Order of Odd-Fish. Revisited.

04/28/2009 § 3 Comments

Thanks to James Kennedy and Christian Moerk for their readings at Hopleaf this evening.

Gemma and I shared the CB&J and some good beer while watching James Kennedy read from his book and leap about the room with spectacular energy. Though personally I’m not one for book readings, Gemma and I thoroughly enjoyed the theatricality and humor Mr. Kennedy brought to the table.

Should have brought my copy with, and not Lair of the White Worm, so I could have struck up some conversation.

Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you….

Thanks to the lovely Gemma for escorting me and the good folks at bookslut and hopleaf…and of course the authors James Kennedy and Christian Moerk.


Reading aloud: The White People, Cosmicomics

03/09/2009 § 2 Comments

All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes.

-Arthur Machen

I really like that sentence. I like to call it my favorite of my favorite of my favorites.

Gemma likes when I read to her. We do this fairly regularly. The other night I started reading the story, The White People by Arthur Machen  to Gemma. We have decided to stop  this story.  It is longer than what Gemma and I try to read together but since I had loved The Great God Pan so much I thought it would be a good one to try before bed. Boy was I wrong. We abandoned it after about five pages. It is definitely not something one should read aloud to their loved one. It is wordy and abstract and more of a conversation in the vein of a Demonic Platonic dialogue. Riviting stuff, but when read aloud more like reading a How-To book aloud…as written by Socrates and Theatetus.

Oddly enough, the stories we have enjoyed reading aloud most are Lovecraft stories…and as long as you can get past the obstacle of saying things like Cthulhu, R’yleh, Yog-Sothoth, and Azozoth, it’s great. It’s also great to read American Folktales aloud as fast as you can. This is key.

I ended up finishing The White People on my own. So after abandoning that story we were in need of something else. Luckily, at Half Price Books I had just acquired Cosmicomics by Calvino and The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman for like four bucks.

I managed to read the first story of Cosmicomics, The Distance of the Moon, on the bus. It’s the story of some folks, with no vowels in their names (things like Qfwfq), who remember when the moon orbitted so close to the earth they could reach it with the help of a ladder and then harvest the lunar milk that collects in the crevices. It is also a story of unrequited love. I find it odd how many stories that have unpronounceable words end up being the best for reading aloud. To get around names like Qfwfq, I just said Q. Works fine. I’m sure there is some significance in Calvino’s use of nameing things like this but we are reading for enjoyment and not criticism.

Anyway, the story has beautiful imagery and is told in that special way that is particular to Calvino. I really enjoyed this story, and I think Gemma did as well.  I think it is a good candidate for reading aloud. There is something about the dreamy quality of Calvino’s words that deserve to be spoken.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

02/11/2009 § Leave a comment

I think that it is safe to say Sleepy Hollow thrives in the collective consciousness of most Americans. This is thanks to Disney, Tim Burton, and the Ghostbusters cartoon. We have all sorts of images associated with Ichabod Crane and that little town in the Northeast. The most powerful of any of those images is the headless horseman. I wonder how many people have actually read the story “found among the pages of Diedirch Knickerbocker”?

This story by Washington Irving was the first story I read aloud to Gemma. How or why we landed on Sleepy Hollow I don’t recall. I do remember reading it aloud to be an arduous affair because, on revisiting the original text, it proved to be an incredibly wordy piece of literature. Reading aloud run on sentence after run on sentence proved incredibly difficult for my then weak lungs. The median word count of every sentence must be close to fifty, which is totally fine as long as you don’t have to read aloud.

I bring up Sleepy Hollow not because it has been forgotten or people no longer consider Washington Irving an American Literary hero….they do don’t they? I bring him up because I think that America’s collective brain remembers the cartoon (which I like), Tim Burton’s disaster of a movie (which I don’t like), and not the original text.

The original text is admittedly labor intensive but it is classic in terms of mood. I would agree that it is kind of boring, but the best kind of boring, and Ichabod is kind of a fool and Brom Van Brunt is kind of a tool and Katrina Van Tassel is kind of typical but that is what makes it so great. It is just these regular cliche characters placed in the town of Sleepy Hollow, which is a great name to begin with.

Then, these three whatever-type characters are set amidst legends of Dutch settlers, Hessian Warriors, and Cotton Mather and his witch trials. The prose of the first three quarters evokes terror quietly and crawls under the readers skin so that when the horseman does appear the readers sense of despair is total. We know that Ichabod will not escape. And despite the tons-of-fun early 19th century prose we know we will have to read it again.

The Nightingale and the Rose

02/01/2009 § Leave a comment

I think I enjoy fairy tales because of the ideas contained within them. I like that a guy can go into the woods and meet a bear or a gray wolf and have adventures. I like that birds can tell a person he’s being an idiot. I like that dragons not only eat people, but I also like that they can say funny stuff or ride on horseback.

I like witches and trolls and giants just over a hill. I like that they are sometimes misunderstood and sometimes they are understood perfectly. I like Babe the blue ox. I like giant fish spitting people out onto shores. I like that people run to and from home. I like that princesses get married to jerks and then get rescued by someone who is nice… or just another jerk. I like when evil stepmothers are horrible and then get their comeuppance.

As diverse as these stories can be, there is one common element that unites them all. And that is generally poorly written prose. It’s never boring or arduous, at least not to me, but it is usually simple, brief, and sometimes unclear. This is partially because most of these stories come from an oral tradition. I think it is also from a necessity to escape from the realities of the world, but to do so in a timely manner. Let’s face it, there were probably more pressing issues for folks hundreds and thousands of years ago than to get lost in a 1000 page meandering narrative.

Ideas and fantasy were needed but were needed immediately, not over the course of weeks or months. There are of course exceptions, The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Tain. The Aeneid. &tc. I’ll probably never write about these stories in this blog, with the possible exception of The Tain. And maybe only because of Cúchulainn and his incredible Salmon Leap! (+2)

I guess I’m taking a roundabout way of getting to the story I am writing about but that is because when I run across stories that include the elements that I listed at the beginning of this post and also include beautiful prose it is a single joy that this heart cannot handle. This heart of mine freaks out and can hardly stand it (+4). It blows apart from joy and melts back together like the T1000.

Wonderful ideas and beatiful prose are hard to come by. I’m not hating on contemporary books either; I enjoy many of them, but it is rare when I adore them. As I mentioned in an earlier post Italo Calvino is one of the authors that can make my heart freak out and T100o and all that(+4).

Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales are stories that are included in the heart-freaking-out category.

I remember that I had read some when I was in high school, probably after I read The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I enjoyed them. I recently revisited them and can’t believe how wonderful the little stories are. They are beautiful and original, but feel like older stories, and of course they remain typically Wilde-like.

The Nightingale and the Rose is the second story in The Happy Prince and Other Tales. It follows the lovely titular story The Happy Prince. Just like The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose involves a bird. In this story a bird hears a lover lamenting about how he needs a red rose because otherwise he cannot share a dance with the woman who owns his heart. This anguished individual is exactly what the bird has been singing about his whole life. The bird is so moved by his lamentations that he goes on a journey to find him a red rose. It takes him talking to three trees but he manages to find a red rose tree. The price is the birds life. He’ll have to sing all night and give his blood to make the rose.

The bird decides that his heart means nothing compared to a man’s love and goes off to tell the lovesick boy. In a comically tragic turn of events, it turns out that the bird is just chirping at the boy and the boy can’t understand a single word. The prose is effortlessly lovely, mirroring the nightingale’s song. The outcome is exactly opposite of how a reader would want it to end, making the prose all the more striking.

I won’t say what happens, but sufffice to say it ends with the fickleness of mankind. The beauty of nature is spoiled by idiot lovers.

I never really have a point. Never really a climax or a denouement. Unless my point and denouement can be to say “Go read this.” Sorry. That’s it for this post.

So. Go read it. It’ll take five minutes. You have nothing better to do. Read it here.


01/30/2009 § 1 Comment


*Image courtesy of Jer

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