American, Chicago-born,..." But it's not as different as all that, and Bellow sets out his program to reform American novelistic prose right from the start in these, the first words of his first novel:
"There was a time when people were in the habit of addressing themselves frequently and felt no shame at making a record of their inward transactions. But to keep a journal nowadays is considered a kind of self-indulgence, a weakness, and in poor taste. For this is an era of hardboiled-dom...Most serious matters are closed to the hardboiled. They are unpracticed in introspection, and therefore badly equipped to deal with opponents whom they cannot shoot like big game or outdo in daring."
Pow. Take that, Hemingway. Right between the eyes, Hammett. It's a programmatic statement of the sort of prose that not only Joseph, but also Bellow, intends to write, and did write. I approve. Now Bellow got better at it going forward.

Rather the difference between this and the later novels is it's not Jewish. Joseph attends church, celebrates Christmas. It's understandable: anti-Semitism is still strong in English departments. Lionel Trilling only got his assistant professorship in 1939, and that, after having been told it would never happen. But it's a real loss in Bellow's case. The characters in Dangling Man feel like Jews in WASP-face, and that's not a good thing. When he decided to write honestly out of his Jewish experience, it liberated Bellow. The change between this and the later Bellows doesn't seem to me to be in the prose, but in the nature of the characters.

So it's a clear promise of what Bellow was going to become, even if he's not there yet. It's interesting for that.

But that also includes problems, like Bellow's handling of female characters. Now in general, men write better about male characters than female, and women write better about female characters than male. There are exceptions--George Eliot, possibly Tolstoy, though only in Anna Karenina, I would say--but in even great authors this can be true. Does anybody think Darcy or Knightley as real as Elizabeth or Emma? And male authors, I think, are generally worse in this regard than female authors. In Dangling Man, the female characters are all given physical descriptions, often unflattering or grotesque, while the men are described by the characteristics of their mind or actions. Here's Joseph describing his mother-in-law:
"She is a short, fair, rather maidenish woman. Her natural color, when visible, is healthy. Her eyes are large, and they wear a knowing look, but since there is nothing to be knowing about they only convey her foolishness. She powders herself thickly, and her lips are painted in the shape that has become the universal device of sensuality for all women, from the barely mature to the very old. Mrs. Almstadt, nearing fifty, is already quite wrinkled, much to her concern, and she is forever on the watch for new packs and face lotions."
A single example might be justifiable, but repeatedly? And in this novel, I found it less alarming than in others I've read, because Joseph is more ironized, more distant from Bellow himself, than Augie March, or Henderson, or (especially) Dean Corde of The Dean's December. It's a world where all we know about Hillary is her pantsuits. Maybe that's not entirely different from the world we live in now, but I keep hoping.

I read my first Bellow in high school (Herzog.) I went through a bit of a Bellow phase in my 20s, which ended with The Dean's December, and I decided I couldn't take it anymore. I came back to him, for a bit, with Ravelstein, and read or reread some more. I'm from Chicago, and Bellow is probably the most important Chicago writer, more even than Dreiser, than Brooks, than Farrell, than Algren, than Hecht, than Mamet, than Bodenheim, maybe even than Richard Wright, though hmm.... (And James T. Farrell is sadly underrated.)

Anyhoo, this post is in serious danger of becoming longer than the book itself... ;-) so I'll close off. If you're a Bellow fan, it's well worth reading, and not so different, I'd say, from his major works. But, even though it's short, don't start here. If you were looking for a short one to start with, I'd say Ravelstein, but the best for my money are Augie March, Henderson The Rain King, or Humboldt's Gift.

This qualifies for Classic From a Place You Lived for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge, but really, embarrassingly enough, I pulled it for last fall's #1944Club, didn't read it until now, but never got around to putting it back on the shelf...

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Sunday Salon

Where I Was

The Other Reader & I took a trip to Chicago last week, my home town and where we met. It was my first time back in a few years. We visited friends, and wandered around and were tourists.

The Glessner House. The neighbors didn't like it, I wonder why...

A more typical Prairie Avenue mansion
The Baha'i Temple. This was the limit of my bike rides when I was a kid.
The Hippos and Rhinos Bridge! The Hippos and Rhinos Bridge! As my friend excitedly shouted...
Bridge detail. Note hippo, rhino.
The South Shore Cultural Center, where Barack and Michelle held their wedding reception. But not before a certain other couple...

The CTA stop near a friend's. Not my neighborhood, but much more like where I grew up than all those other pictures. One of only three CTA stops at grade level, announced my friend, an engineer.

Earlier Reading

I did some Chicago reading and posts in preparation for the trip!


I signed up for #20BooksOfSummer at 746Books. Will I read twenty books this summer? Oh, probably. Will they be exactly those twenty books? Hmm... But they're all such good books!

And how about you?

Check out other Sunday Salon posts (and add yours!) at Readerbuzz.

Saturday, June 8, 2019


Following Mark@Maphead's fine example, I took my summer books outside into summer for their photo op.

Cathy @ 746Books hosts a challenge/invitation to read twenty (or fifteen or ten) books over the three months of summer vacation, June, July, and August. I've been admiring from afar for while, but decided to this year take the plunge.

It's not that twenty books is especially scary, and, in any case, Cathy's challenge is available at different levels and is very forgiving. That's why I called it half an invitation. But thinking about what I might be reading in August, and sticking to any kind of list is scary, at least for me; one of the (many) reasons I was a bad graduate student was the feeling that I should be reading books only on this subject, only from this list, for four (or more) years. The horror!

Some library books I have checked out, some recent acquisitions, and some unread venerables...

So without further ado:

(Tall stack from top)

School for Love by Olivia Manning - I read her Balkan trilogy and the Levant trilogy a couple of years ago and loved them. This one is set in Jerusalem, as was part of the Levant trilogy.

The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively - Her first novel and a finalist for the Booker prize.

The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot by Angus Wilson - I read Anglo-Saxon Attitudes and then bought this one soon after.

The Glacier by Jeff Wood - Apocalyptic fiction set in Ohio. The first of two books from Two Dollar Radio, a small press operating out of Columbus, Ohio.

Radio Iris by Anne-Marie Kinney - An office novel with a socially awkward dreamer, the blurb tells me. Also from Two Dollar Radio. I've read two other novels from that press (N. J. Campbell's Found Audio and Katya Apekina's The Deeper The Water, The Uglier The Fish) and I've decided they have good taste.

Scenes From A Clerical Life by George Eliot - Finishing up my Eliot binge of last year.

The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch - Hmm, modernist, German. The one most likely to be punted on? But I intend to read it!

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell - A bit of a ringer because I'm 2/3rds through already.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - The Booker of a couple of years ago. A historical novel set in New Zealand's gold rush of the 1800s.

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry - A book about objectionable people who drink too much? How can that not be a masterpiece? Hmm...

Berlin, City of Light, Volume 3 by Jason Lutes - A graphic novel about Berlin in the late 20s and early 30s. I've recently read the first two volumes, and quite liked them. I was notified of it by a review by Jeet Heer, in The New Republic, I think.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corinne May Botz - Photos and essays about Frances Glessner Lee's dioramas of death scenes. (Yes, those are a lot like morbid dollhouses.) Lee is pretty much the founder of forensic studies, and she created these to train policeman how to examine a scene where a death, possibly a murder, has occurred. I just brought back this book from Chicago, where I saw the Glessner House Museum.

(Small stack from top)

Dangling Man by Saul Bellow - A second ringer. I've actually finished this, but I did read it entirely in June. Post coming soon!

Deadlock by Sara Paretsky - Before going to Chicago, I read Double Indemnity, which reminded me I really liked the Warshawsky mysteries. The one reread on this list.

Dirty Story by Eric Ambler - Master spy novelist. This one is set in Africa, it seems. Also he's the author of the all-time best title for an novelist's autobiography: Here Lies... Eric Ambler.

Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh - Will Roderick Alleyn solve the murder? Will he and Br'er Fox have ironic comments about it? You know they will!

The Last Manly Man by Sparkle Hayter - Canadian content! Robin Hudson solves the case and does her nails. You've got to have some summer reading in summer, I figure.

Blinding by Mircea Cartarescu - Contemporary Romanian novelist. This is from 1996 and promises to be a mystical trip. The second likeliest to be substituted for?

Darlington's Fall by Brad Leithauser - A novel in verse. I'm a bit of a sucker for these.

The Footsteps at the Lock by Ronald Knox - Reverend Knox is most famous for his decalogue of rules for mystery writers. This will be the first mystery of his I've read. He's also Penelope Fitzgerald's uncle, and that's very much a mark in his favor. I read her collective biography of her father and uncles a few years ago, The Knox Brothers.

There it is. I'm sure there will be substitutions along the way.

I also realized I received a couple of weeks ago an ARC of David Elias' Elizabeth of Bohemia from ECW Press, which will also likely get read pretty soon, but missed having its picture taken.

What have you read? What looks good to you? Which ones should I be especially sure to read? I know I'm looking forward to seeing what everybody reads.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting!

Plus some books that weren't on the list...

Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
Philosopher of the Heart by Clare Carlisle
The Story of a Novel by Thomas Mann

Friday, June 7, 2019

Poem For A Thursday: du Bellay/Wilbur

Hubert contemplating a great journey
Happy the Man

Happy the man who, journeying far and wide
As Jason or Ulysses did, can then
Turn homeward, seasoned in the ways of men,
And claim his own, and there in peace abide! 
When shall I see the chimney-smoke divide
The sky above my little town: ah, when
Stroll the small gardens of that house again
Which is my realm and crown, and more beside? 
Better I love the plain, secluded home
My fathers built, than bold façades of Rome;
Slate pleases me as marble cannot do; 
Better than Tiber's flood my quiet Loire,
Those little hills than these, and dearer far
Than great sea winds the zephyrs of Anjou.

-Joachim du Bellay (tr. Richard Wilbur)

Joachim du Bellay was a French poet of the 1500s, one of the so-called Pleiades, seven French poets of that era. He was in Rome when this poem was written, serving as a secretary to his cousin, the cardinal Jean du Bellay.

Richard Wilbur was a wonderful American poet who passed away in 2017.

Here's the French text for those for whom it's useful... 😉

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage
Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison
Et puis est retourné, plein de usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge!
Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
Fumer le cheminée, et en quelle saison
Reverrai-je le clos de mon pauvre maison
Qui m'est une provence, et beaucoup davantage? 
Plus me plâit le séjour qu'ont bâti mes aïeux,
Que des palais romains le front audacieux
Plus que le marbre dur me plâit l'ardoise fine:
Plus mon Loire gaulois, que le Tibre latin,
Plus mon petit Liré, que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l'air marin la douceur angevine.
-Joachim du Bellay

Jennifer at Holds Upon Happiness has a wonderful poem by Elinor Wylie this week.