Heretic/Hanging (Books Acquired, Sometime Last Week)

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I was out of town when these showed up last week.

First, Susan Ronald’s Heretic Queen: Publisher St. Martin’s Griffin’s blurb:

Acclaimed biographer Susan Ronald delivers a stunning account of Elizabeth I that focuses on her role in the Wars on Religion—the battle between Protestantism and Catholicisim that tore apart Europe in the 16th Century

Elizabeth’s 1558 coronation procession was met with an extravagant outpouring of love. Only twenty-five years old, the young queen saw herself as their Protestant savior, aiming to provide the nation with new hope, prosperity, and independence from the foreign influence that had plagued her sister Mary’s reign. Given the scars of the Reformation, Elizabeth would need all of the powers of diplomacy and tact she could summon.

Extravagant, witty, and hot-tempered, Elizabeth was the ultimate tyrant. Yet at the outset, in religious matters, she was unfathomably tolerant for her day. “There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith,” Elizabeth once proclaimed. “All else is a dispute over trifles.” Heretic Queen is the highly personal, untold story of how Queen Elizabeth I secured the future of England as a world power. Susan Ronald paints the queen as a complex character whose apparent indecision was really a political tool that she wielded with great aplomb.

And: The Hanging of Samuel Ash by Sheldon Russell, from Minotaur. Publishers Weekly blurb:

A compelling lead compensates only in part for the relatively weak plot of Russell’s fourth mystery featuring one-armed Santa Fe railroad bull Hook Runyon (after 2012’s Dead Man’s Tunnel), set during WWII against a backdrop of labor unrest. When Runyon checks out a nonworking signal on a remote stretch of track, he discovers a man’s corpse hanging from the signal’s cantilever. The only clue to the dead man’s identity is a Bronze Star inscribed with the name Samuel Ash. Not wanting the war hero to be buried in a pauper’s grave, Runyon takes custody of the body and embarks on a quest to find Ash’s relatives and the truth about his death. A dose of humor lightens the gloom—pickpockets steal Runyon’s wallet and badge while he’s hunting pickpockets—but the mystery itself never picks up much steam. Fans will hope for a return to form next time.

 

Summary of Bloom’s Day in Ulysses — Evan Lavender-Smith (From Old Notebooks)

Makes breakfast for his wife. Goes to the butcher. Goes to the post office. Goes to church. Goes to a chemist. Goes to a public bath. Goes to a funeral. Goes to a newspaper press. Goes to a locksmith to canvass an ad. Feeds some seagulls. Goes to a bar. Helps a blind man cross the street. Goes to the museum. Goes to to the library. Visits a bookseller. Window-shops. Goes to a restaurant. Listens to some live music. Writes a love letter. Goes to another bar. Nearly gets in a fight. Masturbates to a beautiful eighteen-year-old exhibitionist giving him a private show. Takes an alfresco nap. Takes up a collection for a widow. Goes to a hospital to visit a pregnant woman. Flits with a nurse. Feeds a stray dog. Goes to a whorehouse. Helps avert a row with the police. Goes to a cabman’s shelter and listens to a sailor tell stories. Breaks into his own house. Urinates under the stars with another man. Watches the sunrise. Kisses his wife on her arse.

It would have been the single busiest, most adventurous day of my life.

From Evan Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks.

 

The Chums of Chance vs The Legion of Gnomes (Citation from + Riff on Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day)

At first the “noise” seemed no more than the ensemble of magnetoatmospheric disturbances which the boys had long grown used to, perhaps here intensified by the vastly resonant space into which they were moving ever deeper. But presently the emission began to coalesce into human timbres and rhythms—not speech so much as music, as if the twilit leagues passing below were linked by means of song.

Lindsay, who was Communications Officer, had his ear close to the Tesla device, squinting attentively, but at last withdrew, shaking his head. “Gibberish.”

“They are calling for help,” ~delared Miles, “clear as day and quite desperately, too. They claim to be under attack by a horde of hostile gnomes, and have set out red signal lamps, arranged in concentric circles.”

“There they are!” called Chick Counterfly, pointing over the starboard quarter.

“Then there is nothing to discuss,” declared Randolph St. Cosmo. “We must put down and render aid.”

They descended over a battlefield swarming with diminutive combatants wearing pointed hats and carrying what proved to be electric crossbows, from which they periodically discharged bolts of intense greenish light, intermittently revealing the scene with a morbidity like that of a guttering star.

“We cannot attack these fellows,” protested Lindsay, “for they are shorter than we, and the Rules of Engagement clearly state—”

“In an emergency, that choice lies at the Commander’s discretion,” replied Randolph.

They were soaring now close above the metallic turrets and parapets of a sort of castle, where burned the crimson lights of distress. Figures could be discerned below gazing up at the Inconvenience. Peering at them through a nightglass, Miles stood at the conning station, transfixed by the sight of a woman poised upon a high balcony. “My word, she’s lovely!” he exclaimed at last.

Their fateful decision to land would immediately embroil them in the byzantine politics of the region, and eventually they would find themselves creeping perilously close to outright violation of the Directives relating to Noninterference and Height Discrepancy, which might easily have brought an official hearing, and perhaps even disfellowshipment from the National Organization. For a detailed account of their subsequent narrow escapes from the increasingly deranged attentions of the Legion of Gnomes, the unconscionable connivings of a certain international mining cartel, the sensual wickedness pervading the royal court of Chthonica, Princess of Plutonia, and the all-but-irresistible fascination that subterranean monarch would come to exert, Circelike, upon the minds of the crew of Inconvenience (Miles, as we have seen, in particular), readers are referred to The Chums of Chance in the Bowels of the Earth—for some reason one of the less appealing of this series, letters having come in from as far away as Tunbridge Wells, England, expressing displeasure, often quite intense, with my harmless little intraterrestrial scherzo.

After their precipitate escape from the ill-disposed hordes of thickset indigenous, over another night and day, as time is reckoned on the surface, the Chums swept through the interior of the Earth and at last out her Northern portal, which they beheld as a tiny circle of brightness far ahead. As before, all remarked the diminished size of the planetary exit. It was a tricky bit of steering, as they emerged, to locate the exact spot, on the swiftly dilating luminous circumference, where they might with least expenditure of time find themselves in the vicinity of the schooner Etienne-Louis Malus, carrying the Vormance Expedition toward a fate few of its members would willingly have chosen.

1.The above citation comprises the final paragraphs of The Light Over the Ranges, the first book in Thomas Pynchon’s massive, byzantine novel Against the Day, which is perhaps too massive and too byzantine for me to approach in any way other way than the occasional riff and citation as I read it.

2. The Light Over the Ranges both begins and ends by focusing on The Chums of Chance, an intrepid band of adventurers who sail their skyship Inconvenience into every manner of trouble. The passage above—which, hey, don’t worry, there are no real spoilers there—-the passage above showcases a jocular, jaunty voice that Pynchon employs frequently throughout the book, a voice appropriate to pulp fiction, to serialized “boy’s novels,” to speculative fiction narratives, etc. The voice is somehow simultaneously engaged and detached, urging its listener to care about the heroes in peril, but also acknowledging its own formal artificiality, the flatness of its characters, their position as placeholders or checkerboard pieces in Pynchon’s big project.

3. The voice that relates the Chums of Chance episodes is wonderfully didactic, its earnest, moral tone buoying the narrative into adventure (and fun!); at the same time, everything else in the novel—its violence, its class warfare, its analysis of exploitation—-ensures that this voice is to be read and interpreted with dark irony.

4. And yet the spirit of adventure, of fun—of imagination—inheres (and not just in the episodes with the Chums).

5. The Chums of Chance: Miles Blundell, Chick Counterfly, Lindsay Noseworth,  Darby Suckling, and commander Randolph St. Cosmo. The names are Pynchonian, tautologies be damned! (They also remind me of porn aliases). I am remiss: Let me include Pugnax, a dog of discerning literary taste, his ability to read just one of many seemingly-metaphysical powers Pynchon grants his characters in Against the Day.

6. My favorite paragraph in the above citation is the penultimate one, where we find our heroes “creeping perilously close to outright violation of the Directives relating to Noninterference and Height Discrepancy” by diving into a strange underworld adventure and battling The Legion of Gnomes. Pynchon (or Pynchon’s adventure-voice, if’n ya’ll permit me) offers us a too-brief peek at “the royal court of Chthonica, Princess of Plutonia, and the all-but-irresistible fascination that subterranean monarch would come to exert, Circelike, upon the minds of the crew of Inconvenience” and then refers us to The Chums of Chance in the Bowels of the Earth, a book we cannot read because it doesn’t exist.

7. But what am I saying? Of course The Chums of Chance in the Bowels of the Earth exists!—we just have to imagine it.

“The Shrinkage of the Planet” — Jack London

“The Shrinkage of the Planet” by Jack London

What a tremendous affair it was, the world of Homer, with its indeterminate boundaries, vast regions, and immeasurable distances.  The Mediterranean and the Euxine were illimitable stretches of ocean waste over which years could be spent in endless wandering.  On their mysterious shores were the improbable homes of impossible peoples.  The Great Sea, the Broad Sea, the Boundless Sea; the Ethiopians, “dwelling far away, the most distant of men,” and the Cimmerians, “covered with darkness and cloud,” where “baleful night is spread over timid mortals.”  Phœnicia was a sore journey, Egypt simply unattainable, while the Pillars of Hercules marked the extreme edge of the universe.  Ulysses was nine days in sailing from Ismarus the city of the Ciconians, to the country of the Lotus-eaters—a period of time which to-day would breed anxiety in the hearts of the underwriters should it be occupied by the slowest tramp steamer in traversing the Mediterranean and Black Seas from Gibraltar to Sebastopol.

Homer’s world, restricted to less than a drummer’s circuit, was nevertheless immense, surrounded by a thin veneer of universe—the Stream of Ocean.  But how it has shrunk!  To-day, precisely charted, weighed, and measured, a thousand times larger than the world of Homer, it is become a tiny speck, gyrating to immutable law through a universe the bounds of which have been pushed incalculably back.  The light of Algol shines upon it—a light which travels at one hundred and ninety thousand miles per second, yet requires forty-seven years to reach its destination.  And the denizens of this puny ball have come to know that Algol possesses an invisible companion, three and a quarter millions of miles away, and that the twain move in their respective orbits at rates of fifty-five and twenty-six miles per second.  They also know that beyond it are great chasms of space, innumerable worlds, and vast star systems.

While much of the shrinkage to which the planet has been subjected is due to the increased knowledge of mathematics and physics, an equal, if not greater, portion may be ascribed to the perfection of the means of locomotion and communication.  The enlargement of stellar space, demonstrating with stunning force the insignificance of the earth, has been negative in its effect; but the quickening of travel and intercourse, by making the earth’s parts accessible and knitting them together, has been positive.

The advantage of the animal over the vegetable kingdom is obvious.  The cabbage, should its environment tend to become worse, must live it out, or die; the rabbit may move on in quest of a better.  But, after all, the swift-footed creatures are circumscribed in their wanderings.  The first large river almost inevitably bars their way, and certainly the first salt sea becomes an impassable obstacle.  Better locomotion may be classed as one of the prime aims of the old natural selection; for in that primordial day the race was to the swift as surely as the battle to the strong.  But man, already pre-eminent in the common domain because of other faculties, was not content with the one form of locomotion afforded by his lower limbs.  He swam in the sea, and, still better, becoming aware of the buoyant virtues of wood, learned to navigate its surface.  Likewise, from among the land animals he chose the more likely to bear him and his burdens.  The next step was the domestication of these useful aids.  Here, in its organic significance, natural selection ceased to concern itself with locomotion.  Man had displayed his impatience at her tedious methods and his own superiority in the hastening of affairs.  Thenceforth he must depend upon himself, and faster-swimming or faster-running men ceased to be bred.  The one, half-amphibian, breasting the water with muscular arms, could not hope to overtake or escape an enemy who propelled a fire-hollowed tree trunk by means of a wooden paddle; nor could the other, trusting to his own nimbleness, compete with a foe who careered wildly across the plain on the back of a half-broken stallion. Continue reading ““The Shrinkage of the Planet” — Jack London”

“The Easter Hare” and “The Easter Hare Family” by Margaret Arndt

“The Easter Hare”  by Margaret Arndt

It is curious how little children of one country know about the lives and interests of the children of another. Perhaps if English people would send their children over to Germany, instead of their journalists, singers, etc., the danger of an International war would be lessened. The children would be sure to fall in love with Germany; for it is the land above all others that appeals to children. Women are said to come first in America, children are certainly the first consideration in Germany. Froebel’s motto: “Come let us live with our children,” is nowhere better carried out.

A little English girl, named Patsie, came over to visit her German friends, Gretel and Barbara, shortly before Easter this year; and she was much surprised to find all the shop-windows filled with hares; hares made of chocolate, toy hares, hares with fine red coats on, hares trundling wheelbarrows or carrying baskets full of Easter eggs. Moreover there was no end to the picture post cards representing the hare in various costumes, and in some connection with Easter eggs. One of these post cards represented a hare crawling out of a large broken egg just like a chicken.

Patsie asked her little friends eagerly what this all meant.

“Who is the Hare?” she said. “I do so want to know all about him.”

“Why, of course, it is the Easter Hare,” they replied.

“Is it possible that you have not heard of him? O, you poor English children! Why, he brings us the eggs on Easter Sunday morning!” said Gretel.

“O don’t you know,” said Barbara, “he hides them in the garden, unless it rains or is very wet; then we have to stay in our bedrooms for fear of frightening him, and he lays them downstairs in the dining-room or drawing-room. However, this has only happened once since I was born, and I am nine years old; it mustbe always fine at Easter.”

“We have to let all the blinds down before he will come into our garden, he is so dreadfully nervous,” said Gretel. “Then he hides the eggs in the most unexpected places, we have to hunt and hunt a long time before we have found them all. Last year we discovered an egg some weeks afterwards; luckily it was a glass one filled with sweeties; for if it had been of chocolate, we could not have eaten it, after it had lain on the damp mould, where the snails and worms would have crawled over it. Some of the eggs are made of chocolate or marzipan or sugar, and some are real eggs coloured blue or red or brown, or even sometimes with pictures on them.”

“We had two dear little baskets with dollies in them, and a big Easter Hare made of gingerbread, as well as the eggs this year,” said Barbara. “We hunt and hunt in every corner of the garden, and then we divide our treasures afterwards on two plates, so that is quite fair.”

“You are lucky children, why does not the Hare come to England?” said Patsie. “I am sure little English children would appreciate him too!” Continue reading ““The Easter Hare” and “The Easter Hare Family” by Margaret Arndt”

The Penguin Guide to Children and Hallucinogens

Children and hallucinogens

From Scarfolk Council, one of the finest sites I’ve seen in sometime. Their self-description:

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.

The site’s got this wonderfully weird Wickerman / Ballard / Prisoner vibe to it. Very cool stuff.

 

New Books from Akashic (Books Acquired, 2.15.2013)

A passel of unsolicited reader copies arrived in the middle of February, including a trio of strange birds from Akashic Books. Preston L. Allen’s Every Boy Should Have a Man seems especially (and wonderfully) weird. First, there’s that title, which is, you know, strange, and then the blurb:

20130224-140946.jpgA riveting, poignant satire of societal ills, with an added dose of fantasy, Every Boy Should Have a Man takes place in a post-human world where creatures called oafs keep humanlike “mans” as beloved pets. One day, a poor boy oaf brings home a man whom he hides under his bed in the hopes his parents won’t find out. When the man is discovered, the boy admits it is not his—but the boy is no delinquent. Despite the accusations being hurled at him, he’s telling the truth when he says he found the man aimlessly wandering in the bramble. Nevertheless, he must return the man to his rightful owner. But when the heartbroken boy comes home from school one afternoon, he finds wrapped up in red ribbon a female man with a note around her neck: Every boy should have a man. You’re a fine son. Love, Dad.

Thus begins Every Boy Should Have a Man, Preston L. Allen’s picaresque journey into uncharted territory in earth, sky, and firmament. With echoes of Margaret Atwood and Jack and the Beanstalk, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Octavia Butler’s Kindred, it traces the story of the boy and his three “mans,” Brown Skin who is not his, the tragic Red Sleeves who has no voice, and her quick-witted daughter Red Locks whose epic journey takes her from the backbreaking drudgery of the mines to the perils of the battlefield to the savagery of cannibalism.

Oafs and mans each gain insight and understanding into one another’s worlds, and the worlds that touch theirs—ultimately showing that oafs and mans alike share a common “humanity.” Filled with surprising twists and turns, the novel is in part a morality tale that takes on many of today’s issues including poverty, the environment, sexism, racism, war, and religion, all in lighthearted King James prose.

Seems to have shades of Fantastic Planet — but “in lighthearted King James prose”!

Next up, The Roving Tree, the first novel from Elsi Augustave, which seems like it might be happily at home on a contemporary postcolonial studies syllabus:

20130224-141000.jpgElsie Augustave’s debut novel, The Roving Tree, explores multiple themes: separation and loss, rootlessness, the impact of class privilege and color consciousness, and the search for cultural identity. The central character, Iris Odys, is the offspring of Hagathe, a Haitian maid, and Brahami, a French-educated mulatto father who cares little about his child.

Hagathe, who had always dreamt of a better life for her child, is presented with the perfect opportunity when Iris is five years old. Adopted by a white American couple, an anthropologist and art gallery owner, Iris is transported from her tiny remote Haitian village, Monn Neg, to an American suburb.

The Roving Tree illuminates how imperfectly assimilated adoptees struggle to remember their original voices and recapture their personal histories and cultural legacy. Set between two worlds, suburban America and Haiti under the oppressive regime of Papa Doc’s Tanton Macoutes, the novel offers a unique literary glimpse into the deeply entrenched class discrimination and political repression of Haiti during the Duvalier era, along with the subtle but nonetheless dangerous effects of American racism.

Told from beyond the grave, Iris seamlessly shares her poignant and pivotal life experiences. The Roving Tree, underscored by the spiritual wisdom of Haitian griots, offers insightful revelations of the importance of significant relationships with family and friends. Years later, we see how these elements are transformative to Iris’s intense love affair, and her personal and professional growth. Universal truths resonate beyond the pages of this work.

Also on the colonial-historical tip: Anthony C. Winkler’s The Family Mansion:

20130224-141035.jpgThe Family Mansion is a historical novel that tells the story of Hartley Fudges, whose personal destiny unfolds against the backdrop of 19th-century British culture, a time when English society was based upon the strictest subordination and stratification of the classes. As the second son of a hereditary duke and his father’s favorite, Hartley, under different circumstances, might have inherited the inside track to his father’s estate and titles. But the English law of succession was rigidly dictated by the principle of male primogeniture, with all the property, assets, titles, and debts devolving to the firstborn son and his issue, leaving nothing for the other sons.

Like many second sons, Hartley decides to migrate to Jamaica at the age of twenty-three. This at first seems sensible: in the early 1800s Jamaica was far and away the richest and most opulent of all the crown colonies, and the single greatest producer of sugar in the world. But for all its fabulous wealth, Jamaica was a difficult and inhospitable place for an immigrant. The mortality rate for new immigrants was over 50% for the first year of residence. Some immigrant groups fared even worse. The island’s white population that ran the lucrative sugarcane industry was outnumbered 10-to-1 by the largely enslaved black population. Slave revolts were common with brutal reprisals such as the decapitation of ringleaders and nailing the severed heads to trees.

The complex saga of Hartley’s life is revealed in vivid scenes that depict the vicissitudes of 19th-century English and Jamaican societies. Aside from violent slave revolts, newcomers had to survive the nemesis of the white man in the tropics—namely, yellow fever. With Hartley’s point of view as its primary focus, the narrative transports readers to exotic lands, simultaneously exploring the brutality of England’s slavery-based colonization.

Akashic, a label I was ignorant of up until now, seems to be publishing some pretty cool stuff.