Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sunday Salon (Now With Colourful Umbrellas!)


Malahide Castle Library, Ireland, a small salon

On The Blog

I reread Rudyard Kipling's Kim after starting Jamyang Norbu's The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, which steals a character from Kim. Both were pretty entertaining, and I wrote about it here. Then I signed up for the 20 Books Of Summer challenge hosted at 746 Books and the Big Book Summer Read hosted by Book by Book.


I saw Rebecca Makkai in an interview at the Toronto Public Library's Appel Salon series. It made me put a hold on her new book I Have Some Questions For You, a sort-of cold case mystery. I am currently number 462 out of 490 on the hold list, so it won't be anytime soon... (They did buy a hundred copies of the book.)

Around Town

There were these colourful umbrellas not so far from our house. It was part of a promotion for skin cancer awareness. If it had been a sunnier day, it might have been a nicer photo, but the overcast sky was better for bike-riding.


I had two cups of butternut squash puree in my freezer since I overdid it in the fall. It was time to do something with it:

We ate some of those ravioli that night and then I froze the rest. You can see I haven't exactly become professional at this... 😉 They're (umm) close to the same size? The preparation is a bit of a project, but then there are several easier meals afterwards.

Part of the reason to do something with it was that the sage in our herb garden is coming on strong:

A sage-brown butter sauce is my usual for these ravioli, though tomato cream works well, too. Our dinner tonight should look a lot like this:

probably with some roast asparagus on the side.

How was your week?

Friday, May 26, 2023

#20BooksOfSummer + Summer Big Book Challenge


It's 20 Books of Summer time. Cathy hosts a challenge to pick twenty books & read them over the summer months (June, July, August). I'm good at piling up books, and I'm good at reading books. I've not been so good at reading the books I've piled up, however... My best year was the year I picked ten and accepted that any others would be just random. Hope springs eternal, though, and I've pulled 18 books off the shelf and into my backyard for their photo op. Will these be the books I read over the next three months? Hmm, maybe!


[Left stack, from top]

Andrew Greeley/Happy Are the Clean of Heart (Mystery)
Sara Paretsky/Indemnity Only (Mystery, Chicago)
Abdulrazak Gurnah/Afterlives (Nobel, Current)
Barbara Hamby/On The Street of Divine Love (Poetry)
Peter Hopkirk/The Great Game (Europe, Big Book)
Catherine Lacey/Biography of X (Current, Library)
Olga Tokarczuk/The Books of Jacob (Current, Europe, Big Book, Nobel, Women in Translation)

[In the Middle]

James Baldwin/Notes of a Native Son (Classics Club)

[Right stack, from top]

W. Somerset Maugham/Of Human Bondage (Classics Club)
W. Somerset Maugham/Cakes and Ale (Jazz Age June)
Anna Comnena/The Alexiad (Europe, Women in Translation)
Ngaio Marsh/Death of the Dancing Footman (Mystery)
Ivo Andriç/Omar Pasha Latas (Europe)
Erle Stanley Gardner/The Knife Slipped (Mystery)
Erle Stanley Gardner/Shills Can't Cash Chips (Mystery)
Guy Gavriel Kay/The Last Light of the Sun (Fantasy, Big Book)
Brian Dillon/Affinities (Europe, Current)
Boccaccio/Decameron (Europe, Classics Club)

Two of these would be rereads: I've been thinking about rereading Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawsky series, and I've been wanting to reread Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game since I reread Rudyard Kipling's Kim recently.

Classics Club for my ongoing Classics Club challenge; Europe for Gilion's European Reading Challenge; Jazz Age June for Fanda's challenge (is Cakes and Ale really a Jazz Age book? Well, at least chronologically...); Mystery for the challenge at My Reader's Block.

A couple of those are big, so I'm also hereby signing up for the Big Book of Summer challenge.

That leaves two. I have pretty high hopes that the library will produce Georgi Gospodinov's Time Shelter (which just won the Man Booker International) before the end of summer, but I don't have it now. I'm also likely to get Eleanor Catton's Birnam Wood before the end of summer. It wouldn't be surprising if a different or additional mystery--maybe another slender volume of poetry--slipped in. I'm quite sure there will be some substituting...

Which of these should I be sure not to miss?

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Adventures in Central Asia (The Great Game)

"I traveled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa, and spending some days with the head lama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend."

Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, The Adventure of the Empty House

I recently came across mention of Jamyang Norbu's The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years. (Somebody's blog, I'm sure. Was it yours?) It sounded fun, and my library had it. It's the story of those two years Sherlock Holmes spent in Tibet. I had just started it when I realized that Rudyard Kipling's Kim was equally a precursor to The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes as were the original Holmes stories. I pulled that book off the shelf. Was I going to reread Kim? Well, yes, as it turned out, I was...


"I am Kim, I am Kim. And what is Kim?"

Kimball O'Hara is the son of an Irish soldier in India. His mother dies when he's a babe, and soon after his father runs off the rails with drink and opium, and also dies. Kim is looked after by an opium-addicted aunt, but he's a wild child, more fluent in Hindi than in English, street smart, but constitutionally allergic to school. His sign is War, and, though he doesn't know why, his emblem is a Red Bull on a Green Field.

"Sooner or later, if he chose, he could escape into the great, grey, formless India, beyond tents and padres and colonels."

At the beginning of the novel, Kim is maybe thirteen, and he meets a Tibetan lama, who's on a quest of his own to find the River of the Arrow, whose water washes away all sin and frees one from the wheel of life. (Sin is Kipling's term, and perhaps not quite doctrinal Buddhism.) Kim is impressed--we are, too--with the holy man's holiness, and decides to follow him as his disciple, his chela

Teshoo Lama (we only learn the lama's name after a while) and Kim travel south in India on their respective quests. One of the traditional roles of a chela is to beg for his master, and Kim is particularly good at this; eventually they accompany an amusing old woman traveling to visit her daughter in the south; she's a member of a minor Northern royal family. Kim also finds the Red Bull in a Green Field: it's the flag of his father's regiment, and the two chaplains of the regiment are agreed the son of a Sahib, of their regiment, even an Irish one, can't be allowed to go gallivanting around India as a beggar. (That's when Kim thinks he can always disappear into 'great, grey, formless India'.) But somebody in the British spy network realizes Kim could be useful, and with the help of Teshoo Lama arranges for an education Kim can stomach.

Kipling's politics are not ours. And though I do think Kipling's politics became more problematic as he aged, he does not doubt Britain's right to rule India, and that Kim is being prepped to perpetuate this rule is not a problem within the novel. But Kipling also clearly loves India and that helps. He loves the people, the customs, the food:

"Kim yearned for the caress of soft mud squishing up between the toes, as his mouth watered for mutton, stewed with butter and cabbages, for rice speckled with strong-scented cardamoms, for the saffron-tinted rice, garlic and onions, and the forbidden greasy sweatmeats of the bazars."

(Kim is a teenage boy, so perhaps all food is good food, but still, how sensual--and how un-English--is that description of food.)

"'And who are thy people, Friend of all of the World?" 
"This great and beautiful land," said Kim.
The novel is a bit of a Bildungsroman, and 'What is Kim?' is the question. What should he be, and how is he educated to become what he should be? Does Kim follow his lama, who, though with the occasional charming bit of backsliding, is attempting to detach himself from the world, to get off the 'Wheel of Life.' But no, 
"This was seeing the world in real truth; this was life as he would have it--bustling and shouting, the buckling of belts, and beating of bullocks and creaking of wheels, lighting of fires and cooking of food, and new sights at every turn of the approving eye."
Though I was charmed with the lama and was half-hoping he would win over Kim's soul, maybe a Kim with that attitude really does need to be an agent of the secret service. (I also have to say I just love that sentence--the rhythm, the alliteration.) Anyway, Kim comes into adulthood, and goes 'far and far into the North, playing the Great Game.'

It's a great novel, I think, even (after thirty years?) on rereading. It may also help us swallow Kipling's politics--at least these days--that the clear villain is an agent of Russian imperialism.

And so, once I'd finished Kim, it was back to:

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes

I didn't say much about the secret service agents in the description of Kim, but they mostly reappear here. It's Colonel Creighton who recognizes Kim's potential as an agent and who's been informed it's Sherlock Holmes coming to India. It's Lurgan Sahib who trains Kim in disguises and who has a long conversation with Holmes on that subject among others. Kim himself even briefly shows up (I think) under his alias K.21. But the main carryover is Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, a Bengali in the secret service. He's Kim's immediate superior once Kim has become a fully-fledged agent, and it's Hurree who accompanies Holmes to Lhassa, as his knowledgeable local guide and protector. (Though Holmes does more to protect Hurree than vice-versa.) Hurree is also the narrator of the story: since Watson was not available, he is our Watson.

An attempt is made to assassinate Holmes almost immediately on his arrival in India. Holmes quickly recognizes it as the work of Moriarty's henchman Colonel Sebastian Moran (the villain in 'The Adventure of the Empty House') but is unable to pin it decisively on Moran, who's a member in good-standing in Indian society. ('Formerly 1st Bangalore Pioneers. Author of Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas.') Anyway, Holmes can't put away Moran in India, because Moran has to reappear in London for 'Empty House.' Was this 'the repulsive story of the red leech' that Watson mentions in 'The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez'? Maybe!

Holmes is still determined to travel to Lhassa, and maybe it's for the best: he can get out of Moran's reach. But of course he doesn't, and further attempts are made on Holmes' life. Also on the way to Tibet, where supposedly Westerners are not at that time allowed, Holmes and Hurree discover that the Grand Lama in fact wants Holmes to come to Lhassa because he's worried about the current Dalai Lama (at that time only thirteen years old.) 

Holmes gets to Lhassa and foils that plot. (Well, he is Sherlock Holmes. Did you doubt?) The clear villain in this is an agent of Chinese imperialism. (Though there is also a surprise villain, whom I won't mention.)

Jamyang Norbu was born in Tibet, in 1949, but left at a very young age, before the Chinese takeover. He mostly grew up in Dharamshala in a community of Tibetan exiles, and according to the author bio on the back flap was living there in 1999 when this book came out. (Wikipedia now has him living in the U.S.) He's been involved with the Tibetan government-in-exile and this would seem to be his only novel; his other books are about the current situation in Tibet. That the villain was an agent of Chinese imperialism is perhaps unsurprising.

If a fan-fiction mashup of Kipling's Kim and the Sherlock Holmes stories, with maybe just a pinch of the fantastic from H. Rider Haggard, appeals to you (as it did to me) you will definitely not be disappointed. 

And Carrying On...

I reread the relevant stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon (primarily 'The Final Problem' and 'The Adventure of the Empty Room', as well as parts of Peter Hopkirk's wonderful history The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia.) Does that mean I'm about to reread those books? It might!

Friday, May 19, 2023

The happy few who live in peace


from Chorus, The Madness of Hercules

Such is the lot of common people,
Who praise each day for its rewards,
Grateful for peace, they envy no one
But prize the small joys life affords.

Let ambition rule the City
Where truth and virtue are sold short,
Where suitors sleep in rich men's doorways,
And poets lisp their lies in Court.

Let the miser count his riches
Always aching to have more.
Each new coin adds to his nightmare
Of his death unloved and poor.

Noble politicians preach
Virtue to the shifting mob.
Defenders of a commonwealth
No one else but they can rob.

The happy few who live in peace
Realize it may not last.
The slightest change of fortune may
Leave joy and comfort in the past.

While fate permits, enjoy this life.
Death stalks us all with steady pace.
The wheel of Time turns just one way.
The steps we take we can't retrace.

The Fates themselves who measure life
Cannot lengthen what they've spun.
Why tempt death by seeking glory?
Why hurry to oblivion?

Only Hercules...

-Seneca (tr. Dana Gioia)

This is about half the first chorus in Seneca's tragedy Hercules Furens or The Madness of Hercules, as translated by Dana Gioia. It's a pretty free translation, but catches the spirit well, I thought.

As the play starts, Hercules has not (yet) returned from the underworld after the last of his twelve labours. (Capturing Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hades.) His kingdom, Thebes, is under attack by Lycus, because everyone assumes Hercules won't return. But of course he does. He kills Lycus to restore his kingdom, but in his battle rage he goes on to kill his wife Megara, and their children together. "Why tempt death by seeking glory?"

I recently read that volume of Seneca's tragedies in translation.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Sunday Salon


Malahide Castle, outside Dublin

On the Blog

Some light verse from Clive James.


A couple of books, but they may yet show up in posts of their own: Seneca's tragedies and Rae Dalven's translation of Cavafy.

One Last Instalment of Ireland Pictures...

A rather dashing Connemara pony. Look at that hair!

The Rock of Cashel. First a castle (1127), later a monastery. Now a ruin...

Choir stall carving at the Kilkenny Cathedral:

Tonight there's gonna be a jailbreak, somewhere in this town:

I was the one who had to go find this statue. Oh, dear. I've probably revealed exactly how old I am. But it was on AM radio at what was for me an impressionable age. The boys are back in town...

New Recipe

My brother has a habit of sending me recipes he expects me to try out & report back. But this one--shrimp and feta in a tomato sauce--was a success:

Hope you had a good week!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Book of My Enemy


The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-praised effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities.
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book -
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys,
The sinkers, the clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yes, his slime volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others,
His renowned abhorrences of all posturing and pretence,
Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quavering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
"My boobs will give everyone hours of fun."

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy.
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error -
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

-Clive James

Clive James (1939-2019) was born in Australia, but lived most of his adult life in England. He was a cultural phenomenon: television, non-fiction books, poetry. 

The Other Reader promoted this poem for a while, but I resisted, though I also quite like it. But it is a lot of typing. But tonight, not feeling very imaginative, but willing to type, was its time...

On my way to the grocery store earlier, I passed the 'kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs' (BMV, for you locals) and could have stopped in to take a picture of 'great, square stacks of rejected books', (The Kung-Fu Cookbook, indeed) but didn't.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Sunday Salon


Another salon-like room, this time from Dublin Castle

On the Blog

Not much. A funny poem by Jonathan Swift. 

This Week in Books

Two books finished this week: first David Damrosch's Around the World in 80 Books. I read the appropriate Jules Verne a while back for the first time so I could read this. It was a Christmas gift from friends, though for various reasons it didn't actually arrive in the house until March. Pretty good! Not that I need another book telling me why I should be interested in other new, different books...
Eighty books is a lot for a book like this and so a bit shallow in some ways. I found him most interesting on those books I'd heard of, but haven't read. (Farid ud-Din Attar's The Conference of the Birds, Lu Xun's The Real Story of Ah-Q, Sor Juana, Rabindranath Tagore's The Home and the World).

Then I reread Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen. It shows up on lists of the best 20th Century novels and graphic novels. If you'd asked me before I first read it, would it be something I'd like, I'd have said, no. Superheroes! Comics! Not my thing. But, in fact, I find it pretty great.

I watched the movie not so long ago with my brother (it is his sort of thing) and then thought I'd reread the book. The movie was fine.  I found the book equally great on a second reading. It has a mystery plot, which appeals to me. The movie is gorier than the book (unsurprisingly) and the book's complex politics get washed out a bit in the movie.

Otherwise, a bit of a slow week. How about some more pictures of...


Look at all this incredibly improbable sunshine. This is Kilkenny Castle, destroyed on the opposite side by Cromwell.

A magpie in Iveagh Gardens in Dublin:

More literary tourism: James Joyce's statue on St. Stephen's Green in Dublin:

President Biden left Ireland the day we arrived and we saw Air Force One on the tarmac as we were flying in. But he signed the guest book at Dublin Castle:

Messing around with bokeh effects on my new phone:

Hope you had a good week!

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Jonathan Swift (#poem)


Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General

His Grace! Impossible! What dead!
Of old age, too, and in his bed!
And could that mighty warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!
Well, since he's gone, no matter how,
The last loud trump must wake him now;
And, trust me, as the noise grows stronger,
He'd wish to sleep a little longer.
And could he be indeed so old
As by the newspapers we're told?
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
'Twas time in conscience, he should die
This world he cumbered long enough;
He burnt his candle to the snuff;
And that's the reason some folks think,
He left behind so great a stink.
Behold his funeral appears,
Nor widow's sighs, nor orphan's tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
But what of that, his friends may say,
He had those honours in his day,
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.

  Come hither, all ye empty things,
Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings;
Who float upon the tide of state,
Come hither, and behold your fate.
Let pride be taught by this rebuke,
How very mean a thing's a Duke;
From all his ill-got honours flung,
Turned to that dirt from whence he sprung.

-Jonathan Swift

Since we're back from Ireland and I had that convenient picture of Jonathan Swift...

We went to St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin where Swift was Dean, and heard an Evensong service there:

Look at all that glorious (and improbable) sunshine!

Was this the poem to quote just before Charles' coronation? Oh, I don't know...