Sunday, June 20, 2004

Northrop Frye, Northrop Frye Unbuttoned: Wit and Wisdom from the Notebooks and Diaries, selected by Robert D. Denham.

I love spending time with Frye. Denham's done a good job of selecting a number of intriguing statements, any one of which is worthy of careful thought & reflection.

The problem I had with this book is the problem I have with any collection of aphorisms: one doesn't run into the next, the way the ideas do in Frye's own published work--and one of the thing's that's exciting about Frye is the way each idea produces the next, in a fun interplay that may be the best reason to read him. So: a collection of aphorisms is slow to read, and leaves one with little memory of specific ideas (despite 30+ Book Darts), unlike what a coherent argument produces in me by sympathetic vibrations.
Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret.

This book that precedes The Merlin Conspiracy. Do you know, as decent as Deep Secret was, I liked its sequel far better? While both are very much of Jones' milieu, the other one seems to have more of a real concern for the lands and the worlds that the stories tread upon.

Still, this was a fun diversion.
I suppose I really need to finish Zhivago.
Diana Wynne Jones, Mixed Magics.

I did a search the other day, and discovered the existence of two Chrestomanci books I'd not read before. I had my favourite children's librarian obtain this one for me.

Mixed Magics is a collection of four short stories: "Warlock at the Wheel," "Stealer of Souls," "Carol Oneir's Hundredth Dream," and "The Sage of Theare." All but one of the stories involve calling out the name and having that dapperly dressed Enchanter (well, when he isn't in a dressing gown, but even that'll be quite nice) show up and help out with the situation.

I don't think any of the stories are all that exciting: they're too much the writing of someone not content to leave stories off in places that invite readers to wonder. All the same, it's fun to spend time with Cat again, and in the worlds of the honourable Mr. Chant.
James Patterson and Andrew Cross, 3rd Degree.

Fluff. An explosion. A friend being beaten by her husband. A liaison with the deputy director of Homeland Security. Some more death, some sadness, and a solved murder with ends neatly tied up in string.

My palate was cleansed; it certainly wasn't stimulated.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Thomas Lynch, Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality, 2000.

I've mentioned Lynch's earlier book, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade. I quite liked the earlier one, and while this newer book doesn't seem nearly as startlingly original as The Undertaking, I enjoyed the time that I spent reading this book.

This book is a collection of essays that muse about what it means to live, and what part death plays in life. The same concerns of the earlier book are reproduced, perhaps with yet more careful reflection about Lynch's position. Given that, then, why read this book? My answer to that question is that Lynch spends more time thinking about and talking about language, and its role in life and death. While that concern was far from absent in The Undertaking, it's front and centre here: he conveys his deep respect for language and what it can accomplish. And that's an idea I'm always happy to read about.

From "Y2Kat":
"I am a slave to words. I am their servant. The acoustics and meanings, their sounds and sense, sometimes make me shiver--the precision, the liberties, the health and healing in their meanings. Language is the first among God's many gifts. To name and proclaim makes us feel like gods. To define and discern, to clarify and articulate, to affirm--surely this is what our maker had in mind when we were made in that image and likeness. Not the beard or lightning bolts or bluster. It was no big bang. It was a whisper. It was a word made flesh--our Creation. And the real power of Creation is the power of words to guard us like angels, to protect and defend and define us; to incite, and excite, and inspire, to separate us from the grunting, growling, noisome, wordless, meowing things. ..." ( 217-18)

I like reading Lynch's pieces not because of any concern of my own about mortality, but because his own sober reflections encourage reflection on my part--about words, about life, about death, and about what it is to think.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Diana Wynne Jones, The Merlin Conspiracy, 2003.

Jones was one of my favourite authors when I was younger, thanks to books like Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant. She's a brilliant, imaginative & exciting author--far worthier of being read than JKR, in my humble opinion, but oh well.

This latest novel twins the stories of Arianrhod & Nichothodes as they try to save the world of Blest, and generally make sense of their own lives. Like all of Diana Wynne Jones's books, the kids are far more willing to recognise the world for what it is while working for its betterment than the adults. Roddy & Nick have to make sense of their respective magics, and work together to stop the takeover by the evil person whose name I'm not going to tell you (so as to not ruin the surprise).

It's not her best book, but it's riveting & fun, & I like coming back to her writing.

Over a library in one of her stories, she put an inscription about the books inside that I think I'd like above my books one day: "Monuments more lasting than brass..."

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising, 1986.

It's always nice to reread some pulp.

Red Storm Rising is a gedankexperiment. Back in 1985/86, in the height of the Cold War, Clancy wondered what a modern war would like. This book details a potential cause (albeit with the USSR as the aggressor), and a war plan for the Soviet side.

He posits the need for a severe resource grab, and in this case chooses oil. Clancy (or his main character, Jack Ryan) is fond, in later novels, of arguing that all wars are just examples of "grand larceny writ large." The Soviets try to achieve surprise before attacking Germany--in an effort to capture Europe--in order to prevent NATO from interfering while the Soviets would attempt to capture the Persian Gulf and its oil.

At any rate, the novel is vintage Clancy. It's fun, it jumps all over the place, and it presents a neat bird's-eye view of tactics and strategy for war in a modern environment. Except that it's twenty years out of date now. And there are no longer any modern states for the United States to worry about...

A pleasant distraction that's mostly just light fluff, the book still disturbs you, as any book about war is likely to do.