shiny things in messy little piles

Author: lara (Page 2 of 95)

The Odyssey — Homer

Trans­la­tor — Emi­ly Wilson
I learned of the new trans­la­tion of the Odyssey last sum­mer and fig­ure that per­haps I should revis­it clas­sic that I had last read in col­lege. This new trans­la­tion makes the old sto­ry sparkle. Wil­son does a mar­velous job of avoid­ing the baroque lan­guage of pre­vi­ous trans­la­tions and presents the adven­tures of Odysseus in a fresh and riv­et­ing manner.

a bright new face on a classic 

Letter Home — 29 Jan, 2019

I nev­er could get the hang of Thursday”

Arthur Dent

Thurs­day is easy. It is pre­ced­ed by Wednes­day and fol­lowed by Fri­day.
Wednes­day is the piv­ot point of the week. The day of look­ing for­ward to the work I have to do and look­ing back to see how much of my to-do list I have accom­plished. Wednes­day is that ris­ing feel­ing that I won’t get it all done.

Thurs­day is the day of defeat. Wednes­day’s ris­ing sense of doom set­tles in with a detailed list of those things that will not get done. 

Fri­day is just “do the best you can.”

Mon­day is, of course, the day of hope­ful opti­mism. The day of find­ing all the Things and putting them onto a tidy to-do list and knock­ing off the first one

But Tues­day — what the hell is Tues­day? Tues­day is the day of shift­ing pri­or­i­ties as every­one else’s Mon­day to-do list col­lides with yours (con­fu­sion, anx­i­ety.) It can be a day of tick­ing the box­es on the to-do list (pride.) A day of plug­ging along on some big project (var­i­ous­ly: accom­plish­ment, bore­dom, or utter pan­ic.) Or, it can be a day of wait­ing for the inputs and replies (bore­dom and fid­gety nothingness.)

I nev­er know what sort of day Tues­day is going to be. How can I antic­i­pate my (emo­tion­al) mind set on a day with so many variables?

No, I nev­er could get the hang of Tuesday. 

Which prob­a­bly says more about my need for emo­tion­al pre­dictabil­i­ty than it does about Tuesday. 

Four Books on the Modern Essay

In the last cou­ple of months I have been read­ing a lot about essays. Of the four books reviews here, the one I’d most rec­om­mend for the gen­er­al read­er is the D’Agata. It’s a col­lec­tion of essays with short intro­duc­to­ry notes suit­ed those curi­ous about the shape of the mod­ern essay and how it got there. For a rec­om­men­da­tion for the writer I am torn. None of the oth­er books is spec­tac­u­lar and none of them com­plete­ly reflects my cur­rent think­ing on the essay. But, I’d say the Lopate con­tains the most use­ful exam­ples and that Moore’s Dear Mr Essay Writer shows the inner work­ings of the essay writer’s mind best.

The Next American Essay (A New History of the Essay) — John D’Agata. 2003.

D’Agata is inter­est­ed in stretch­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of essay as far as pos­si­ble then  look­ing to see what is hap­pen­ing at the mar­gins. Some of these essays are very exper­i­men­tal and not all of the exper­i­ments suc­ceed. The foot­notes essay is a chore to get through. Oth­ers, like “India” — a series of “fac­tu­al” state­ments on India tak­en from ancient sources, are stun­ning suc­cess­es. This is a worth­while book to read if you’re inter­est­ed in the shapes that essays can take and in stitch­ing up your own ideas about the form. Just be pre­pared to find a few that miss you. It’s very indi­vid­ual — sev­er­al peo­ple have praised “Black”. I thought it was over­wrought and grim.

* Ur texts for the mod­ern essay *

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals. Dinty Moore. 2015.

Ques­tions from oth­er essay­ists are vague­ly answered with quick replies and illu­mi­nat­ing essays. There is a medi­a­tion on the exot­ic and the eat­ing of a zebra burg­er that doesn’t go near­ly as far as I would have liked it to, but… The one about how not to be a jack­ass about exes is sol­id life advice. Then there is some weird thing about brains and cau­li­flower that shouldn’t have been pub­lished. Oth­er essays riff on top­ics or tan­gents to the ques­tions asked by oth­er essayists.

* amus­ing, short, uneven. *

Crafting the Personal Essay. Dinty Moore. 2010.

This book is meant to be used as a text-book. There are dis­cus­sions of essays that are not includ­ed in the book. Clear­ly these are meant to have been read on class hand­outs. Many of the essays cho­sen for the book are old-fashioned. (And, con­ve­nient­ly, in the pub­lic domain.) The oth­er essay exam­ples are Moore’s own. And while not bad. Well, he’s not my cup of tea.

* if I need­ed a cheap text-book with exam­ples in the pub­lic domain *

To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. Phillip Lopate. 1994.

Anoth­er teach­ing text. I like the Lopate book bet­ter than the Moore. It thinks more deeply about the essay and the mem­oir in mod­ern terms. It also makes bet­ter use of old­er essays. Though I think Lopate spends too much time on the mem­oir and diss­es the lyric essay as not real­ly being the thing — not being truth­ful enough. He likes a sol­id fideli­ty to real life. Even as he admits that mem­oir is nec­es­sar­i­ly slant­ed or one-sided, he still pumps strong­ly on the side of writ­ing the truth/fact.

* a lit­tle less fond of the lyric and exper­i­men­tal forms than I am but care­ful­ly thought out *

Letter Home 4 Aug, 2018

Dear­est ones,

I went to a lec­ture last week. Ilya Kamin­sky, a famous Ukrain­ian poet, began by ask­ing “How is life on this shiny plan­et?” I did not know how to answer him. He taped pic­tures by Diego Rivera to the wall and read from Calvino’s  Invis­i­ble Cities. He spoke of how our work is always in con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers and point­ed to two of my favorite artists. I was, all at the same time, utter­ly chuffed and in com­plete despair.  And I won­dered how am I ever going to find myself in the mid­dle of that con­ver­sa­tion? I remain a child stand­ing at the edge of the room watch­ing the adults play word games in a lan­guage that I am just learning.

Lat­er that after­noon while dri­ving down the hill to town I was over­come by a deep wave of homesickness.

Do you remem­ber the emp­ty lot in down­town? The one that is so deep? There is an apple tree down there. Filled with lit­tle green apples — green apples that are about to ripen, many have red shoul­ders already. Some­how this does not seem hope­ful to me. I must be deranged in some way.

Between all that and the dis­ap­point­ing lemon cake… well you can imag­ine my state of mind.


Yrs affec­tion­ate­ly, L

Ragtime — E. L. Doctrow

It starts out so odd­ly. It’s off putting. There is a fam­i­ly whose mem­bers have no names only mark­ers for their places Moth­er, Father, Younger Broth­er, the Boy. Then Hou­di­ni crash­es his car into a tree and ends up sweat­ing out an after­noon in the fam­i­ly par­lor and that seems so unpromis­ing. And yet. Stick with it. That’s my advice.

Hou­di­ni is only the first of the his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters who will show up and the sto­ry will shift sev­er­al times to high­light them and oth­er (named) fic­tion­al char­ac­ters. There is the impov­er­ished immi­grant Tateh with his beau­ti­ful daugh­ter whose brief inter­ac­tions with the socialite Eveyln Nes­bit and the rad­i­cal Emma Gold­man send him run­ning from his immi­grant life into anoth­er alto­geth­er self-made Amer­i­can one. And Coal­house Walk­er III, the black man who’s humil­i­a­tion at the hands of a racist fire chief and his men pro­vides the impe­tus for an ongo­ing bat­tle for dig­ni­ty and redress that ends with a dyna­mite rigged art col­lec­tion of JP Mor­gan and a show­down in the streets of New York.

Both of these sto­ries along with the sto­ry of our unmanned fam­i­ly bump into one anoth­er again and again. There are so many cross­ing sto­ries that you can’t make a tidy sum­ma­ry of all the plot points. There are also a lot of char­ac­ters, but Doc­torow is a good enough writer that you don’t end up half way through the sto­ry going “and just who is Sarah?” You can fol­low each of the char­ac­ters through the sto­ry and come away with an under­stand­ing of their dif­fer­ing views of the world the they share.

Doc­torow is a love­ly writer, his sen­tences sing along with the Rag­time music that CWIII plays on the fam­i­ly piano as he courts the silent girl Sarah. This book is an ear­ly exper­i­ment in mix­ing his­tor­i­cal and fic­tion­al char­ac­ters out­side of the genre of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. There are a few unac­count­ably sur­re­al moments. Freud and Jung in the tun­nel of love on Coney Island stands out as one of them. But most of it is just odd enough to keep your atten­tion focused where the writer wants it to be.

(pub­lished 1975)

Once you fall into the rag­time tem­po it rocks along. 

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