Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scratching the surface

Sometimes, as a reader, you feel hopelessly unable to read everything you want to. You wonder how you’ll ever be able to get through everything on your To-Be-Read wishlist. You feel kind of like this guy:

It can be embarrassing, at age 35, to list out all famous the writers you’ve never read before. My list, the one below on the left, was just pulled off the top of my head- it’s not even exhaustive. But look at all those authors! Subtract a few short stories I might have read by that group, and I’d draw a complete blank on each one of them.

Now, it’s easy to throw your hands up in despair, but a quick perusal of “new” authors I’ve read over the last two years is pretty heartening. That’s what’s represented by the list below on the right. Look at all those  authors! It’s even longer than the list on the left. I’m tearing through them like they’re going out of style (as some of them undoubtedly are) and I’ve got Cervantes and Phillip Roth queued up and ready to move from left to right. It’s not unthinkable that in another couple years I can turn the majority of those on the left into so many notches on my readerly belt.

Looking at this side-by-side comparison, I’m feeling pretty good about making the most of the books I have left.

Some authors I'm embarrassed not to have readAuthors new to me since 2011
Saul BellowHerman Melville
Virginia WoolfCharlotte Bronte
Jane AustenJack Kerouac
Leo TolstoyEdith Wharton
Theodor DreiserHenry James
Carson McCullersAlice Munro
Flannery OConnorCormack McCarthy
Phillip RothJohn Steinbeck
Don DeliloGeorge Orwell
Alexander DumasRoberto Bolano
Jorge Luis BorgesThomas Mann
Miguel CervantesWilliam Faulkner
Gabriel Garcia MarquezWallace Stegner
Victor HugoIvan Turgenev
Salman RushdieMarcel Proust
William BurroughsEmily Bronte
Henry David ThoreauGeorge Eliot
Italo CalvinoJeffrey Eugenides
Jack LondonJames Joyce
Haruki MurakamiE.M. Forster
William GaddisEudora Welty
VS NaipaulJoseph Heller
J.M. CoatzeeSherwood Anderson
Jose SaramagoFyodor Dostoevsky
John UpdikeT.C. Boyle
David Foster WallaceIsak Denisen
Ford Madox FordThornton Wilder
Evelyn WaughAlan Paton
Henry MillerChaim Potok
Norman MailerRicardo Guiraldes
Somerset MaughamH. Rider Haggard
Sinclair LewisKaren Russel
Rudyard KiplingDenis Johnson
Upton SinclairJennifer Egan
Marylin RobinsonJohn Hersey
Margaret AtwoodDana Spiotta
Willa CatherDouglas Thayer
Michael ChabonDavid Clark
Alexander PushkinBen Lerner
Boris PasternakBoris Pahor
John Dos PassosRoland Barthes
Thomas WolfeAnn Patchett
Tom WolfeJoan Didion
Gertrude SteinDavid Gann
George SandAgatha Christie
Margaret MitchellStephen King
Alice WalkerOrson Scott Card
Ralph EllisonClive Cussler
Erskine CaldwellErin Morgenstern
Allen GinsbergSteven Pressfield
Anne BronteC.J. Box
Richard Skinner
Stephen Hawking
Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Bugs Me Wednesday: Stream of Consciousness

You know what bugs me? Stream of Consciousness in fiction.

“And since sleep is is not, and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addy Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addy Bundren must be, and then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so, if I am not emptied yet, I am is.”

Call it innovative, call it avant guarde, call it whatever you want. But don’t tell me it gives the reader any clue what it’s like to be inside the character’s head. I’ve been  inside a head before. I’m inside mine every day. And it’s not disorienting or confusing in the least. Do things jump around a lot? Sure. Can an aroma or a song or a visual cue disrupt my thoughts and throw me twenty years into the past? Happens all the time. But there’s almost always some context, some thread I can follow in retrospect, something that ties the thoughts together into a fluid and flowing “stream” of consciousness.

But on the written page? That’s a different story altogether. When I have to wade through a confusing interior monologue in a book- I get the same feeling I get in my worst, mixed-up dreams. It’s a jolting confusion, like riding a rollercoaster in pitch blackness. It’s like those first couple seconds underwater when you turf it on waterskis- the noise of the churning water, the not knowing which way is up, being folded into some painful contortionists pose...

To be clear, I don’t think the concept  is a bad one. It could actually be very interesting if someone could pull it off (I’m told Henry James did it differently than most). But the execution  of it is all too often a festering, steaming pile of crap.

The way I see it you have two choices with Stream of Consciousness writing: you can choose to replicate the speed of thought, in which case unrelated sentence fragments are fired off almost as quickly as synapses fire in our brains (see example above) -or- you can actually replicate the cognitive journey of the character in question, in which case each new thought would flow by some logical connection to the next one, and each will leave the character with the feelings, memories, images and ideas associated with those thoughts- no matter how fast it occurs in real life. In other words you can go fast, or you can go deep. But you can’t do both.

If your goal is to demonstrate the physiological wonder of the human brain, and show how fast it moves between thoughts, then fine, go for option one above. Show us how random you can be. Awesome. But distant memories won’t be sorted from present action or from visualizations of future possibilities. Past and present, the real and the unreal, the hoped for and the feared…  we won’t know which is which. Your reader will just feel like they’re riding Space Mountain for the first time.

But if your goal is to convey what it’s really like to be inside the character’s head, your only real choice is to slow the passage of time and flesh out each impression as it surfaces- recreating the memories, painting the word pictures and describing the feelings they bring with them. Too long and boring? Doesn’t have to be. It’s done all the time for fight scenes. What would be an incomprehensible tangle of limbs, grunts, thoughts and pangs if paced in real-time, is slowed down and elongated so we can see each punch, each reaction and counterpunch, motivations, momentum, etc. But as long as writing is done with words, this choice between speed and depth will have to be made.

The reason for this is that the old adage that “a picture’s worth a thousand words” actually holds true. And unless you’re going to make a stab at getting some of those thousand words down on paper as each thought-picture appears to a character, then you can never give the reader the feel for what it’s like to be in the character’s head, and to see what’s going on. And yeah, to pretend otherwise, kinda bugs me. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"An eater of broken meats"

Yesterday’s post may have left you with the impression that I didn’t enjoy King Lear  in the least. Not true. There’s lots to like. Take, for example, this string of insults that Kent throws at Oswald. It’s got to be one of the greatest, all-time put-downs:

KENT: Fellow, I know thee.

OSWALD: What dost thou know me for?

KENT: A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
                base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
                hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
                lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
                glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
                one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
                bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
                the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
                and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
                will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
                the least syllable of thy addition.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What do Topper Harley and William Shakespeare have in common?

They can mow people down like no one else.

One of my goals for the year was to read something old school, so I picked up King Lear  by Shakespeare. It’s a play I never had to read in school, but it’s one that continues to get plenty of press. George Bernard Shaw declared that “no man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.” Whether or not that’s true, I don’t think, after 400 years, that there’s much I can add in the way of interesting commentary. I’ll just say this:

A good death can spice up any story, and modern authors still use the loss of well-loved characters to execute kick-in-the-crotch endings all the time. But to my modern mind, a tragedy like Lear , where nearly all the principals lie dead or dying at the end of the tale, almost gives off a whiff of farce. 

As Cornwall, Oswald, Regan, Gloucester, Goneril, Edmund, Cordelia and Lear (and a few servants) all met their tragic ends towards the close of the final act, I couldn’t help being reminded of this body count scene from that great masterpiece of cinema, “Hot Shots: Part Deux.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Few More Flicks for Oscar Week

Some other book-to-film quick hits:

The Sound and the Fury, 1959

Starring Yule Brynner and Joanne Woodward, this may be one of the worst adaptations known to man. It’s been a long, long time since I waded through Faulkner’s masterpiece, but even after almost twenty years I could immediately see that the film version bears little resemblance to the book. Remember that Stream of Consciousness section told from the perspective of Benjy that you hated in high school? Good news! None of it made it onto the silver screen. The section about Quentin away at school? That’s not there either. The section about Dilsey, the black servant? Nope. The only portion of the book they even tried to cover was the drama between Jason and Quentin (Caddy’s daughter, not her brother.) And it’s a pretty boring movie to boot.

Tender is the Night, 1962

Jason Robards and Jennifer Jones play Dick and Nicole Diver in this so-so adaptation of Fitzgerald’s famous novel. The film gets kudos for following the main arc of the story, from meeting Rosemary Hoyt on the beach and the Divers’ many parties to the couple’s eventual break-up and the slow doling out of their backstory. But there was so much left out, that will really bother readers who wanted a faithful adaptation. And you don’t get a full sense of the “fall” of Dick Diver as his wife gains mental health and independence. That dynamic is what makes the story so interesting in the first place. Psychiatrist saves/marries his patient, then descends into a kind of madness himself.

Atlas Shrugged (Part I), 2011

I’ll say up front that I liked the idea of bringing this story into the modern day (as a reader I was always a little thrown by clunky terms like “inter-office communicator” that hadn’t yet been shortened to “intercom” when Ayn Rand wrote her book. But the fact railroads still remain the focus of Dagny’s struggle kind of defeats the purpose of modernizing it. I generally liked the casting of Taylor Schilling as Dagny and Grant Bowler as Hank Reardon (pictured above), but this thing is low-budget, and you can tell. It got slammed by critics, though I think that was bound to happen even if Martin Scorsese had been behind the project. It was generally pretty true to the first part of the book, and I’d probably check out parts II and III if I ever got the chance.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

To Kill a Mockingbird, the movie

So, To Kill a Mockingbird.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying it’s one of my favorite books of all time. But amazingly, until last week, I had never seen the film. Now that that has been rectified, let’s talk about the movie.

As with “the Grapes of Wrath,” there were some key omissions in the film version: Calpernia is almost non-existent as a character, there is no visit to the all-black church where she and Tom Robinson’s family worship, there’s no uncle Jack, or Christmas at Finch’s Landing, there’s no house fire to give Boo Radley reason to cover a startled Scout with a blanket, no morphine rehab for Mrs. Dubose, and plenty of other edits that strip color and richness from the original. But while we may have lost some of the scope of Scout’s coming of age story on the cutting room floor, screenwriter Horton Foote still manages to hone in on the main drama of the court case, and the main theme of Innocence Lost. The angry mob is still shamed out of a lynching by Scout, Jem and Dill at the jail. We still get to see Atticus squeeze the trigger on the mad dog while the Sheriff soils his drawers. And there was still apparently enough of Atticus’s heroics and wisdom to nab a Best Actor nod for Gregory Peck.

All told the film won three Academy Awards (Peck for best actor, Horton Foote for best Adapted Screenplay, and it also won for Best Art Direction, in addition to being nominated in 5 other categories) and has gone down as one of the classics of American cinema. No doubt its appearance in 1962, just two years after the novel’s release and right in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, was a huge factor in its lasting legacy and influence. It has come to epitomize the courtroom drama genre. (Plus, it gave us the film debut of Robert Duvall, who dyed his hair blond and stayed out of the sun for six weeks so he could play the reclusive bogeyman, Boo Radley.)

Is it a perfect adaptation? No, but it’s a darn, good flick, and it’s true to the heart of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-winning masterpiece. Check it out:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath, the movie

Here is a film that is generally true to the text, especially in the first half of the action, but there were a couple key differences that will make fans of the novel gasp. There was no devastating flood at the end, for example, and since it was the forties, no breastfeeding of emaciated old men in barns. The ‘second-half’ sequence of events was reshuffled slightly so that the book’s happy interlude of life in the government camp was bumped to the end of the movie- to manufacture a happy ending where Steinbeck provided none.

But there are certain touching scenes that are right out of Steinbeck’s masterpiece: the kindly truckers in a Route 66 roadside diner, who leave huge tips to compensate the owners for their own kindness to the Joads, the kids’ wonder at the flushing toilets in the government camp, and the handwritten note stuffed in a jar next to the grandfather’s hastily buried body, just to name a few. The casting and acting is first-rate (except maybe for the sideshow character of Casy, who comes off as a village idiot.) In short, there’s a lot to love for Steinbeck nation.

In fact, if you thought the book was too dark and overly political, you’ll probably love the film- it’s a classic. But if you’re a literary adaptation purist, some of the changes may not sit well with you obviously. It is a gorgeous film, however, and it’s worth checking out if only to see Jane Darwell’s Oscar-winning performance as Ma Joad. (Henry Fonda is no slouch as Tom, and John Ford also took home the Oscar for best Director.) Give it a watch.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

At the Movies

Oscar week is upon us, and I’ll try to review some classic literary adaptations as the days go  by. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of our other “film-inspired” posts:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ghosts of the living

"There is something memorable in the experience to be had by going into a fair ground that stands at the edge of a Middle Western town on a night after the annual fair has been held. The sensation is one never to be forgotten. On all sides are ghosts, not of the dead, but of living people. Here, during the day just passed, have come the people pouring in from the  town and the country around. Farmers with their wives and children and all the people from the hundreds of little frame houses have gathered within these board walls. Young girls have laughed and men with beards have talked of the affairs of their lives. The place has been filled to overflowing with life. It has itched and squirmed with life and now it is night and the life has all gone away. The silence is almost terrifying." 
-from Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

I should say up front that Winesburg, Ohio  was not a book that I was just dying to read. We’ve dealt with Sherwood Anderson’s influence here and here, and it was his influence on writers I have loved, more than anything else, that prompted me to check out his most famous book.

So what kind of book is it? Not a novel, that’s for sure. Not even a short story collection in the strictest sense- though each of the stories could technically stand on their own. It’s actually a short story cycle, where a number of stories work together like a mosaic to fill in a picture larger than themselves.

The common theme tying them all together seems to be the notion that meaningful connections with other people, even in a place as small as Winesburg, are a deceptive mirage you can never quite get to. A number of the stories focus on near -connections, typically occurring on long walks about the town (there is a bar in Winesburg, but not much else in the way of entertainment), but ultimately the characters are disappointed to find themselves bereft of the friendship and understanding that they so desperately craved. If I were to sum up the plight of Anderson’s characters in one word, I would say that they yearn .

Now, there are  some repeating characters we get to know a little better than others, especially the character of young George Willard, who serves as a kind of sounding board for the lost souls of his town, and whose decision to leave Winesburg in the last story gives the book its ending. But no matter the length, each story is a kind of simple character sketch, or a study in backstory- almost like a writing exercise. I was impressed with the eloquent way in which he puts their inner lives on display for the reader, as in this quick but precise description:
“In the big empty office the man and the woman sat looking at each other and they were a good deal alike. Their bodies were different, as were also the color of their eyes, the length of their noses, and the circumstances of their existence, but something inside them meant the same thing, wanted the same release, would have left the same impression on the memory of an onlooker.”
Each character’s got a history, and each finds himself in a dilemma, but there aren’t many happy resolutions or neatly tied-up endings. Every story simply adds another tile to the mosaic, which I why I would say that, in the end, the main character is probably Winesburg itself.

It’s worth checking out, as a “founding document” of modern American fiction, if nothing else.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

You may have already noticed, but I’m a big fan of Leaving the Atocha Station . In fact, I haven’t been this excited about a book in quite a long time. What is it about the novel that appeals to me? I’m not sure I know. But I’ll take a crack at it.

  • First off, I’m a big sucker for expat stories: American poetry fellow abroad in Spain?- check.
  • I love meta fiction, in particular books about writers writing (or struggling to write): a main character who fears (knows?) his hackneyed rip-off poetry makes him a literary imposter? – check.
  • I love beautiful, witty writing- check and check.
  • And I have a huge soft spot for loveable losers- in this case a main character, Adam Gordon, who is in some ways so supremely self-confident, yet plagued by doubts and miscues at every turn- check.

This last factor is, I think, what makes the story work so well. Adam is, for all intents and purposes, a hash-smoking doofus who finds himself in over his head. He’s an intelligent doofus, but he’s a doofus. He coasts by in spite of half-understood exchanges with the Spanish locals. He lies compulsively, as when he tells people his mother is dead, or that his father is a fascist, then flashes to a mental image of his dad, “gentlest of men,” coaxing a spider onto a piece of paper so he can carry the lost creature outside the house to safety. He sabotages relationships and seems set on submarining his own fellowship. His entire purpose in Spain is to research the Spanish Civil War and produce an epic poem on the topic, yet when the Madrid train bombings take place right in front of his eyes, he is oblivious to history:
"I leaned my head against the wheel and felt the full force of my shame. I wasn’t capable of fetching coffee in this country, let alone understanding its civil war. I hadn’t even seen the Alhambra. I was a violent, bipolar, compulsive liar. I was a real American… I was a pothead, maybe an alcoholic. When history came alive, I was sleeping at the Ritz."
But miraculously, things work out for our flawed hero. He stumbles into meaningful friendships completely by accident. His anti-social screw-ups are accepted as the eccentricities of a creative genius. The two or three lines he memorizes for a panel discussion on current events magically fall into place as the most insightful comments of the night.
"They wanted the input of a young American poet writing and reading abroad and wasn’t that what I was, not just what I was pretending to be? Maybe only my fraudulence was fraudulent."
I have to be honest, I thought the story was headed for a depressing, turd-in-the-punchbowl ending- a suicide, or an epic academic flameout that would ruin Adam’s career, but I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Things are left ambiguous, to be sure, but the trajectory is enough to imply a happy ending.

It is an entertaining, thought-provoking, and ultimately uplifting read. Highly, highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From the Pen of Ben Lerner

It’s been a while since I finished Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station , but that doesn’t mean I’m through with it yet. I flipped back through it looking at some of the highlights I’d made along the way, and realized it’s hard to convey just how hilarious this book is based on a mere passage or two. But here’s one example that gives you a sense for the main character’s Byzantine self-awareness and his amusing disdain for those around him:
"I opened my eyes a little more widely than normal, opened them to a very specific point, raising my eyebrows and also allowing my mouth to curl up in the implication of a smile. I held this look steady once it had obtained, a look that communicated incredulity cut with familiarity, a boredom arrested only by a vaguely anthropological interest in my surroundings, a look that contained a dose of contempt I hoped could be read as political, as insinuating that, after a frivolous night, I would be returning to the front lines of some struggle that would render whatever I experienced in such company null. The goal of this look was to make my insufficiencies appear chosen, to give my unstylish hair and clothes the force of protest; I was a figure for the outside to this life, I had known it and rejected it and now was back as an ambassador from a reality more immediate and just.
"There ensued a battle between the music and my face."
But even when he’s not being funny, he shows a poet’s flare for injecting his lines and paragraphs with phrases that bring the whole thing to life like so many lighted fuses:
"While I thought of myself as superior to all the carousal I was in fact desperate for some form of participation both because I was terribly bored at night and because I was undeniably attracted to the air’s vulgar libidinal charge."
"While I had never thought I was in love with Teresa, whatever that might mean, I had on more than one occasion thought that she was maybe a little in love with me. And if we never slept together or otherwise “realized” our relationship, I would leave Spain with this gorgeous possibility intact, and in my memory could always ponder the relationship I might have had in the flattering light of the subjunctive."
"My mind was revising many months’ worth of assumptions; I felt something like a physical change as my recent past liquefied and reformed. What was left of the light burnished what it touched; Isabel was half shadow and half bronze, boundless and bounded."
"Teresa made a joke and they laughed and the many-headed laughter was terrible to me."
"Elena Lopez Portillo had ceased to speak and I could feel a change in pressure on my face, the effect of the audience focusing its eyes upon me." 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Find your way to Oz

Okay, if you’re a fan of L. Frank Baum, or a user of Google’s Chrome browser, you may get a kick out of this cool site to promote Disney’s upcoming movie “Oz the Great and Powerful.” It’s basically an HTML5 video game, where you can wander around a travelling circus, explore various tents, take a hot-air balloon ride and, if you get too close to the twister, maybe even find yourself transported to the land of Oz.

Chrome users, go here.

For those of you with some other browser, here is a quick preview to give you a flavor for what you’re missing:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Another Month in the Can

We only covered about 20 different authors this month, but since we only post about twenty times in a month, that’s not too shabby- especially considering the huge, heaping helpings of Heller we heaved upon you. Here are the top 5 posts from the past thirty days:

And here, as usual, are some of the nutty search terms that led people to us:

“Death in Wuthering Heights”  >>  Well, we’ve done death of  Wuthering Heights
“Death in Brave New World”  >>  Um, we killed that one off, too
“Bosch garden of earthly delights”  >>  Enjoy a profound experience of art
“Man playing video games”  >>  We’ve done exactly three posts on video games.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Album”  >>  Why yes, of course we’ve covered that.
“Beast of Burden poem”  >>  I really hope the reader got something out of this parody poem
“edith newbold jones Wharton”  >>  Ah yes, our keeping up with the Joneses post.
“8-bit ham”  >>  How about the 8-bit Fitzgerald?
“Fiction town map coloring page” >>  Well, I guess you could use this for that.
“Modern library”  >>  The famous list that we sliced and diced here.

Thanks for visiting. Keep coming back!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

I remember reading sections of Catch-22  in highschool English, but I hadn’t gone back to read the whole thing until a week or two ago. It’s a book that comes in at #7 on the Modern Library’s list of 100 greatest novels, and whether or not you agree with that ranking, I think it’s safe to say that it belongs on the list. I mentioned this yesterday, but I think Heller gets unfairly pidgeonholed as a whacky satirist rather than as a top-notch writer or a storyteller.

Still, there’s no denying the man has a knack for humor. Take the prosaic progression and punchline in this line, for example:
"There was a urologist for his urine, a lymphologist for his lymph, an endocrinologist for his endocrines, a psychologist for his psyche, a dermatologist for his derma, there was a pathologist for his pathos, a cystologist for his cysts, and a bald and pedantic Cetologist from the zoology department at Harvard, who had been shanghaied ruthlessly into the medical corps by a faulty anode in an IBM machine and spent his sessions with the dying colonel trying to discuss Moby Dick with him."
The absurdity of a poor cetologist landing in the medical corps near the frontlines of WWII is typical of the crazy conundrums that fill the novel- from Milo Minderbinder’s syndicate (Everybody’s got a share!) to the political maneuvers of the dastardly military brass.

There were  a couple spots where the attempt at humor gets to be a little much, where the dialogue starts to resemble an old Abbott & Costello or Groucho Marx routine, where every line is a punchline, but by and large the satire is hilarious and effective.

And here’s what I really loved about the book. The chapters present a disjointed and non-chronological timeline where past events are referred to, then placed like puzzle pieces into greater context, and finally dealt with in-depth later on in the narrative- some of it a pretty gruesome counterpoint to the funny material that surrounds it. It all has the effect of throwing the reader into the same confusing and seemingly endless loop that the characters themselves are stuck in- with one key exception: the ever-climbing number of combat missions the men are required to fly. This last fact provides a common thread for the entire book, and gives an ominous crescendo to the unfolding action. It’s brilliant how it all comes together.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From the Pen of Joseph Heller

For all the attention Catch-22 gets for being a "hardee har har," laugh-a-minute, military  satire, I think Joseph Heller often gets short shrift as a wordsmith. Here are just a few highlights from my recent turn through his masterpiece. All highlights are mine. They're just a few of the lines that struck me as particularly powerful.
The only end in sight was Yossarian’s own, and he might have remained in the hospital until doomsday had it not been for that patriotic Texan with his infundibuliform jowls and his lumpy, rumple-headed indestructible smile, cracked forever across the front of his face like the brim of a black ten-gallon hat.
Havermeyer was the best damn bombardier they had, but he flew straight and level all the way from the IP to the target, and even far beyond the target until he saw the falling bombs strike ground and explode in a darting spurt of abrupt orange, that flashed beneath the swirling pall of smoke and pulverized debris geysering up wildly in huge rolling waves of gray and black.
Each day’s delay deepened the awareness and deepened the gloom. The clinging, overpowering conviction of death spread steadily with the continuing rainfall, soaking mordantly into each man’s ailing countenance like the corrosive blot of some crawling disease. Everyone smelled of formaldehyde.
Major _ _ DeCoverly was a splendid, awe-inspiring, grave old man with a massive, leonine head and an angry shock of wild white hair that raged like a blizzard around his stern, patriarchal face.
Major _ _ DeCoverly straightened with astonishment at Milo’s affrontery and concentrated upon him the full  fury of his storming countenance with its rugged overhang of gullied forehead, and huge crag of a hump-backed nose that came charging out of his face wrathfully like a Big 10 fullback.
Along the ground suddenly on both sides of the path he saw dozens of new mushrooms the rain had spawned, poking their nodular fingers up through the clammy earth like lifeless stocks of flesh, sprouting in such necrotic profusion everywhere he looked that they seemed to be proliferating right before his eyes.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Poet's Corner: Thomas R. Smith

Ode to the Vinyl Record

by Thomas R. Smith (all emphasis is mine)

The needle lowers into the groove
and I'm home. It could be any record
I've lived with and loved a long time: Springsteen
or Rodrigo, Ray Charles or Emmylou
Harris: Not only the music, but
the whirlpool shimmering on the turntable

funneling blackly down into the ocean
of the ear
—even the background
pops and hisses a worn record
wraps the music in creaturely
imperfections so hospitable to our own.
Since those first Beatles and Stones LPs
plopped down spindles on record players
we opened like tiny suitcases at sweaty
junior high parties while parents were out
how many nights I've pulled around 
my desires a vinyl record's cloak
of flaws and found it a perfect fit,
the crackling unclarity and turbulence
of the country's lo-fi basement heart
madly spinning, making its big dark sound.

That’s pretty good. There’s almost a dash of Kerouac in the rhythm of some of the lines, especially the last couple, that really does it for me. You can really hear the crackle and hiss, and see the glassy threads turning.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What They Were Reading: William Faulkner


Do you read your contemporaries?


No, the books I read are the ones I knew and loved when I was a young man and to which I return as you do to old friends: the Old Testament, Dickens, Conrad, Cervantes, Don Quixote—I read that every year, as some do the Bible. Flaubert, Balzac—he created an intact world of his own, a bloodstream running through twenty books—Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare. I read Melville occasionally and, of the poets, Marlowe, Campion, Jonson, Herrick, Donne, Keats, and Shelley. I still read Housman. I've read these books so often that I don't always begin at page one and read on to the end. I just read one scene, or about one character, just as you'd meet and talk to a friend for a few minutes.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Happy Friday!

Well, as far as I can tell this is only a concept put together to sell the digital track, so you can’t get in there and play it like you could with this game. Still, it’ll be worth a couple minutes to the Downton Abbey fans out there: