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Another Reading

https://vimeo.com/peopleshistory/kevin-coval-nelson-algren-chicago

Here’s another reading of Algren’s poetic Chicago: City on the Make.

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Plagues, Witches & Wars: A Good Class

I’ve started a fascinating class in historical fiction, for readers or writers, through Coursera. It’s called Plagues,Witches & Wars: The Worlds of Historical Fiction. It’s free and offered through Coursera by the University of Virginia. I’m just in week 2 and am learning about the roots of historical fiction.

The professor is knowledgeable and the lessons for each week come in 10-20 minute lengths, perfect for little gaps of time.

If you want to learn about a particular subject, you can browse Coursera, which has lots of courses in all areas. Some you must pay for and some offer a certificate if you pay.

Let me know in the comments if you see something interesting and sign up for it.

Diary of a Mad Old Man

old man Junichiro Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man is just what the title says. Well, he’s not completely mad. The main character is an old man obsessed with his daughter in law, a former cabaret singer, whose husband’s grown tired of her.

The old man is sickly and most of his life is spent going to doctors and taking medication. His infatuation of Satsuko, the daughter in law who leads him on, but doesn’t let him do mor e than kiss her legs or eventually her neck, gets him to buy her jewels and later a pool. She’s got a lover and a fondness for Western fashion. It’s an interesting look at desire mixed with a battle against a failing body.

A quick read, the book provides an interesting glimpse of Japan in the post-WWII period when the Japanese were starting to prosper. Old age (over 75) is largely ignored by writers. This novel rings true as a chronicle of a man with his wits about him who’s able to analyze his actions and his family. He’s aware of how Satsuko, the daughter-in-law operates.

Poem of the Week

The Meeting

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After so long an absence
At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
In the top of the uttermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

“The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The High Window

high window

 

[Chandler] wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered.
The New Yorker.

I just love Raymond Chandler and can’t believe I didn’t read his novels till this year. The High Window has Philip Marlowe working for a nasty, rich, cold-hearted widow whose ex-husband’s rare gold coin has been stolen. The story starts simply enough, but soon the body count piles up. First a rookie detective who was following Marlowe is killed. Next an expert Marlowe spoke with, then a third body appears. All are connected to Marlowe, though not closely.

The best thing about Chandler’s writing is the prose. His style is one of a kind. Here are some examples:

“I have a damn fool of a son,” she said. “But I’m very fond of him. About a year ago he made an idiotic marriage, without my consent. This was foolish of him because he is quite incapable of earning a living and he has no money except what I give him, and I am not generous with money. The lady he chose, or who chose him, was a night club singer. Her name, appropriately enough, was Linda Conquest. They have lived her in this house.  We didn’t quarrel because I don’t allow people to quarrel with me in my house, but there has not been good feeling between us. I have paid their expenses, given each of them a car, made the lady a sufficient but not gaudy allowance for clothes and so on. No doubt she found life rather dull. No doubt she found my son dull. I find him dull myself. At any rate she moved out, very abruptly, a week or so ago, without leaving a forwarding address or saying goodbye.” (p.12)

He held an empty smeared glass in his hand. It looked as if somebody had been keeping goldfish in it. He was a lanky man with carroty short hair growing down to a point on his forehead. He had a long narrow head packed with shabby cunning. Greenish eyes stared under orange eyebrows. His ears were large and might have flapped in a high wind. He had a long nose that would be into things. The whole face was a trained face, a face that would know how to keep a secret, a face that heldthe effortlessness of composure of a corpse in the morgue. (p. 76)

Each sentence is flawless.

Poem of the Week

Love at First Sight

by Wislawa Szymborska

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is more beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember—
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number”caught in the receiver?—
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night. perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

Good Stories: What Christians Can Offer

Yep, I think we need to work and think really hard to offer the world the sort of stories Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Françoise Mauriac, Dostoevsky and Victor Hugo offered. But it would be worth it.

This weekend I finish my library class and start writing in earnest. Promise.

Poem of the Week

In Heaven It Is Always Autumn

by Elizabeth Spires

“In Heaven It Is Always Autumn”
John Donne

In heaven it is always autumn. The leaves are always near
to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking
heaven’s paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them.
Safe in heaven’s calm, they take each other’s arm,
the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone.
But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept
as Eden would be with the walls knocked down,
the paths littered
with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes
for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling
the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome.
The last roses of the year nod their frail heads,
like listeners listening to all that’s said, to ask,
What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light?
What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom?
What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare?

Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might,
if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves,
tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere.
It is the last of many last days. Is it enough?
To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun?
To watch the lineaments of a world passing?
To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal,
press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds
pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow?
And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun
shining brightly
as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure
leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth.
My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we’re here, I think it must
be heaven.

Poem of the Week

 On Flunking a Nice Boy Out of School

I wish I could teach you how ugly
decency and humility can be when they are not
the election of a contained mind but only
the defenses of an incompetent.  Were you taught
meekness as a weapon?  Or did you discover,
by chance maybe, that it worked on mother
and was generally a good thing—
at least when all else failed—to get you over
the worst of what was coming?  Is that why you bring
these sheep-faces to Tuesday?
They won’t do.
It’s three months’ work I want, and I’d sooner have it
from the brassiest lumpkin in pimpledom, but have it
than all these martyred repentances from you.

John  Ciardi

Anonymous

Anonymous speculates that William Shakespeare didn’t write his plays and offers a theory that the 17th Earl of Oxford did. Though I don’t buy this idea because I do think genius springs up in all classes, I do love historical and even speculative historical fiction enough to enjoy a film that has an interesting theory.

For a couple hours it was worth it to put aside my beliefs and enjoy rich costumes, romantic landscapes of yore, even the muddy ones and bold dialog (though it wasn’t as Shakespearean as Elizabeth Rex‘s dialog). The thesis put forth is that the Earl of Oxford had the education and background that William Shakespeare lacked and he wrote plays to influence Elizabeth as she ruled the British empire. The implication is that a woman wouldn’t have been wise enough to rule as successful on her own. Well, I don’t buy that, but I did find it interesting to see what this screenwriter believed as the story takes a lot of interesting twists.

I will quibble with the portrayal of William Shakespeare. Here he’s a buffoon and one that’s a far cry from say the jester in King Lear. In fact, we’re told that although he can read, he can’t write. Poppycock. Writing isn’t hard and in a week Asian students have the alphabet down. We know Shakespeare went to grammar school and unless his hand was injured during that entire period, someone would have taught him how to actually write letter.

The film proposes that the 17th Earl of Oxford was the real Bard. In the film this earl was very stately, but for the life of me I can’t recall a line of dialog he said. Now if a film wants to depict the real Shakespeare, shouldn’t that character be eloquent, someone who’s conversation is memorable? That’s why the film failed. I wasn’t convinced that because this man was well dressed and was given a good education, that he was a genius. Genius isn’t that well hidden.

The political intrigue gets complicated, but not impossible to follow. But then I’d seen Elizabeth Rex recently so I knew about the intrigue and the Earl of Essex‘s execution. I do wish someone, perhaps a woman, would write a play about Elizabeth that isn’t so skeptical of her ability to lead.

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