NO NOVELIST HERE

I bought 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, Jane Smiley, and wondered if it was also overblown and overwritten. Yes, it is. The laudatory sentence on the back cover underneath the author’s photograph has errors in it. It states that Smiley possesses a mastery of craft. Mastery is difficult to justify and not complimentary. Stating there is a facility of craft suggests an acuity and uniqueness unmatched in others; they are essential traits in all literature: Every story has its own style and its own way of telling – the characters, the setting and the events are different. Having a facility means the author tells one story from another without effort. If mastery is the standard, there is trouble e.g. A Thousand Acres, derived from King Lear by William Shakespeare. Did old Bill got a lot of stuff wrong or loose in the original?

Next buyers of the book learn Smiley has “an uncompromising vision.” Is this the same uncompromising vision held by that politician, aka the orange turd? The word vision needs no adjective, no adverb, no particle modifying it. Visions are brain images which the brain uses to compile and put together persons, settings and events, essentials to a story. Saying that a story is uncompromising, or a vision is so wrong. The effort is not in its adamancy. Work accomplished by visions are sustained. Visions become continuous, prompting the imagination to prolong them.

When critics like authors use adjectives to puff a piece, inflate a book or aggrandize a writing, the language should be exacting and specific. Otherwise, persons reading the outside of the book [like in the movie Tropical Thunder] may infer an improperly put comment may reflect the author’s abilities, masteries and visions.

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GUY DE MAUPASSANT

Collected Stories

I have read many complimentary opinions and laudatory paragraphs about these stories. I bought a fat book, 1000 plus pages, two columns per page. I began on page one “The Ball of Fat” about Prussians occupying a town. It seemed like a short story; the writer was practicing his descriptions so it was full of experimentation. Four columns on an open book is very daunting, like I was living in the nineteenth century reading a single story in a newspaper printed in eight columns per page. That type to retrocession is nothing nobody needs unless one reads the Bible.

My next thought about reading the story, “The Ball of Fat,” which I assumed does not eventually refer to a person but a cherished ingredient used for cooking. Both the Germans and French cook with fat. It was easy to stop reading because I don’t need my life influenced by this dietary heresy.

I wondered about the next story, “The Diamond Necklace,” but again was stuck on the four columns over two pages. I was suspicious, so a revelation came: I had bought the wrong book. Someone better than than I likely had put the best Maupassant short stories in one regularly columned book. If “The Diamond Necklace” appeared in a thinner volume with a normal format, it likely meant that story was worth reading.

So I stopped reading Maupassant in bulk. Perhaps I’ll reread Stephan Crane – “Blue Hotel” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” to relearn how short stores can be perfected.

Sky” to see how short stories can be perfected.

READING

I know how to stir myself to write something original. Read, read everything, read a lot. Garbage in, garbage out. Last week I came up with three ideas to write into new separate novels.

Most of this year has been devoted to advancing manuscripts toward publication. Concentrating on previous efforts of originality has presented a problem: Will I ever write anything new and original again?

If I can’t write, my life is over. I may as well die. That thinking didn’t get far. I went to library booksales and bag sales at the end. A dollar for all the books that would fit into a grocery bag. Three cents a piece for each book was fantastic.

What to do with that bag of books, plus 20 others purchased and unread over the year? From October to today, I’ve read, sampled and surveyed texts. Here’s a list, out of order:

Ghandi, William L. Shirer, not compelling but of interest.

History of the Ottoman Empire, vol 1, Shaw, very interesting passages – Shia/Sunni sects, the Ottoman Empire suffered greatly from a complex, fixed social structure, explained in 50 pages of detail. I skipped over most of that.

The Sleepwalkers, Clark, a fantastic book about the 20 years in Europe leading up to World War One. I recommend it strongly.

A Short History of Medieval Philosophy,  Weinberg, looked good but I’m no longer interested.

Trafalgar, Rene Maine, read another history, not this one, about that navel battle.

Brighton Rock, Graham Greene, It is readable, but not as interesting as the promos on the back cover.

Force and Freedom, Jacob Burckhardt, I know Burckhardt wrote an excellent book about the Renaissance, but this book is heavy wood and labored.

Galapagos, Michael Jackson, technical, detailed – why feathers on this bird vary from feathers of birds on nearby islands – the sorts of thing Darwin saw plus more. If I were going to those islands, I’d take the time to read it, but I’ll never make it.

Old Rail Fence Corners, compiled ancedotes, tales from early Minnesota. I had hoped for a bunch of Lincolnesque stories. There wasn’t much that was funny about any of them.

West Coast Journeys,  Carolyn Leighton, young woman travels from east coast to west coast in the 1860s. The volume tells of  her experiences, few of which are engaging or interesting.

The Fist in the Wilderness, David Lavender, excellent book well worth reading. About the fur trade among and between the French, Indians, British, Spanish and Americans on the North American continent.

The Atlantic Essays, compiled essays from the Atlantic magazine from 1930-1950s. Like any compilation there are a lot of duds and a few beauties.

The Composite of Acting, Jerry Blount. I knew the author. I like the book and recommend it.

The Quiet American, Graham Greene. I read this long ago. It is the best novel about Vietnam although it was written 10 years before American became engulfed in that country.

Wartime, Paul Fussell, excellent book, well worth reading about the home fronts in Britain and the US.

The Mexican War, 1846-1848, excellent book about that war. I recommend it, and the earlier book it disagrees with. I read this book some time ago and bought it for my library.

The Economy of Early Renaissance Europe, 1300-1460, Miskimin, a good economic survey of the Europe before the age of discovery expanded the European wealth.

Selected Short Stories, Hawthorne, read the short ones. The long ones are difficult because Hawthorne’s nineteenth century style puts many, many words on a line in this Fawcett Premier edition.

Australian Short Stories, Penguin, the dialects are difficult to fathom. I read some and looked at many stories but I gave up.

The Rights of Man, Tom Paine, very readable political science. It affirmed my impression that Paine is the second best writer from the American Revolution. The best writer is Franklin; third best Jefferson.

The Ancient Civilization of Anghor, Christopher Pym, well presented, somewhat dated (1968) and certainly out of my areas of historical familiarity.

The River and I, John Neihardt, not very good. 1908 journey down the Missouri. I had a grandfather canoe down the Wisconsin a few years later. There isn’t much detail; historical decryption is lacking.

The Maltese Falcon, Hammett, see the 1941 movie of the same title.

The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford, I got to page three and wondered why I was reading the same points that were on the first page. I stopped.

The Other Californians, Heizer/Almquist, excellent book about Native Californians and their slaughter – Spanish, Mexicans and mostly in the Central Valley and inland area, Americans. It was heartbreaking.

Houdini On Magic, Edited, picked up at three cents and after reflection I realized I won’t read it.

The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, does not give much text from those gospels, but the interpretation of the author. I wanted to see the text.

J.S. Bach, vol 2, Albert Schweitzer, thought I was interested but no.

Civil War Stories, Ambrose Bierce, recommend. Some of the stories edge toward horror.

The French Navy in World War Two, Auphan/Mordal, a 50 cent book that is offered for sale on Amazon for $10-15.

Blockade Runners of the Confedercy, Cochran, Somewhat of interest, but not for the library. It has a story of a Union navel officer falling in love with a captured Confederate spy, female on a blockade runner. He died in 1865, so it wasn’t a long romance and a shorter marriage.

The Devil In France, Feuchtwanger, excellent book about a prominent novelist who fled Hitler and Germany being put into a French Concentration Camp during the first year of World War Two. The French realize they have imprisoned many opponents of Nazism and try to make amends, but author and wife still have to elude the police and escape to America.

Power in the Blood, Sabean, about deviancy in Renaissance Germany. It details a very complicated social structure of those times. I got half way through and stopped.

The Experience of Defeat, Christopher Hill, what happened to the Puritans in England after the Restoration of 1660? This book categorizes the Puritans and tells their stories. For the modern reader it does not say what the experience of defeat was, but it explains that experience from the view of the seventeenth century.

The Sixties Unplugged, Degroot, like all books about the Sixties its story is incomplete but it contains many salient tales and historical points.

Orlando, Virginia Woolf, another novel from this mentally ill author which I cannot read.

A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Bird, something bought on vacation and mildly interesting but not a keeper.

Honky, Conley, from a library sale, UC Press, I believed it was set in California. I was wrong. I didn’t want to read it.

Democracy During the American Civil War, DP Crook, excellent book detailing the relationships between the British and Americans during that war. The larger, longer book by the same author on the same topic is not that much better.

Above are the books currently in my possession, in my rooms, to be moved. There are others I don’t remember. I won’t read so devotedly for a while because I’ll write the three stories that have come to me.

Background

I read a lot of history; I read it in sprees. For a year twentieth century history has been my nut, primarily the two European wars and Germany and the Soviet Union. There are times I’ll find an author, and buy books from Amazon or Bookfinder (and others), but most of my reading comes from used books, stuff bought at library bookstores or library sales.

Why read history? To understand more completely. In Barrons today, Jack A. Ablin of BMO Private Bank, is quoted (M16): “It is hard to conceptualize from our Western point of view, but roughly 80% of Russians surveyed believe that economic growth and jobs are more important than their form of government.” I agree. That has been an issue many books I’ve read over the last year, decade, scores of years.

However, I went to read three volumes by Richard J. Evans, the first being, The Coming of the Third Reich (borrowed from the library). In total the three volumes are about 1500 pages. I read the Preface, and Evans discusses other survey books telling of the Third Reich. He notes William L. Shirer’s books, The Rise and Fall and says it is weak, but he fails to mention it is the first. It is unusual for a historian to criticize, outside critical literature, books. He is complimentary to everyone he mentions, English and German historians. He finally, and has to mention Gordon Craig, an American, but only one of Craig’s books: The Politics of the Germany Army 1640-1945.

I finished the Preface and wondered why it was incomplete: Gordon Craig has a book, Germany: 1866-1945 (1978). It seemed spot onto Richard Evans’ topic, but it wasn’t referenced. A German who became an American wrote three volumes, the last covering 1840-1945. Hojo Holborn was a brilliant historian; he died in 1967. Reading about the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and its culture, one finds Hajo Holborn mentioned. He was part of German academia and participated in the culture before the Nazis came to power. He left Germany in 1933 after losing his university position.

I wondered why Hajo Holborn and Gordon Craig’s other books were not in the Preface. I looked at the bibliography where they were also absent, saving Craig’s German Army book.

I turned the page to Chapter 1, page 1, line 1 or Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich:

       “Is it wrong to begin with Bismarck?”

Richard Evans book was published in 2003, almost forty years after Gordon Craig’s book. I realized I had read this book before. I stopped reading. Indeed, Germany: 1866-1945 by Gordon Craig, Chapter 1, Page 1, line 1 reads: 

       “Is it a mistake to begin with Bismarck?”

MY OUTLOOK

I watch the world daily, and sometimes doubt whether the sun will rise tomorrow. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be so bad. Each day world wide seems a catastrophe. The reasons are primarily – too many people live on Earth – with much better communications so we learn everything immediately – we see indicators of disaster in our own society.

About 200 years ago in 1815 Mt. Tambora in Indonesia erupted, and in 1816 the United States had a year without summer. It snowed in New England in July; no one knew why. Today that eruption would be on the news and INSTANT CONCERN! Prices for agricultural prices would rise; other commodities would rise or fall. Vacation plans would change – no surf, no sun, no sand. Humans would lose a season of bikini fashions. More fabric would be used go ward off the cold.

Academians, journalists and analysts, chattering away, would make projections, forecasts and predications. Some might blame man for the geological disaster, like the actor who blamed the Haitian earthquake on global warming. Other people would say it’s God’s punishment. Many would say or imply this is a new situation – it has never happened before. All those people are WRONG – talk is frequently WRONG. Those people make livings from WRONGNESS.

Disasters have happened before, whatever the force or the cause: God, gravity, geology or Gaia. This planet is not stable; the weather is not predictable, for five days let alone temperatures in 100 years. Human beings cannot survive without struggle. Some disasters in the past killed only a few human beings: 1857 quake along the San Andres Fault; the 1809 New Madrid earthquake; the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Change the time or the location (a little) and Los Angeles could be devastated by the southern San Andres Fault moving; the Mississippi River Valley would be greatly altered by a 9.0 earthquake. If Mt. Raneir, 150 miles north of Helens, goes, wipe Seattle from the map.

The disaster themselves seem horrible, but worse today everyone in the world would see it and the aftermath on TV or the Internet. We saw the aftermath of the Indonesians 2004 earthquake/tsunami and the 2011 Japan earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. Seeing it in real time is significant, but doesn’t make the reporting better: There are still the questions: “How do you feel?” “What were you thinking?” “Were you scared?”

A neighbor was holding a video camera during a 1994 earthquake, and he yelled, “Holy Shit!” I believe that is a legitimate response to any disaster and as an answer to any of those questions. But the TV stations didn’t want to report it. Newspapers tried to make the news fit.

Man made disasters could have been avoided without misses. No way. There has been the easy reporting of global warming and scores of incidences and thousands of theories coming from scientists seeking government research money. It’s a disaster, theoretically in 100 years, provided the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse don’t show up. I notice there is little research to prevent that appearance.

Since 1994, Rwanda, Clinton didn’t see it, sorry. Didn’t see Darfur/Sudan, sorry; missed the USS Cole, sorry. Bush 9-11, who’s calling, huh? Why fight in Afghanistan, Duh? WMD, Iraq war, Huh? The corrupt narco state of Afghanistan is no worse than Chicago, Obama, 2009.