Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Cardinal and the Corpse

I've long known of the short (under 40 minutes) British television documentary titled The Cardinal and the Corpse, or A Funny Night Out, but only recently had the chance to view it. It was originally broadcast in 1992 on the Channel 4 programme "Without Walls." Created by Iain Sinclair and Christopher Petit, it has a strange cast including Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, and Brian Catling, along with legendary characters of the British book world like Martin Stone and Driffield. As a documentary it doesn't really work well. It is nearly formless and sort of organized around the quest for three different books, but it has interesting snippets and scenes. It is mainly, as one commentator described it, "a show about books and bibliophiles in London." The title refers to a pulpy detective novel of Sexton Blake (who, like Sherlock Holmes, lived in Baker Street, London) by Stephen Blakesley, rumored to be a pseudonym of Flann O'Brien. The show is currently on youtube here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Remembering Nigel Kneale and Quatermass

The BBC Radio program "Free Thinking," hosted by Matthew Sweet, had a 48 minute program on November 5th, titled "Quatermass." Guests include Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Clare Langhamer, Una McCormack and Matthew Kneale, the son of Nigel Kneale.  I quite enjoyed this.  It's available for listening here.

Here's a quote from Matthew Kneale on his father:
I remember him mostly as somebody who taught me an enormous amount about writing, and we used  to watch television programs all the time, and he'd dissect them ruthlessly, and say "that makes no sense!" He was very, very proud of his ability to understand the structure of a piece, and he was very good at the structure. And I learned a huge amount. I learned that you can't get away with thing if they don't make perfect sense, if you haven't thought them through. That's a lesson I've never forgotten.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Cult Books That Haven't Aged Well, Even If They Were Bad To Begin With

Over at the BBC Culture page, Hephzibah Anderson has a worthwhile article on "The Cult Books That Lost Their Cool". I don't usually find such agreement with these types of lists, but of the eleven books described here I've read several and am at least familiar with the rest. And while I might argue that these books never had any cool to begin with, it is nice to see their shortcomings pointed out. In particular I have loathed The Catcher in the Rye, Atlas Shrugged, On the Road, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull (read only for its risibility, as it was the favorite book of a person I knew in college), and disliked several of the others, The Old Man and The Sea (someone I knew called it, appropriately, The Old Fart and the Fish), Iron John, The Outsider (Colin Wilson at his pinnacle of glibness), and Infinite Jest.  I've never read The Beach, nor ever been even slightly tempted to read it, for I am familiar with the Leonardo DiCrapio and Tilda Swinton film.

Anyway, a tip of the hat to Hephzibah Anderson (no relation).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Meditation on the Writer’s Library

 "A writer’s library is more than just a collection of books. It is also a piecemeal biography of that writer’s life, and measurably so, as most writers have spent countless hours reading the books that they own or have borrowed, hours that add up to years, perhaps decades, given a long-enough life"

From an essay "My Life in Books" by James P. Blaylock, at Poets&Writers.  The full essay is here.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Michael Dirda on the Snergs

Michael Dirda has an interested column ("Before Tolkien created hobbits, there were Snergs. And oh, how delightful they were!") on The Marvellous Land of Snergs in the June 26th issue of The Washington Post.  Here are the opening paragraphs:
Suppose you were to mash up three of the greatest of all children’s fantasies: J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and T.H. White’s “The Sword in the Stone.” This may be hard to imagine, especially for an adult, but something like E.A. Wyke-Smith’s “The Marvellous Land of Snergs” would be the result. Deliciously irreverent in its narration, silly and spooky throughout, and charmingly illustrated by Punch artist George Morrow, this neglected masterpiece remains as winning today as when it was first published in 1927.

Wyke-Smith opens with a description of Watkyns Bay, where scores of children can be glimpsed playing on the sand and in the water. Actually, they can’t be glimpsed because not a single ship, with one exception, has ever entered the bay. Any vessel attempting to do so encounters contrary winds and dangerous waterspouts, these barriers having been set up by the S.R.S.C., the Society for the Removal of Superfluous Children.

The full article is here, but you may have problems accessing it without turning off ad-blocking (or resorting to other trickery).*  I subscribed to the Washington Post Book World for many years, until the the Post ceased selling subscriptions. Later they got rid of the section itself and merged it into the Post. So since then I read the book reviews on the web, but lately the Post has been making that more and more difficult. Sometimes one can still find a way in, sometimes not. Too bad.  What used to be the best book coverage in the U.S. has been diminished to a ghost of its former self, made easily available only to DC  locals. 

* I must say that forcing a reader to deal with the glaring annoyances of a HUGE number of advertisements does not seem to me to be the way to go. I mean:  I have never clicked on any such intrusive ad (and never will).  Don't the advertisers realize that this is the case for 99% of us? There should be better ways to piss away their ad dollars. End of Rant.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Steven Erikson 2017 GoH talk

"Steven Erikson," the pen name of Steve Lundin (b. 1959), a Canadian fantasy novelist best known for his massive Malazan series, was a Guest of Honor at the 2017 International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts in March 2017.  His Guest of Honor speech, "Standing Fast," appears in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, volume 29 no. 1 (2018), which I just read.  Much of it concerns his own life, but there are some choice paragraphs about modern society that I think are worth sharing. So here are a few excerpts.  The full talk is online here

If you want the rug pulled out from under your entire life, you couldn't do much better than that.

I imagine many of you are feeling something similar, you who are Americans, that is. A country founded on the hard-won principles of democracy, just representation, and the freedom and opportunity to hold your leaders accountable, and in a seeming flash it all ceases to function the way it's supposed to. Elections are subverted, vast segments of the population are cynically and systematically excluded from the right to vote, and every institution devised by the country's forefathers to prevent the rise of tyranny has abrogated its responsibility to protect you and your country.

... for a nation to self-destruct, it must first destroy its artists, its historians, its scholars. It must reduce them to irrelevance. It must subvert language and destroy faith. It must blind its painters, cut out the tongues of its poets, and break the hands of its sculptors. The path from argument to violence, I suggest, must be cleared of all obstacles, all impediments, any and every appeal to reason, or humanity.

I don't know about all of you here today. I don't know if you're feeling anywhere near as irrelevant as I do. Reasoned thought, cogent argument, has given way to something else, something far more visceral. Belief systems are at the heart of this feeding frenzy of invective, and even recourse has lost its value, as each side talks past the other, and all that held us together seems to be unraveling before our eyes. Without the ability to communicate, what else is left to us?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Doom and Gloom in the Humanities

"Any which way you care to look at them, the humanities in the United States are in radical, sharp decline. The number of history students is down about 45 per cent since 2007, the number of English students has halved since the late 1990s." . . .

"The most common response to the humanities crisis at the MLA was lament. At the many, many panels devoted to decline that I attended, many, many academics bemoaned their state, confessing to profound spasms of guilt and despair, and exploring 'the larger cultural devaluation of the humanities'." . . .

"As the humanities decline in the United States, the country is losing the craft of understanding, losing its capacity for citizenship. Even educated people are increasingly unable and unwilling to distinguish between fake and real information, becoming a community that cannot understand itself as anything more than a circulation of figures. Self-righteousness takes the place of substantive discussion. Narcissism and outrage become the dominant techniques of self-definition. And the cure for all these problems is the same: read widely, read deeply, read."

The full article, "Back in the MLA" by Stephen Marche, is at the TLS website here

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Peace on Earth, 1939

This short (8 1/2 minutes) animated film is one I'd never encountered before.  A quite dark fable for all times, well worth watching. It was made by Hugh Harman, and released in December 1939. In it an elderly squirrel tells his two grandchildren about how man became extinct. Watch the film here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Lost Art of Criticism

"A critic who is driven primarily by their politics, who is blinded by their own sense of moral superiority, or who cannot temporarily surrender to the worldview of their subject, can barely be said to be a critic at all"
From "The Lost Art of Criticism" by Andrew Doyle.  Full article here.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Frankenstein Notebooks at the Bodleian Library

A fascinating Bodleian Library Discussion, click here.

An examination of the notebooks in which Mary Shelley drafted Frankenstein. These two notebooks, one purchased probably in Geneva, the second in England, are now kept in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

With: Miranda Seymour, biographer of Mary Shelley, Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian, Stephen Hebron, curator and author of Shelley's Ghost

Recorded on Saturday, 24 March, 2018, for Frankenreads 2018