The Syllabus (Book acquired, 5.14.2015)

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The Syllabus is the third Festschrift from Verbivoracious Press. Their blurb:

A monument to our insatiable verbivoracity, The Syllabus is an act of humble genuflection before the authors responsible for those texts which have transported us to the peak of readerly nirvana and back. The texts featured, chosen in a rapturous frenzy by editors and contributors alike, represent a broad sweep of the most important exploratory fiction written in the last hundred years (and beyond). Featuring 100 texts from (fewer than) 100 contributors, The Syllabus is a form of religious creed, and should be read primarily as a holy manual from which the reader draws inspiration and hope, helping to shape their intellectual and moral life with greater awareness, and lead them towards those works that offer deep spiritual succour while surviving on a merciless and unkind planet. Readers of this festschrift should expect nothing less than an incontrovertible conversion from reader to insatiable verbivore in 226 pages.

I’m one of those contributors—I have a piece in there on Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two Birds.

Inherent Vice Film Poster — Steve Chorney

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RIP Tanith Lee

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RIP Tanith Lee, 1947-2015

Publisher Tor has reported Tanith Lee’s death. She was the author of nearly 100 books in various genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. I probably read a dozen of those books between the ages of ten and thirteen, but the one I most remember is her first novel, The Dragon Hoard, which I still have a copy of somewhere, nestled neatly by tattered copies of The Once and Future KingThe Halfmen of O, and The Hobbit.

I don’t remember the plot of The Dragon Hoard so much as I remember the kind librarian who suggested it to me (I asked for “Something with dragons”). I also remember my reaction to the author’s first name: “Tanith” sounded like the name of a fantasy character. I know I first read the book viat the library but at some point I must’ve conned my mother into buying it for me. I know I read whatever other book’s our little local library held by her. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t conscious of any of the feminist themes in her work, but I’d like to think they seeped in somehow.

I found the pic for this post–it’s Lee’s PR pic–at an appreciation of Tanith Lee by Alison Flood published at The Guardian. I’m glad that it was published when Lee was alive.

“Decoration Day” — Sarah Orne Jewett

“Decoration Day” by Sarah Orne Jewett

I.

A week before the thirtieth of May, three friends—John Stover and Henry Merrill and Asa Brown—happened to meet on Saturday evening at Barton’s store at the Plains. They were ready to enjoy this idle hour after a busy week. After long easterly rains, the sun had at last come out bright and clear, and all the Barlow farmers had been planting. There was even a good deal of ploughing left to be done, the season was so backward.

The three middle-aged men were old friends. They had been school-fellows, and when they were hardly out of their boyhood the war came on, and they enlisted in the same company, on the same day, and happened to march away elbow to elbow. Then came the great experience of a great war, and the years that followed their return from the South had come to each almost alike. These men might have been members of the same rustic household, they knew each other’s history so well.

They were sitting on a low wooden bench at the left of the store door as you went in. People were coming and going on their Saturday night errands,—the post-office was in Barton’s store,—but the friends talked on eagerly, without being interrupted, except by an occasional nod of recognition. They appeared to take no notice at all of the neighbors whom they saw oftenest. It was a most beautiful evening; the two great elms were almost half in leaf over the blacksmith’s shop which stood across the wide road. Farther along were two small old-fashioned houses and the old white church, with its pretty belfry of four arched sides and a tiny dome at the top. The large cockerel on the vane was pointing a little south of west, and there was still light enough to make it shine bravely against the deep blue eastern sky. On the western side of the road, near the store, were the parsonage and the storekeeper’s modern house, which had a French roof and some attempt at decoration, which the long-established Barlow people called gingerbread-work, and regarded with mingled pride and disdain. These buildings made the tiny village called Barlow Plains. They stood in the middle of a long narrow strip of level ground. They were islanded by green fields and pastures. There were hills beyond; the mountains themselves seemed very near. Scattered about on the hill slopes were farmhouses, which stood so far apart, with their clusters of out-buildings, that each looked lonely, and the pine woods above seemed to besiege them all. It was lighter on the uplands than it was in the valley, where the three men sat on their bench, with their backs to the store and the western sky.

“Well, here we be ‘most into June, an’ I ‘ain’t got a bush-bean above ground,” lamented Henry Merrill.

“Your land’s always late, ain’t it? But you always catch up with the rest on us,” Asa Brown consoled him. “I’ve often observed that your land, though early planted, was late to sprout. I view it there’s a good week’s difference betwixt me an’ Stover an’ your folks, but come first o’ July we all even up.”

“‘Tis just so,” said John Stover, taking his pipe out of his mouth, as if he had a good deal more to say, and then replacing it, as if he had changed his mind.

“Made it extry hard having that long wet spell. Can’t none on us take no day off this season,” said Asa Brown; but nobody thought it worth his while to respond to such evident truth.

“Next Saturday’ll be the thirtieth o’ May—that’s Decoration Day, ain’t it?—come round again. Lord! how the years slip by after you git to be forty-five an’ along there!” said Asa again. “I s’pose some o’ our folks’ll go over to Alton to see the procession, same’s usual. I’ve got to git one o’ them small flags to stick on our Joel’s grave, an’ Mis’ Dexter always counts on havin’ some for Harrison’s lot. I calculate to get ’em somehow. I must make time to ride over, but I don’t know where the time’s comin’ from out o’ next week. I wish the women folks would tend to them things. There’s the spot where Eb Munson an’ John Tighe lays in the poor-farm lot, an’ I did mean certain to buy flags for ’em last year an’ year before, but I went an’ forgot it. I’d like to have folks that rode by notice ’em for once, if they was town paupers. Eb Munson was as darin’ a man as ever stepped out to tuck o’ drum.” Continue reading ““Decoration Day” — Sarah Orne Jewett”

“The Turnip” — The Brothers Grimm

“The Turnip”

by

The Brothers Grimm

English translation by Edgar Taylor and Marion Edwardes

There were two brothers who were both soldiers; the one was rich and the other poor. The poor man thought he would try to better himself; so, pulling off his red coat, he became a gardener, and dug his ground well, and sowed turnips.

When the seed came up, there was one plant bigger than all the rest; and it kept getting larger and larger, and seemed as if it would never cease growing; so that it might have been called the prince of turnips for there never was such a one seen before, and never will again. At last it was so big that it filled a cart, and two oxen could hardly draw it; and the gardener knew not what in the world to do with it, nor whether it would be a blessing or a curse to him. One day he said to himself, ‘What shall I do with it? if I sell it, it will bring no more than another; and for eating, the little turnips are better than this; the best thing perhaps is to carry it and give it to the king as a mark of respect.’ Continue reading ““The Turnip” — The Brothers Grimm”

Gorgeous madness | George Saunders on Thomas Pynchon

I don’t think anyone has gotten closer than Thomas Pynchon to summoning the real audacity and insanity and scope of the American mind, as reflected in the American landscape. I read Pynchon all out of order, starting with Vineland, and I still remember the shock of pleasure I got at finally seeing the America I knew—strange shops and boulevards, built over former strange shops and former boulevards, all laid out there in valleys and dead-end forests, heaped on top of Indian cemeteries, peopled with nut jobs and hustlers and moral purists—actually present in a novel, and present not only in substance but in structure and language that both used and evoked the unruly, muscular complexity of the world itself.

In Pynchon, anything is fair game—if it is in the world, it can go in the book. To me there is something Buddhist about this approach, which seems to say that since the world is capable of producing an infinity of forms, the novel must be capable of accommodating an infinite number of forms. All aesthetic concerns (style, form, structure) answer this purpose: Let in the world.

This is why Pynchon is our biggest writer, the gold standard of that overused word inclusiveness: No dogma or tidy aesthetic rule or literary fashion is allowed to prefilter the beautiful data streaming in. Everything is included. No inclination of the mind is too small or large or frightening. The result is gorgeous madness, which does what great literature has always done—reminds us that there is a world out there that is bigger than us and worthy of our utmost humility and attention.

I have often felt that we read to gain some idea of what God would say about us if someone were to ask Him what we’re like. Pynchon says, through the vast loving catalogue he has made, that we are Excellent but need to be watched closely. He says there is no higher form of worship than the loving (i.e., madly attentive) observation of that-which-is, a form of prayer of which Pynchon’s work is our highest example.

George Saunders on Thomas Pynchon. From the Summer 2005 issue of Bookforum.

Ishmael Reed . . . and more Pynchon (Books acquired, 5.22.2015)

So I finished my second full reading of Gravity’s Rainbow today. And then I read the last section three more times. And my brain feels fried. I was thinking about rereading V. after this, but I think a break will do nicely. So I picked up Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo on Pynchon’s recommendation (“check out Ishmael Reed,” the narrator tells us on page 588 of Gravity’s Rainbow). A stroll through the lit crit section led to my spying (okay, looking for and finding) the 20th Century Views collection on Pynchon. So we’ll see how that reads.