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September 2017

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In progress / housekeeping

Early in July, I was most of a week at my parents' house, ostensibly to help out my mom post-surgery. Ultimately, the visit became more of a family party.

During the visit, I read half of Zarqa Nawaz’s Laughing all the Way to the Mosque, but I left the book there. I'll probably finish it when I visit in August for the Writer's Festival. Nawaz spoke (hilariously) at last year's festival.

Conversely, I forgot Christopher Milne's The Enchanted Places at home, so although I listed it as a June book, I really finished it in July.

Unsurprisingly, I did not make as much progress with work- and review-related reading in July as I'd hoped. I am reading two books for review, one of which is also useful for prep. So far, that one is fantastic: Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures, edited by Deanna Reader and Linda M. Morra.

Part 1: Alphabetical Listing

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Two. I'm still really enjoying this series. It's like an essay on power in the form of a comic book. My favorite character is probably the conflicted academic radical of a previous generation (natch). He has a smaller role in this volume, but an interesting confrontation with the anti-monarchists and himself.

Coates is setting up a stimulating resistance between the story he's telling and the story-world as it existed before his own series. The central character as originally conceived is defined (narratively, archetypally) by being a king. The story's sympathies (while complex) are clearly on the side of rebellion. Will T'Challa be destroyed by the paradox? We shall see.

Like the first trade paperback, this collection included reprints of earlier Black Panther stories – I am not well-'versed enough to identify authors, artists, and styles, but I enjoyed the slightly scraggly 70s/80s art.

Han Kang. The Vegetarian. Now, this was a book. A book book. A work of strange and agonizing quiet. In three acts, a woman's transformation, seen three different ways, by three different external viewers, all who know her well and also not at all.

Not precisely spoilers but sort of spoilers )

Hanff, Helene. 84, Charing Cross Road. I re-read this little book of letters between book-buyer and bookseller, and then I listened to various audiobook incarnations as I washed the dishes, and it was all just lovely. This is another comfort read, of course. I can't read this book without thinking furiously at Hanff's younger self: Go to England! Just go! JUST GO. Every time.

Hayes, Bill. Insomniac City. I'd been waiting for this to come in at the library for some time. As I've noted elsewhere, this is a memoir by Bill Hayes, Oliver Sacks' partner. Hayes is an attentive diarist, attuned to small details and interactions. He seems like a remarkable person in himself – profoundly giving to his partners. Nothing really happens in the memoir, except lots of dinners, walks, talks with strangers in New York, drinking red wine right from the bottle, and smoking pot. The picture of Sacks -- brilliant, infinitely curious, delighted by every discovery, from kissing to chemistry -- is endearing. Though Insomniac City is not all about Sacks. A reader who had never heard of him could read this book as a gentle memoir of New York. I am a latent fan of Sacks' books (that is, I loved them once but haven't picked them up in a few years), and I mourned his death in 2015, so this visit with him was sweet.

Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry. This was an enjoyable essay that made a fair point — we expect poetry to live up to the abstract ideal of itself as a kind of trigger for ecstatic/transcendent aesthetic experience, and we resent the inevitable failure of any actual poem to become The Poem. Readers of Leaving the Atocha Station will find this a familiar theme.

I would have liked this essay better as part of a collection. As a standalone monograph, it was enjoyable but not quite substantial enough.

Also – maybe I'm projecting plenitude into the past, as (I think) Lacan would insist, but I'm pretty sure I've had many at least momentarily transcendent experiences of poetry (and other art, and music, and ritual, and nature, and sex, and so forth). Lerner seems to regard this as a myth (or at least he likes to take that pose).

This kind of romantic expectation/analysis obviously does not really include poetry like L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E. poetry, which aims to disrupt/resist the ideal of the lyric and beautiful and expressive poem. However, I am always reading that poetry all wrong anyway, since disruption can also create ecstasy/catharsis. I, too, pretty much read all poetry for ecstatic experience, and maybe – as Helene Hanff's friend said of London – if you look for it, you find it.

Taylor, Elizabeth. A Wreath of Roses. I liked this for its accuracy about the transformations of friendship that happen over time and changed circumstances, and for the simple domestic tyrannies and complicities, and for the atmosphere. The ending I almost liked. It is certainly unnerving. It reminded me of a Muriel Spark, but not quite as ruthless and therefore not quite as successful.

My favourite Taylors are probably still Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont and A View of the Harbour, but she’s just so reliable. Her prose and her attention are like no one else's – unflashy, yet devastating.

Part 2: Women Suffering Hilariously

Ephron, Nora. Heartburn.

Loos, Anita. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.

I'm going to put these three books together. )

There was TV in there, too, and I also watched the Monroe / Russell film of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was disappointing, though I'm sure someone has written a clever article about the differences between the tightly regulated sexuality of the film (Monroe's Lorelai never really strays from her fiancé) and the anarchic self-interest of the novel.

Wednesday after work LB and I hiked in to the lake. We took a more strenuous route than usual, over rough ground, but nothing requiring high endurance -- or so I would have thought. The moment I got home, however, I lay down on the couch and did not rise until night.

The last few days have been like days of recovery from illness -- not soreness or fatigue so much as a sort of muzzy-headedness I dislike much more than pain.

Therefore, I have not done much writing or reading.

I did manage to read Insomniac City, Bill Hayes' memoir of his relationship with Oliver Sacks. It's a lovely, gentle book, a kind of idyll of daily life in New York -- lots of drinking wine on rooftops and talking to strangers in the park. Hayes invokes the sensory detail of their life together with the attention you'd expect of someone who could properly appreciate Oliver Sacks.

I'd read Hayes' description of a piece of music -- Beethoven's Op. 133, say (The Great Big Fugue) -- then cue it up on YouTube and listen -- or look up a meal they ate or an artist Hayes admired. In this way, the book became a delightful multi-sensory experience.

Reading or writing for work and other projects, though, did not seem to be on.

When writing is too difficult, I draw. One of my comfort activities is attempting loose copies of the exquisitely strange radial creatures from Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature. Listening to Beethoven' bright, angular notes, I thought -- why not try to draw this as well?1

Under the cut are a few creatures drawn out of the music, though they are not perfect synaesthetic renderings of these pieces or anything -- more a fusion of what I was looking at, what I was hearing, and what I could actually draw.

Musical Drawings )


1. I do see a little colour to music, but it's a very limited palette, shading from blue-white through golden brown to dark brown, and probably has more to do with the colour of the piano whereon I failed to learn to play music as a child, rather than any intricacy of brain connections.
This was a busy month at work, without much time for pleasure reading. The rest of the summer is less officially busy, but contains plenty of requirement for self-motivation in the direction of reading things and also understanding them.

I've got two academic reviews to write. Both books tie directly into my courses for the fall, so this also counts as prep. And there is much prep. My reading may of necessity become less haphazard in July and August, or at least that is the plan, so I've enjoyed letting it take hazard for June.


Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (1972), because it is a sure pleasure. I had remembered the simplicity of the prose and a few of the incidents — the water tank, the rich man’s house — but I had forgotten its complexity, or else not registered its intricacy fully in that first reading.

What strikes me this time is the celebration of the grandmother's perspective — her intuition about how to be with and of the land. There's an obvious connection to the North American ecological and Indigenous writing that I've read.

Books of the Moment

George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (2017). I liked this, though not the ending, which seemed interminable and unnecessary. However, my reading was rushed because I was about to get on a helicopter, so I can't say I gave it the ideal level of contemplative attention.

Quietly Uncanny British Novels

This is the genre closest to my slowly thumping heart: ordinary events told with such clarity and intensity that they seem irreal. Two more Barbara Comyns — The Skin Chairs (1985) and Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's (1982). I think Comyns has joined Penelope Fitzgerald and the Other Elizabeth Taylor among my favorite novelists. I liked both of these novels better than The Vet's Daughter, and maybe Woolworth's best because it is about Bohemian Life in the 1930s.


Ben Blatt's Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve (2016). This is data-driven literary criticism/journalism. I believe it is a collection of pieces from It reads like that: a series of short statistical studies of various literary works and genres.

Blatt's conclusions are generally thoughtful and generous. I wanted a bit more critical complexity on both the literary and the data side -- for example, he analyzes the use of -ly adverbs and finds that, indeed, prose broadly considered as having higher quality does use fewer such adverbs. However, I don't recall his drilling down on the precise use that is most often objected to — describing how people say things. It seems to me there's a distinct literary difference between over-description of speech attitudes and modifying action in general — but maybe I speak inaccurately.

Blatt uses a lot of fanfiction for his analysis, which I liked — as a paraliterary genre, it often doesn't get that kind of attention, and yet it's an enormous galactic body of collective imaginings. He also scrupulously points out interesting exceptions to the rules, even the -ly one, which leaves room for hope.

Some of the pieces I found illuminating, and some dull. I'd recommend reading the bits of this that look interesting to you and skipping out the ones that don't.

I think of myself as a reader of Serious Nonfiction, or maybe a Serious Reader of nonfiction, but GoodReads tells me otherwise: this was my first nonfiction book of the year.

The Enchanted Places (1974). This is Christopher Milne's account of his childhood and youth as A.A. Milne's son and as the inspiration for the Winnie-the-Pooh books. I'm just finishing it. It's very English. Quiet, melancholy, celebratory of the countryside.

I like it. I knew some of it contents as literary rumour before reading it. And once I saw a Fringe play in which Christopher Robin goes off to the War and betrays Pooh to the Germans. "Das ist Ihr Schwein?" they keep shouting at him.


Anansi Boys. (2006) I think that ends my Neil Gaiman revisit. I liked the mythworld in the novel very much. I found the main storyline rather flat. It also has some problems with the narrative's portrayal of consent, which I suppose can be explained by a) its having been written before the latest iteration of that conversation, and b) its being about gods, who aren't very good on that sort of thing where mortals are concerned.

Ta-Nehisi Coates -- Black Panther #1

I thought this was really well-written: morally intricate and self-critical about its own backstory, without collapsing into postmodern cliche. I enjoyed it. I hadn't really followed the character previously, so I can't compare him to previous incarnations.

Barbara Comyns -- Sisters by a River, The Vet's Daughter

I'd like to read more Comyns. She turns over a deep weirdness you want to dig further into, but she's also a little forbidding -- to keep with the gardening metaphor, there's something stony about her writing. I don't see loving her books, but I definitely appreciate them.

Sisters by a River does a clever thing with the voice which I won't spoil here, except to say that it's quiet and tragic. I don't think I've seen an author do something so specifically narratively interesting with the character's diction. River is Comyns' first novel, and the structure has problems -- the story just sort of wanders off until it's out of sight -- but you can see an original mind at work. I'd quite like to read Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's next.

Jane Gardham -- The Hollow Land, Bilgewater, Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat

(A Long Way from Verona was technically April.) Gardham is very good on Being at School in various incarnations. Old Filth might be the best of these books in being about old age rather than youth, and thereby being both wryer and more sobering, but I found that novel less warm than the other books. Filth is the only masculine protagonist -- I don't know whether that's a factor or not, as my sample size is too small.

The Man in the Wooden Hat is the same story as Old Filth, told from the wife's perspective. The warmth was there, but not quite the same depth, and for whatever reason the device of repeating the same scenes (I think verbatim) from Old Filth didn't work for me. They did not feel newly illuminated: just repeated.

Gardham was a pleasure to discover -- not quite the revelation I had with Penelope Fitzgerald or Elizabeth Taylor, but good company.

Gardham has some distinctive structural habits -- the story proper is often contained in a brief framing device. Old Filth, for example, is bracketed with brief faux playscripts of characters discussing the dozing Filth within his earshot.

Oh, I liked what Gardham did with time in The Hollow Land -- it was unexpected, and, though the details are not quite right, plausible.

(I'm not being mysterious to be annoying -- I'm just too tired to write a proper spoilery review.)

G. Willow Wilson -- Ms. Marvel #1 & 2

As comics, these were less my thing than Black Panther, being goofier in tone and especially in visual style, but I liked the stuff about millennials responding to being unvalued.

Other bits

The Prose Edda had to go back -- who, I would like to know, had an urgent need to consult Snorri Sturluson? I wish they told you where your books were going when they got recalled.

Better news: Lincoln in the Bardo came in. I've heard some people say the novel's structure is brilliant and experimental, and some that it's "like a party trick" (Lissa Evans) -- a form put on for show, without being integral to the story.

It's early to say, but I think I may come out somewhere in the middle on the question. Which is to say -- so far I like it.

My Dreamwidth reading list has had some really excellent posts on it lately. I ought really to comment on each individually, with specific points of praise and affirmation, but for now I'll just have to make this broad statement of appreciation. From political posts, to book and show reviews, to daily-life updates about cats or moving or cooking, I've really appreciated and been nourished by what you've been writing. Thank you.

I'm afraid I did nothing much for Mayday except teach a class and play cards with LB and S. There are thoughts of some kind of eccentric behaviour for the weekend, though.

I finished Jane Gardam's A Long Way from Verona and Barbara Comyns' The Vet's Daughter (1959), both Backlisted recommendations.

I liked both books. I liked Gardam's voice better -- though there was nothing wrong with Comyns', only I felt that pleasure in Gardam's book of a kind of perception I recognized.

The voice of Comyns' book was more alienating, but it was supposed to be. The Vet's Daughter seems like an almost lightly told tale, but it isn't -- it quietly depicts profound alienation, trauma, and domestic tyranny. That makes it sound grim, which it -- well, it is, but it has this clarity and sense of weightlessness, almost a dreaminess.

(All this imagery is obviously informed by the events of the book, which I will not -- quite -- spoil here.)

I liked very much the way the surreal or supernatural aspects were so naturalized, and how Comyns braided this in with the enforced ignorance / silence for women about sex and desire in Edwardian England.

Here's a remarkable bit of information from Wikipedia, though really from Comyns' own introduction to the novel: "[Comyns] dreamt the idea for The Vet's Daughter whilst on honeymoon in a Welsh cottage lent to her and her new husband by the Soviet agent Kim Philby in 1945."

(I do like that old t-spelling of the past tense -- "Dreamt" or even "dreampt", though maybe only Shakespeare can get away with the latter.)

Well, now I may have talked myself around to liking The Vet's Daughter better. Still, it's Gardam I wanted more of. In a lovely convergence, Gardam wrote the (other) introduction to my edition of Daughter.

Some very clever person(s) at the library purchased almost the whole lot of Gardam's novels in the recent Europa editions, so I have The Hollow Land and Old Filth from today's run. In fact, I'm halfway through The Hollow Land.

It's been an odd day -- I didn't sleep well, so all I've really done is go to the library, read The Hollow Land, try to take naps, work on lesson plans, and reheat some meatballs. I didn't feel right until about 3:30, after the more successful of my two naps.1

I should get back to it. To sum up: hello; happy May; here are some books; and thank you.


1. And now, I guess, I've written a blog post, so.
Coughing and/or sleeping

Sick again all this past week. It seems to be lifting.

For two nights I couldn't sleep. After the first night, I was strangely energized; after the second, I was all in ruins.

The next night, I worked out I could sleep if I sat on the futon (which sits on the floor), then propped my torso up on the bed with pillows and quilts. This way, I could lie upright but completely supported. I listened to the soundtrack of West Wing episodes all night and finally slept, not heavily but at least for a reasonable duration. Last night I slept in a more usual position and it seemed all right.

I've had these happy dreams the last few days, jumbles of community and confusion, with Mild Peril but a general sense of positive action.

News in noises and images

I'm starting new courses on Monday. I'm running an online course for the first time, and tonight I finished a super goofy little audio intro for the course website. I open with the distinctive harmonica line from "The Times They are A-Changin" -- distinctive in this case for being almost unrecognizeable when played breathlessly upon my bent harmonica. This, because the long text for the course will be Alan Moore's Watchmen, and the Dylan song is, of course, played over the opening credits of the film version.

I want to watch the new MST3K, but I don't want to re-sub to NetFlix. LB & S & I are contemplating American Gods as our next group viewing project. Also, there are two episodes of John Oliver to watch.


Because of Backlisted podcast, I'm reading Jane Gardam's A Long Way from Verona, and it's really pretty wonderful. I've never read anything by Gardam, but I like her voice and I'm already seeking out more.

Mild spoilers and peril )

Money and planning and grimacing adulthood

I have been making a budget, a proper one, for the first time, well, probably ever. It shows me I am terrible with money, which I knew, and yet it grieves me. However, it also offers me scope for reform.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I was so committed to procrastination that I actually wrote two poems and sent them out, thus doubling my submission rate as compared to 2016. So I did *something* for poetry month.

Next up: meal planning.


(Edited to correct spelling of Gardam's name and the title of her book -- I keep muddling it up with A Far Cry from Kensington, which I own -- somewhere -- but have not finished.)
I'm over at LB's place working while she creates DIY airlocks for her fermentation experiments. I meant to mark a paper, but I left it at home, and while that's exactly five minutes' walk from here, tonight that is too much.

A propos of nothing, one fine thing about teaching composition is that I can now outline a damn good summary. Had you said to me ten years ago, “state the author's thesis and key points using new language and sentence structures while excluding specific examples or I will press this button and destroy every copy of The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson existing in the world," we would all be living without one of the key sources texts for retellings of Norse mythology, is all I'm saying.

Concise it has not made me. Which is to say, I've been reading things I will now not even attempt to summarize properly.

I've just finished Ellen Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer, recommended by [personal profile] kenjari. I hadn't read it before, but, like many people, I found that Swordspoint made me feel all funny inside. I've retained a sense of goodwill towards Kushner ever since, though I've not read the other Riverside works.

It was a pleasure to recall the particular flavour of high fantasy I associate with the late 80s/early 90s, some of which quietly naturalized queerness in a way very helpful to a queer-trans-weirdo teenager in a northern BC city.

Reading Norse Mythology made me want to re-read D'aulaires' Book of Norse Myths (it was the one I had as a kid.) Those illustrations! I've never forgotten Odin with his bangs in his eyes.

Reading D'aulaires', I noticed, with gratitude to Neil Gaiman, where he had restored some of the coarseness and ribaldry of the original stories. D'aulaires' is for children, and while it happily recounts the putting out of eyes and the crushing of giants, the authors choose to tell us that Loki tied "himself" to a goat to make Skadi laugh, which is merely perplexing, rather than that he tied his genitals to the goat, which is comedy gold.

Anyway, it's a lovely telling, though I fear I may have been almost equally influenced in my youth by the Dungeons & Dragons versions of the immortals.

From D'aulaires', naturally, to The Prose Edda, which I had never read, and which the library miraculously happened to possess in a tiny scholarly edition circa 1964 (hadn't been culled yet, I expect). I am plodding through the prologue right now, which is a strange melange of Biblical-crypto-historical justification for telling the stories at all. The scholarly introduction has interesting context for why Sturluson would do this, describing the Edda as part poetic manual, part veiled hoard of old faith. I'd like him to get on to the bit with the hammer, though.


Audio version of this entry here
East of Eden, John Steinbeck (1952)

Well, I cried at the end.

Spoilers for East of Eden plus way too many Expressive Capital Letters )

It's very good, if not quite my cup of ethical struggle.

P.S. What are the Hamilton-Steinbecks even doing in this book? I kept expecting them to intersect more directly with the Trasks.

The Snow Ball, Brigid Brophy (1964)

This is a small book forged from dense, ravishing language. It doesn't really function like a story; it works like music, with motives and themes appearing, submerging, reappearing in new forms. (And motive, here, has a lovely double valence of character motivation and recurring image or idea – the cherub's face, the mint cream, sex and death.)

The book is like a small, ornately-carved case that, opened, reveals itself to be a music box and begins to play, with little dancers twirling inside – and then, when the music reaches its final crescendo, suddenly snaps shut, almost on your fingers.

When I arrived at the finale of the book, I thought: am I disappointed with this ending? It's abrupt and it's not what I wanted for these people, as people. Then suddenly I could see, dimly, back over the course of the novel, the way its central characters, while being wholly and recognizably human (and in fact specifically really quite 1960s British humans), each also embody Eros and Thanatos, in immortal-mortal dance. The book ends as music ends, in the meeting and resolution of themes, rather than as a narrative: and maybe there is something unsatisfying in the resolution of even the most perfect music, precisely because it works at the edge of signification but never enters in. To do this from the other side, to take the tools of narrative – image, dialogue, event – and make them function like music – is pretty astonishing.2

This is more my sort of thing than East of Eden -- scintillating, amoral, elliptical, strange.

The Snow Ball was my favorite recent encounter with art until I listened to S-Town and saw Legion, and now I think there must be so much good creative stuff in the world that my heart can’t contain it all.


1. I guess I mean not just the archetypal murderer but also the ones who lose out through some ordinary mistake, appetite, miscalculation, and the treachery of others.

2. Partly I get this musical stuff from knowing that Brophy was inspired by Mozart's Don Juan, and was a serious scholar of his music.
I seem to have endured a flurry of dopamine-click-led not-entirely-well-advised online book ordering. Things keep arriving, often things that are not quite what I imagined they'd be when I ordered them, if I remember ordering them at all.

An elderly yet still robust copy of Brigid Brophy's The Snow Ball arrived today (discussed brilliantly on Backlisted here). That can only be a good thing.

And this week I sat right down in the middle of the Salinas Valley (page 353) to read Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology.

I hadn't read any Gaiman in a good while. I thought it would be happy to check back in with him, and with the Norse myth-world of my childhood.

Norse Mythology's dust jacket is beautiful: a soft matte black infinity dusted with stars, with a lustrous Mjolnir in the centre.

Some of my favorite stories from the mythos are in Gaiman's book (the forging of Mjolnir, the birth of Sleipnir), and some I didn't know as well (the mead of poetry). Some of the gods I feel most affinity for are less prominent (Baldur, Bragi).

Gaiman and I are both totally hot for Loki, so that works out, because Loki kind of is the protagonist both of this retelling and, arguably, the mythos itself. I'm not a traditional storyteller or an anthropologist, but it seems to me that Gaiman picks up on the culture-hero role of tricksters like Loki as creators and bad/fortunate role models.

I’ve loved Gaiman's use of this mythos in other works: Sandman especially, and American Gods. Norse Mythology itself isn't a wholly successful adaptation for me.

Why? )

Ultimately, reading Norse Mythology made me want to re-read the book of Norse myths I had (or at least read) as a child. I did a search; the book must almost certainly be the d’Aulaires’, probably in the 1967 version.

I found it in a Popular Online Bookstore, and then, on even sexier second thought, at the local library.

Now I will say positive things about a book, to prove I can.

Just when East of Eden was fading me out, Steinbeck dropped deeper into the workings of Cal's character, and my faith flared up again. Steinbeck is very good at imagining the inner lives of people without ordinary empathy. I find it exhausting to be in those minds for such long stretches, but this is not the same as the work not being well done. The work is done very well.

Early in the year, I vowed (or heavily implied) that I would read only books that, at the end of the year, I'd be glad to have read. Then I got sick, and I guess inasmuch as I'm now glad I've read anything at all that vow is still in force.

Plans of the best-laid varietals.

Here are the top 11 book recommendations I received )


I’ve been listening to the recent Shirley Jackson biography, A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, using my local library’s Hoopla subscription. It's grand to have effortless access to such a recent audiobook. This doesn't quite count as reading the book since I use it to fall asleep and so have dreamed through many months of Jackson's life. I know the skeleton of her story well enough to be able to pick up wherever I start in again, at least so far. I'm having a little trouble with the voice of the reader; she seems skilled, but a bit mechanical. That could be my brain fog, though.

Books of the paper variety

After Loving, I finished another of the three Henry Green novels in the collection, Party Going. (They are very short novels.) The Howards End re-read is finished in time for book group, but I may not actually go, depending on my health by Sunday. Last time my most insightful contribution was a sporadic hacking cough.

Next, I went on a bit of an Alan Garner bender, reading Red Shift, The Owl Service, and Thursbitch, all of which I liked – probably Red Shift most. It was the most difficult, and had I not already listened to the Backlisted conversation about the book, I would have had quite a lot more work to untangle the threads.

The three books are all roughly the same kind of spell of deep time and sentient landscape (a term I've just learnt by reading reviews), but each through a different myth.

Some spoilers for Red Shift and Owl Service )

I did have a go at puzzling out the message at the end of Red Shift, and by rights should have got it, since I could see what the first sentence had to be and I had the cipher block, but somehow I became hopelessly muddled. I love puzzles, and books that are puzzles, but I am not that perfect reader who actually works the whole business out. I do, though, enjoy a Mystery as much as a Puzzle, so that’s all right.



I don't think I get to use "equivalenced" as a transitive verb, but I wish I could.

Here's a link to some discussions of / with Garner. I have not listened to them yet.

Unlinked References

Butler, Catherine (as Charles). “Alan Garner's Red Shift and the Shifting Ballad of ‘Tam Lin’”. Children's Literature Association Quarterly. Volume 26, Number 2, Summer 2001. Web.

(I am delighted to discover Catherine Butler whilst down this rabbit hole.)
This isn't so much a post as an excuse to show you a paper owl.

I went to Russell Books today and -- inspired by Backlisted, my new podcast boyfriend -- hunted up Alan Garner's Red Shift.1

The Owl Service was also on the shelf, which let to this fruitful use of my afternoon:

I like very much that Garner makes his books into puzzles, without its being coy or forced. I am trying to hold off on decoding the ciphered message at the end of Red Shift until I've actually read the book. No spoilers please.

So far I like The Owl Service -- the only thing that makes it a young adult book is the way it leaps immediately into its weirdness, rather than easing you through a process of deduction the way a book with aspirations to a certain kind of maturity -- to creating a realistic unreality -- might.


0. I looked for, but did not find, the edition of Woolf's The Waves with the absurdly patriarchal back cover copy mentioned elsewhere.

1. I am still compiling the list of essential books recommendations from friends (old, new) and helpful strangers, so right now my reading looks like this: Owl ( Red ( Recommended ( Party (Howards End) Going) Mystery Book ) Shift ) Service, with books for teaching in their own noble stack at my left hand.
This eternal virus1 and the world virus of authoritarianism have made me irritable. In this state (and next door to that one) it's difficult to focus and it's difficult to like things and people.

What better time to review some books?

During my illness, I made very few ventures out, but one was to Sorenson's Books, recently and beautifully rehoused with fellow bookseller Chronicles of Crime in a wonderfully arcane warren more like a dream of seeking than a retail space.

I went to hunt up a copy of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia because they were reading it on Backlisted. I ought to have been looking for Howards End, because that is the next book for book club, but in my fog I could hold only one book in mind at a time. They did not have Venetia. I eventually found it as an abridged audiobook through my local library’s Hoopla subscription, which met my needs perfectly well.

The book I walked out of Sorenson’s with was Loving * Living * Party Going, a Picador omnibus of three of Henry Green’s novels. I was somehow under the impression that they were a series, but Green it seems just loved a gerund.

I’ve been hearing about Green as an under-rated novelist for a good long time, maybe most recently in The New Yorker. He was in my headfiles under to be read (sometime), and this seemed to be bookstore serendipity's signal that it was time.

Henry Green’s Loving )

Mad Shepherds and Other Studies by L.P. Jacks )



1. Which is to say, this cold I’ve had since Dec 22
2. The wealthy family are named the Tennants. Get it?
3. L.P. stands for "Lawrence Pearsall".
Thanks for the follow-backs, journalfolk. I have no plan for how to make it worth your while.

I am finished Barchester Towers, and glad to be quit of it.

I liked The Warden very much, and there are many things to like about Barchester Towers, but, having read this novel of his, I cannot say with conviction that I like Anthony Trollope. I wonder if the reason I gave up on the Chronicles of Barsetshire all those years ago was my annoyance with this book and specifically its constant lumbering jocularity about the Nature of Woman.

Some of the good qualities of The Warden are still in evidence; Trollope is very good on the pettier, more self-concerned, but not actually evil side of human behavior -- the way that resentment and pride override charity and compassion, for example. Mr. Arabin, ruefully trying to remake his life at 40, moves me, and the signora, though not precisely adequate as a portrait of a woman with a disability, comes close to being a fascinating character study. I wouldn’t say she tips over, quite, into actually being fascinating, though the ambiguity around her injury and its cause, and the constant speculation about What's Under the Blanket, would provide excellent material for, say, Lacan.

The major characters of The Warden seem to have foregone any further personal growth in the sequel and are content to run the little grooves of their personae over and over, like table hockey characters. That was my feeling; the book group liked them better, and thought that the relentless babbling about the hilarious weakness of women was meant more ironically than I did.

(Some poking at the mass conversation (Look! The Victorian Web is still there!) produces various interesting possible positions on this question.) (When I was a youth nothing pleased me more than nested parentheses, especially if I could wrap them all up together at the end: ((())).)

In The Warden there are really no villains – just short-sighted selfish people, and I like that about it. Barchester Towers is painted in broader, almost Dickensian strokes. Mr Slope is stuck in the begged question of bad guys: why is he the villain? Because he's bad. How do you know he's bad? Because he's the villain. Also, red hair. Watch out.

Next up: Howard's End, last read about the same time as BT, which is to say, a very long time ago indeed.

I got violently winded walking to book group yesterday, though the sticky toffee pudding was worth it. Today a little errand walking similarly exhausted me. It was ten days ago the walk-in clinic doctor gave me the puffer and said this thing would play itself out.

So tired. I think tomorrow will be an ugly shirt day (a day when you're too tired to iron the good shirts).

An invitation, of course, to think about illness and wellness, access and ability. Something to discuss with the senora.