Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by Gerorge Saunders (2017 Booker Prize Winner)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for providing me with an Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this book.  

Winner of the 2017 Booker Prize 

“Used loosely, "bardo" is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one's previous unskillful”. From Wikipedia 

I was very excited when I began reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, his debut novel and the 2017 Booker Prize Winning novel.  I knew it was being proclaimed in the literary press as a work of great originality. Here are a few of the reactions:

“A masterpiece” –  Zadie Smith, New York Times

An incredible work of art. Deeply moral, heartfelt, hilarious, and wildly imaginative” –  Buzzfeed

“A strange and haunting novel – his highly anticipated first, after decades of short-story wizardry – about the effect the dead have on the living, and the living on the dead” –  Economist

“The story canters along ... The writing constantly surprises” –  Mail on Sunday

Lincoln in the Bardo has great matters on its mind: freedom and slavery, the spirit and the body. But it is, finally, “about” Abraham Lincoln, that great spectral presence in a whole subgenre of American fiction” –  New Yorker

The novel takes place largely in the cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln’s eleven year old son Willie was recently buried.  The novel is only peripherally about Lincoln but we can see the incredible strength and wisdom of Lincoln, leading the nation during the terrible civil war years while dealing with the death of his son and the mental illness of his wife.  “Bardo” is a concept derived from Tibetan Buddhism which refers to a kind of limbo like state in which the recently deceased linger until they are prepared for the next step.  The metaphysical aspects of this are left largely unexplained, as it should be. 

At first the souls in the cemetery do not realise they are dead.  Saunders does a simply brilliant job creating a community of highly individualistic voices in the cemetery.  Somehow Saunders has produced a wonderful picture of the state of American society through all these voices.  He also makes very creative use of sources on the era, some real, some who knows.  His depiction of the life of a slave woman, in the Bardo but not buried too  near the whites was a true master work, in just two pages he brings vividly to life the horror story that was American slavery.  Just this alone makes the book a great experience.

There are many more wonders in Lincoln on the Bardo than I can describe.  In a way, it forces the reader to ponder the conduct of Lincoln through profound grief and a horrible near  nation destroying war versus the conduct of the current president, thrown into a frenzy by the pettiest things.  

All lovers of the novel should read Lincoln in the Bardo.  It is a work that will repay, I think, numerous rereading.

I advise all interested in learning about George Saunders to visit 

Mel u

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The War on The Reading Life


All terrorist groups, all dictators, all so called populists from the start of recorded history have waged a war on those of us in the reading life.  You can see this in Ancient Greece with the execution of Socrates, the burning of extensive writings in the Philippines in the 1500s as they were written in an unfamiliar to the Spanish script thus destroying for ever who knows what wisdom and history, to the greatest war on us of all, The Holocaust.  First they burned the books, then millions of their readers.

“I love the poorly educated”.  45th USA president

“Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun” - Joseph Goebbels
Mel u
Ambrosia Bousweau

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

An Uncomon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett by Helen Smith (forthcoming December, 2017)

Edward Garnett (1868 to 1837, London) was a highly regarded publisher, editor, critic who helped bring out the best in some of the highest regarded English language writers of the first half of the 20th century.  Among his clients were Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry Green and T. E. Lawrence.  Garnett was much more than a literary editor to his clients, he was a friend and when needed a mentor.   He was very involved in the early career of Joseph Conrad, he well might have given up trying to write in English without the encouragement of Edward Garnett.  Smith devotes a lot of time to letting us get a strong feel for the business side of publishing.  Edward Garnett  had his own financial and personal struggles and Smith gives us a very sensitive account of his turbulent marriage to the famous translator of the Russians, Constance Garnett (1861 to 1946) and his relationship to his son David ( known in Bloomsbury Circles as “Bunny”,  the nickname derives from a childhood stuffed animal.) 

Both Edward and Constante had long term romances with others.  We get a look at how Constance began her translations, I admit I was surprised to learn of her affairs.  Her trips to Russia were fascinatingly treated.  There was a lot more drama in the lives of the Garnetts than I expected.

He helped several American writers become established in England.  Among them were Sarah Jewett, Robert Frost, and Sherwood Anderson.  He seemed to have greatly admired Stephen Crane and did his best to help him professionally and personally.  One of his most difficult clients was T. E. Lawrence, Edward Garnett  was overwhelmed with the power of his The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Smith brings  Edward Garnett, his clients, his affairs, his fatherhood, and his marriage vividly to life.  An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett by Helen Smith will be a pleasure to read for anyone interested in 20th century English literature, as an art and as a business.  I’m very glad I Read this book.  There is a lot more in it than I have mentioned.

Helen Smith is British writer and scholar. She earned her PhD in literature from the University of East Anglia, where she is a lecturer in modern literature and the director of the master's program in biography and creative nonfiction. She has won the Biographers' Club Prize and the RSL Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction, and lives in South Norfolk with her husband. The Uncommon Reader is her first book.

Mel u

Sunday, October 15, 2017

“Howl” - A Poem by Alan Ginsberg (1956)

I first read “Howl” by Alan Ginsberg (1926 to 1997) in I guess 1967. About once every decade since then I would be drawn to reread the poem.  I wish I had a fifty year old book blog so I could see what I thought of it then.  Shortly after publication in 1956 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Light Books in San Francisco it was declared obscene by US Customs officials and local police.  On October 3, 1957 it was declared by the courts not to be obscene.  The poem contains extensive graphic images of homoerotic activity, in 1957 this was illegal throughout the USA.  The poem celebrates the sex of the days before aids took the fun out of sexual cruising, blowing sailors is celebrated  as a near holy act.

The poem is an intense assault on the structures of society.  Partially I can see it as a descendent of two poems I recently posted upon “Darkness” by Lord Byron and “The Wasteland” by T. S. Eliot.  In “Howl” the darkness sets us of on a polymorphism of sex.  The wasteland where disposed aristocrats wax nostalgic over the glories of the best is replaced with a vision where the only glories are in glory holes.  In “Howl” there is no crying over the fate of society, only a fight against the slave masters.

I recommend strongly the YouTube video I link to above, read by a woman with a perfect voice for it, your experience will be enhanced by the images.

“Howl” after fifty years still has the power to shock, I see as something that would still offend many, and those offended need to be.

Wikipedia has a good back ground article on Ginsberg.

I love “Howl”.  It is for sure influenced heavily by Whitman, Ginsberg’s poetic icon.  

Please share your thoughts on “Howl” with us.

Mel u

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti (1862)


Christina Rossetti (1830 to 1894, London) was born into a highly cultured 
family.  Her brother Dante, he painted numerous portraits of her, was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphalite movement.  She is considered now one of The premier late Victoria poets.  The Goblin Market (recitation time 26 minutes, I recommend the YouTube link in my post but I always suggest that you listen to more than one Reading) is her most famous poem.  Rossetti put this forth as a children’s poem but it is much more than that.  In my recent posts on poets, especially immortals, I’m largely just recording my impressions or reactions, there are serious lectures on YouTube and Home work Help seekers can just Go to Wikepedia.  

Goblin Markets, set in an imaginary fairy tale like World, centers on two quiet Young sisters living my themdelves.  One of the sisters buys, from Goblins, men with animal characteristics, fruit, paying with a lock of her golden hair. The fruit has a overpowring drug like impact on her, producing a state of euphoria.  The other sister advises her to stay away from The Goblin men or a disaster may result.  Of course it does not end here.  The narrative plot is very exciting.

It is easy to give a sexually charged Reading to The poem, I accept The Logic of this Reading. Sex is a trap that destroys Young women.  I was most struck by The beautiful use of rhyme, the images of the Goblin men, lushness  of language.  I listened to four readings, some have a scrolling text.  

Mel u

Friday, October 13, 2017

“Darkness” by Lord George Gordon Byron (July, 1816)

“All earth was but one thought—and that was death 
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang 
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men 
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh; 
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd”

Lord Byron (1788 to 1824) is often called the first “Rock Star” poet, renowned for his life Style, his flamboyant dress and his very public romances as much as for his poetry.  I was looking on YouTube for video productions of his work.  First I listened to a Reading of his most still read work, “She Walks in Beauty Like the Night”.  I like to listen to readings that include a scrolling text so I can read along, it also forces me to read more slowly.  I think one should listen to several video readings of a poem, if possible, so you encounter with the work is not too shaded by the interpretation given to the work by the reader.  After one of the readings of “She Walks in Beauty Like the Night” I was taken to a poem by Byron with which I was totally unfamiliar, “Darkness”.  Having a run time of about six minutes I decided to listen to it also.  I was completely shocked by the completely apocalyptic vision of a destroyed civilisation Byron presents.  In comparison, “The Wasteland” is a Disney Land video, “The Second Coming” full of optimism.  Death is everywhere in this vision of the end of the world.  A bit of post read research informed me that in much of 1816 the sky over Europe was darker by a terrible volcano eruption in Indonesia.  The darkness in Europe caused widespread panic as the cause was unknown at first.  Preachers screamed it was the end of the world.  Byron added to the panic with this poem.   That being said, I think one should forget that as you experience this amazing poem, look into your own darkness.  

If you are into video readings, I suggest you listen to at least four different readings, the poem brings out the drama in readers.