Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Notes to Woolf the torero, or, on The Story about the Story

* Like this, from Virginia Woolf:
A writer will always be chary of dialogue because dialogue puts the most violent pressure upon the reader's attention.
Or this, from Sven Birkerts:
I believe that when we read a poem we absorb and process a great deal more than we are consciously aware of, and that it is precisely those cues that we pick up at the threshold--that we hear and feel but do not overtly take note of--that combine to give us the aesthetic surge.
Or this, from Randall Jarrell:
Miss Moore's forms have the lacy, mathematical extravagance of snowflakes, seem as arbitrary as the prohibitions in fairy tales; but they work as those work--disregard them and everything goes to pieces.
Or this, from E. B. White:
I think it is of some advantage to encounter [Walden] at a period in one's life when the normal anxieties and enthusiasms and rebellions of youth closely resemble those of Thoreau in that spring of 1845 when he borrowed an ax, went out to the woods, and began to whack down some trees for timber. Received at such a juncture, the book is like an invitation to life's dance, assuring the troubled recipient that no matter what befalls him in the way of success or failure he will always be welcome at the party--that the music is played for him, too, if he will but listen and move his feet.
And oh, how this note could go on . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Notes to Wish fulfillment

* No, really: I hated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Having read a pre-publication rave review, I ordered it from the UK way back in December of 2007, then waited two impatient weeks for it to be published. When it arrived, I dove right in . . . and from the very first page I hated everything about it. I hated its awkward prose. I hated the clunky construction of its plot. I hated the odd smugness of Mikael, the male lead. I hated the undifferentiated secondary characters. And, oh, I hated the prose. By the time I was 350 or so pages in, I gave up, resorting to skimming through the final 200 pages in hopes that I would find something that would explain the book's appeal. Alas, even that wasn't worth my time.

But I really do seem to be alone. Everyone else I know who's read the book, including rocketlass, really enjoyed it. Rarely have I felt so out of synch with other readers--and that's in a lifetime of feeling somewhat out of synch with the majority of readers!

So if it's been recommended to you, by all means don't let me stop you--but if you find it as bad as I did, send me a note so I'll know that if I'm nuts, at least I've got some company.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Notes to Things I Learned from Donald E. Westlake . . .

* And then there's this, which would fall into the category of Things I Would Have Suspected Had I Bothered to Think About Them, but Good God, Why Would I Ever Have Put Myself Through That?

On arriving in Vegas for his heist, Dortmunder is pegged as a crook of some sort by a cabbie, a hotel clerk, a waitress, and two security guards, all within approximately an hour after touchdown. They all politely suggest he ply his trade elsewhere--except the guards, who intimate something similar by silently flanking him as he circles the casino's Battle-Lake (where faux pirate ships wage daily battles). So his long-time associate Andy Kelp takes him clothes shopping, outfitting him in the baggy shorts and grotesquely printed shirts that signify American leisure. Dortmunder, as is his wont, is not pleased:
"I don't know about this," Dortmunder said. "I don't know about those knees, to begin with."

"You brought those knees in with you, John," Kelp reminded him. "Look at the clothes."

It was very hard to look at the clothes, with those knees glowering back at him from the discount-store mirror like sullen twin hobos pulled in on a bum rap.
Now that's a simile!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Notes to Fanny Burney tells me to put down the laptop and take up a pen right this minute!

* The notes to the Penguin Classics edition explain that "Gip" was Alex's servant at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

** Penguin's notes identify the former as the Reverend Benedict Chapman, Alex's tutor--and it also points out that the boy was used to such threats from his mother. Penguin's editor doesn't gloss Dr. Davy, but from context it seems Burney must have meant not a medical doctor--so much for her feigned worries about Alex's health!--but the Reverend Martin Davy, head of Gonville and Caius. Given that Alex was twenty-two at the time, I doubt fear of that pair carried a lot of weight.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Notes to "He recited his favourite poetry at inordinate length," or, Byron and Boswell at table

* The New Yorker closed its generally supportive "Briefly Noted" review of Byron in Love with,
Out of O’Brien’s kinetic recounting of scandal after scandal, a sense of the poet’s pathos emerges: Byron did, at times, love deeply. But by eliding his literary personality O’Brien risks voyeurism.
--which seems to border on the ridiculous: what else is one to do with Byron's life--at least in a short book--but gape?

** As O'Brien explains,
[T]he "bonnie lad" was still at the Albany alone as he said with his menagerie of birds; his morning routine a bout of sparring his boxing master, then posing in Albanian costume for Thomas Philips, the portrait painter, his only female companion being [his firelighter] Mrs. Mule. He omitted to mention the visits of Miss Eliza Francis, another putative author who believed that an audience with Byron would inspire her. She herself left a record of those trysts, all was sunshine, except for rats scurrying about.
Annabella, meanwhile, told Byron that his
delays are becoming "too like a dream" and she compares him to the procrastinating Hamlet.