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May 20, 2022


Here's LG&M on the Colorado thing:


this seems like the leading edge of the broader trend.

Well, if you're already a minority, and intent on doing whacko things that will make you an even smaller minority (and rapidly, should you succeed in implementing them), what else can you do? There's simply no way to win without massively rigging the game. At least until you can ditch elections altogether.

The CO GOP is in an interesting place right now. There's a huge disconnect between the old school Republicans in the donor base and the increasingly militant radicals looking for a fight. The two factions have been busy ambushing each other on the parliamentary level in the primaries, fighting for control of the state agenda. The insurgents started to panic hard when an openly gay man was elected governor, and the pandemic and BLM demonstrations have not helped to restore any sanity.

It's a really weird mix.

I recently binged read all but two of the Jack Reacher novels and most of the short stories and novellas...

Of course, if you intend the cheat, it helps to cheat intelligently. But we have this on the 2020 census.

Short story shorter, TFG tried to rush the census, and avoid counting illegal immigrants. As a result, a couple blue states (Rhode Island and Minnesota) probably got a seat they shouldn't have. (In one case by about 26 people!) Whereas Texas and Florida probably got one less seat than they would have, had the census not suffered political interference. Oops.

@CharlesWT: was that a first read-through for all of them, or rereading?

I've got several contemporary mystery authors that I've read and in some cases reread: Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, Ann Cleeves, Jacqueline Winspear.

The Ann Cleeves Shetland stories are wonderful; I don't care for the Vera ones as much (or her latest, relatively new series). I keep meaning to watch the TV Shetlands but haven't gotten around to it.

I recently read, at a friend's suggestion, In the Distance, by Hernan Diaz. Uncategorizable, mysterious, sometimes difficult, but rewarding.

In the uncategorizable category I would also put Milkman, by Anna Burns, which was mentioned in the article about Derry Girls that GftNC linked the other day.

I've watched one episode of Derry Girls and will get back to it eventually. But in terms of conveying the rhythm and idiom of Irish in print, I've never seen anything like Milkman. (Not recommended for wj. ;-) )

Not recommended for wj. ;-)

Of course you know that I'll have to read it now, just to find out why not.

@wj -- lol, of course i was teasing you. I loved the book, but it's not like it's a straightforward or easy read. On the other hand, it's a masterful portrait of life from a young woman's point of view during the Troubles. If you do read it, give us a report!

And the "why not" is because of what you said about Joyce.... Although I think you might find it easier to read, once you get into the rhythm of it. Even if you don't actually "like" it.

The Shetland tv series is excellent and has its own unique feel for a UK procedural. It's on the understated side - should appeal to fans of Nordic noir. It's closer in feel to some of the Icelandic crime dramas I've watched than to the UK ones.

@CharlesWT: was that a first read-through for all of them, or rereading?

I had previously read three of the novels.

I haven't read yet the two most recently published.

Let joy (or bliss) be unconfin'd!

Just before reading this I sent an email quoting my favourite Irish playwright. In French, naturally: he wrote mostly in French on account of being an intellectual living in Paris, and I quoted him in the same language in an attempt to look more cosmopolitan than I am.

Anyway, the quotation:

Vladimir: "ça fait passer le temps"
Estragon: "il serait passé sans ça"

Thank the FSM for Google Translate. ;-)

Nice quotation, Pro Bono.

If wj is unsure of Joyce as a writer, then Beckett must be well beyond the pale. (Should probably avoid Flan O’Brien for the same reason.)

I haven't read much Joyce (aside from Ulysses, which is taking the "not much" a bit far), but it really did require only reading in short stretches, applying a irish accent mentally to appreciate it.

On the subject of "this is really outstanding writing" I cast my vote for early part of "93" by Victor Hugo and "Young Men and Fire".

Fantastic quotation, Pro Bono, and although I've seen the play more than once, it was always in English. That's a helluva lot better in French!

(p.s. Despite tipping my friend off about Bloom's breakfast kidney, I have to own up to never having finished Ulysses. I think I tried when I was too young, and it never really tempted me again - although I love aspects: e.g. Molly Bloom's soliloquy.)

First they came for the school libraries...

GOP politicians got mocked for censoring books at school because those books were available on the free market. Looks like this loophole is targeted for closing.


OK I've started on Mailman. Only about 20% in so far, but already I can say this:

  • This is definitely not the sort of book that I'd pick up on my own.
  • Burns is a far, far better writer than Joyce on his best day.
  • The story tracks as a story. Which Joyce doesn't (at least in so far as I can decipher him at all).
  • Burns paragraph lengths (some time more than a full page) is enormously irritating. And makes it hard to read.
Possibly more later, but those are my initial impressions.

Burns is a far, far better writer than Joyce on his best day.

I'm curious, wj. When you say things like this, do you think you are giving an opinion that relates to your own taste in literature, or do you truly think everyone else is wrong and you are right - i.e. that there is an objective standard and you are correctly applying it? I'm not getting at you, I'm just curious (always) about the workings of different people's minds!

(FWIW, I have been given a copy of Mailman with high recommendations, but have not read it yet and may never, because these days I am not really up to effortful reading. This is not something I'm proud of, it's just the way things have been going for me for a while.)

wj -- I am touched, seriously. I started rereading Milkman today, because it has come up several times in conversation lately. I'm not as far as you, but I had forgotten how rich and many-layered it is.

Yes, the paragraphs are long. But the sentences are more manageable than, say, Faulkner's, so that's something.

Glad you're trying it out.

GthNC, I can only speach to my own taste, of course. I haven't taken the trouble to work out a set of objective standards, seeing no reason anyone would interested.

That said, the first step in doing so would be an expectation that individual sentences are internally coherent (Joyce does so-so), and track from one to the next (Joyce does poorly).

Also that there be a perceptible story line, which develops over the course of the work. Multiple story lines can be a plus, but are not a requirement. (Joyce is so-so in Portrait of the Artist and poor in Ulysses.)

Does that help?

P.S. I doubt that "everybody" disagrees. At this point, anyone in a position to purport to have an expert opinion would be loathe to disagree with the received wisdom that Joyce is great. Even with a clear and defensible standards to rate him against, and show he fails. it would probably be career suicide. Definutely not worth the hassle.

Janie, my opinion of what little I have sampled of Faulkner, is that it's a reasonable debate who is better (or worse). Absent further sampling (not happening), and bearing in mind how long it's been since I tackled either, I'd say Faulkner is a bit better. But I'd not object if someone wished to argue the contrary.

Just want to make the point in relation to this last exchange that when you talk about "better" or "worse," you make it sound like you think there's some sort of objective truth to what you're saying, or would be if only you had time to explicate it.

But some of us (lots of us!) think writers like Faulkner and Joyce are a glory of the English language and of human capabilities, in a way that has nothing to do with career suicide. Or "career" at all. Possibly we have other criteria from yours, a different list, a more nuanced list, different priorities, whatever.

Also, of course, different strokes....

some of us (lots of us!) think writers like Faulkner and Joyce are a glory of the English language and of human capabilities, in a way that has nothing to do with career suicide. Or "career" at all.

Certainly there are those who love those guys. As you say, different strokes. What I was addressing was why those who disagree might prefer not to do so aloud.

I believe we have definitively established one of the ways wj truly is a conservative! But yes, different strokes...

Thanks for the response, wj.

No one who teaches Lit is required to like Joyce or to think that he's one of the greatest Anglophone writers. All that is required of a professional literature scholar is that they recognize what it is that Joyce was doing with his approach to language and structure, and understand how that approach fits within the larger context of whatever literature is under discussion in any particular conversation.

Every lit person I know has deeply held opinions that the work of at least one beloved figure is an excrescence. Having such an opinion is practically required. But to have it, you have to have earned it, and you have to be able to support it on stronger grounds than personal taste, and hold your own in the ensuing conversation.

I'm so glad you're around, nous.....

All that is required of a professional literature scholar is that they recognize what it is that Joyce was doing with his approach to language and structure, and understand how that approach fits within the larger context of whatever literature is under discussion

It may be that my views on career requirements in literature are skewed by the fact that, when I was in college, the teachers I had in those subjects were not even Assistant Professors but merely Instructors. (Yes, even back in the late 60s.) As nous has pointed out, not only is the pay bad at that level, but the job security is pretty much nonexistent.

Nevertheless, these conversations happen. Even between tenured full professors and adjunct faculty. Especially after the wine gets opened at the reception. That's when things start to get interesting.

No one is firing me because I think that Blood Meridian is mostly violence porn wrapped in a Melville word salad, or because I'm lukewarm at best over the poetry of Whitman and Dickinson.

The dangerous conversations are the ones that tangle methodology and political issues, or step on someone's portion of the departmental budget.

Talking about texts is light sport.

Talking about texts is light sport.

I'll yield to someone with first hand experience.

However, I find the enthusiasm for Joyce equally as inexplicable as I do the enthusiasm (by a totally different demographic) for Trump. It's like we were looking at two entirely different sets of words on the page.

Didn't Tolstoy loathe Shakespeare?

I loved Dubliners but I concluded my life is far too short to read books I don't want to read, especially if the author thinks his work is a fit study for the rest of his readers' lives.

I was observing to my aged father not long ago that you couldn't even watch all the good television (the smallest and most pathetic of the arts, at least when I grew up) that is produced these days, possibly even if you devoted your life in an obsessive way to watching it, so really, you just got to pick and choose and recognize you're going to miss most of the good stuff and even most of the great stuff.

I believe that is true, even while I also observe that I don't have the psychic energy to read serious fiction very much anymore. This seems to be true of a lot of men in general that I know, and I conjecture that it is the emotional ossification that tends to occur as we get older, interacting with the exhaustion that we feel grappling with the all the horrors that life throws at us ranging from watching your parents' minds die before their bodies do through friends taken too young through watching the world fall apart in various horrible ways -- I have the impression you all know what I'm talking about here. All of this my conjectures as to why so many men tend to prefer non-fiction and how even a sensitive guy like me doesn't escape the things that pull us that way. Obvs, YMManddoesV.

That isn't too say that that same psychic exhaustion doesn't occur with women as well. My girlfriend, of a certain age, has found herself without the energy to read anything beyond Alexander McCall Smith books for long periods while she tries to keep an understaffed organization afloat.

All that whinging aside, I did read A House on Mango Street this very year, although I suppose that is more along the lines of literary amuse-bouches. I think the last truly world-class novel I read must have been The Master and Margarita, a few years ago. That was awesome, even with all the weird Jesus stuff, and I would be willing to pay a fair bit to see, oh perhaps, Tim Burton's version of Behemoth the cat, swinging on the chandelier and firing off his pistols.

And all that said, I do have a copy of Lauren Groff's Matrix here on my coffee table, that I plan to pick up once I have finished the monstrous Dawn of Everything.

JakeB: yes exactly. And in my case, not only psychic, but also intellectual, energy.

What turns me off are people who think their taste for serious literature makes them morally superior in some sense and I say that as someone who used to read Serious Literature because it was Serious. Nowadays I just read for pleasure. I love Jane Austen or most of her— no desire to reread Mansfield Park. The character of Emma gets on my nerves so I might not reread that one either. I might reread Dostevesky ( not looking up the correct spelling) at some point or Tolstoy because I genuinely enjoyed War and Peace and Anna Karinina and all four of what’s his name’s greatest novels.

I won’t read Joyce except for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and probably not that. Once was fine, but I don’t need to do so again. I looked at Ulysses once. Not again.

It isn’t that I claim Joyce is bad. I just don’t enjoy him.

On a lower literary level ( yeah, I am for the sake of argument conceding to the views of the literary types) have turned against grimdark fantasy. I don’t want that in fantasy.

Having said that I think there is value in reading things you don’t like and I think students should be forced to read such things, at least up to a point. I hated As I Lay Dying but it was probably good I was exposed to Faulkner in high school. It challenges you. You really can learn things from doing so. All this is obvious.

But I have a friend who acted like reading Great Literature was some sort of religious act that made you a better person and many in the Cult of Literature give that impression. I think this is highly exaggerated ( just as participating in actual religious activities doesn’t necessarily make you better and far too often can make you worse). It seems more like a class marker— look at me, I am a sophisticate who reads Tolstoy and the NYT. I know the feeling because I have had it in the past. I just recited what I have read with a touch of that feeling. But it is ludicrous.

There is something similar in science— people sometimes tend to treat great scientists ( especially in physics) as great human beings, but it is clear there is no connection between deep physical insight and morality.

Re Colorado voting proposal:

"U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion (5–4) led by Chief Justice Earl Warren in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) ruled that state legislatures, unlike the U.S. Congress, needed to have representation in both houses that was based on districts containing roughly equal populations, with redistricting as needed after censuses."

Our politicians are illiterate as well as corrupt.

Reynolds v. Sims is on the list of precedents that the Right wants to challenge and have it overturned by SCOTUS. And with the current bunch of judicial hacks that is a real possibility. But SCOTUS needs a challenge first to formally overturn the precedent and that Colorado proposal could be the vehicle for that. And on this Roberts would very likely join the overturning majority, so the 5-4 precedent would be struck down by a 6-3 (giving the act extra 'legitimacy').

In keeping with JakeB’s comment about men liking nonfiction, I am conforming to multiple stereotypes by starting Rick Atkinson’s trilogy about the American army fighting the Nazis. Last year I read Ian Toll’s trilogy about the Pacific War.

It is good to read about an era when, with all of its flaws, the US really was part of the Good Guys. I think our foreign policy since then has been poisoned in part by the delusion that we are still in that position. But then it was true. Even though we were deeply flawed and fighting side by side with monsters ( Stalin and yes, Churchill. See Bengal famine).

I also read fantasies. The latest Kingfisher. The first volume in an ongoing trilogy about a Black teenager in Atlanta who is sort of Buffy but fights both demons and racism in her fellow demon fighters.( Sounds absurd, but it was good.). Forgot the name. And I am undecided about this Jen Williams fantasy I started.

If there's a stereotype about non-fiction, I guess I fit it; I read far more fiction than non- and vastly prefer it. As with sci-fi, I tend to wait until someone whose judgment of books and knowledge of me I trust recommends something. Out of that I've gotten (among other things):

-- The Day of Battle (Rick Atkinson), which I enjoyed enough to intend to read the other two someday;

-- The Boys in the Boat, which was just wonderful -- biography, history, sports, all wrapped up in an engrossing story; and

-- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, ditto, despite how depressing and sad the core story is.

The latter two are the best non-fiction I've ever read. In fact, they sort of turned me around about how much I can enjoy non-fiction.

Of others Donald mentioned: I reread Anna Karenina a couple of summers ago. It was okay, but I never liked it as well as W&P in the old days, and I didn't this time. I also tried rereading a couple of the big Dostoevsky novels but couldn't get into them. Too melodramatic, too chaotic, too ... something, for my taste right now. Loved them when I was young.

Expect to be able to read and reread certain novels of Dickens, plus Middlemarch, until I'm too far gone to read at all. We'll see, though....

Mostly these days I read mysteries, prefereably set in the UK. Louise Penny (Quebec) is an exception.

Re: Joyce - his work is extraordinarily dense, which makes it slow going. It’s also intensely musical - hearing it read aloud opens a whole other dimension to the experience, more so than for many other writers IMO.

I think a lot of the time Joyce is just playing with the sound of words. Reading him purely for the plain sense of what he’s saying is, perhaps, beside the point. Or, at least, only part of the point, and not always the main part.

Listen to the music.

Russell -- good point, both about the music and about the playfulness. Reminds me of an encounter long ago when I said to Steve Romanoff of Schooner Fare (in other words a musician, like you) that I didn't care much for poetry. He said "You have to hear it out loud" and started reciting something on the spot.

Which reminds me of this two-minute clip, which I've probably linked here before, or maybe I got it here in the first place.

Background on the Choctaw-Ireland connection.

Listen to the music.

Always good advice, although being rather unmusical myself it doesn't always work for me except in poetry.

I read fiction of almost all types (except thrillers, spy and detective fiction) voraciously for decades, but then for some years after that found I was only interested in non-fiction. During the long fiction years, I didn't read that much Russian stuff: only W&P and AK. As for Dostoyevsky, I read The Idiot, thought it was an astonishing masterpiece, but it depressed me so badly I never read any more of his stuff again.

With the exception of things I have always loved, and frequently re-read (e.g. Jane Austen, but mainly P&P, Persuasion and Emma - although Mansfield Park is a kind of foundational text for me), I currently find myself (for the energy reasons referred to above) mainly only able to read Sci-Fi and Fantasy, although it's hard to find the good stuff. Recommendations here have helped, they are much more reliable than those of the NYT!

Things do sneak through occasionally: I can't remember whether I have ever mentioned this before, but I read A Gentleman in Moscow some months after my husband died, and while still in a fog of absolute pain and misery, and to my astonishment found that for the first time in months it gave me moments (albeit brief) of happiness. So I kept rereading bits, and it kept on doing so. Just those moments were enough to pierce the fog, and remind me that life would still go on eventually, and would still, one day, be able to afford joy.

Oh Janie, that clip of the Lake Isle is lovely, thank you!

And on Yeats (a poet who is frequently silly, and often magnificent) I should mention that I often think of his poem The Fiddler of Dooney:

When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.

I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time,
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance

And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With 'Here is the fiddler of Dooney!'
And dance like a wave of the sea.

and particularly the verse I have bolded, which I find capable of giving pleasure and comfort in a bleak world.

@GftNC --

A B&N employee recommended A Gentleman in Moscow to me a few years ago -- I haven't always liked her recommendations, so I didn't rush to read it. Then my friend who is the most avid reader I know got bored with it and quit after 50 pages.

But when I finally tried it I loved it, and for reasons that fit well with your experience of the book (though my reading wasn't embedded in tragedy as yours was).

By now I've read it several times, and I keep it open on the surface of a hutch where I lean to stretch my achilles tendons when I exercise, so I can browse my favorite bits ad hoc. My photography friend and I (who have branched out in our joint activities) listened to the audio version over the course of a couple of weeks last winter.

The book fits with a line from Wendell Berry's poem Mad Farmer Liberation Front: "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts." Which was a message embedded in the Guardian piece on Derry Girls. And which I keep trying to live up to in these depressing times.

(Apologies if I'm repeating myself....)

(Apologies if I'm repeating myself....)

You're always worth listening to, even if you repeat yourself! And I think your line quoted above has a strong kinship with the Yeats verse I have bolded (or maybe emboldened - neither is good) above.

GftNC, your bolded verse reminds me of a certain Grace Paley poem, which ends like this:

Still the face of life will change

partly because of those miserable scratches it makes on its own aging surface



in the risky busy labor of Repair the World

after which for the unsated there will surely be

talking all night dances in schoolrooms and kitchens

and later


of happinesses the most famous of all

The version of this poem in the printed book I have is a little different from the linked version. In particular, mine says "happinesses," not "happiness," which I think fits the sense of the poem much better. And my print version doesn't mention sex. ... !

(And sorry, I don't have time to make Typepad do the lines correctly.)

Oh wow, Janie, I finally got around to actually reading that poem. It's terrific. As well as the wonderful line you quote, I also loved:

Give your approval to all you cannot

which could so apply to our discussion of Joyce above. Thank you for this.

Which reminds me of this two-minute clip, which I've probably linked here before, or maybe I got it here in the first place.

Poetry,** IMHO, deserves to be read aloud. And if you can't, at least imagine that you are and listen to it that way. (I'd say that even applies to forms like haiku and renga, although I'm not that familiar with them in the original Japanese.)

But prose, to my mind, is different. While it may be musical, the point is the story. If the story is inaccessable, the work fails -- regardless of how musical it is.

** And yes, on this I do have some objective standards. At least for what qualifies as poetry. Not so much for what distinguishes great poetry from doggerel. There it's more of a "I know it when I see it" thing. It's not just a matter of taste, but that is probably a factor.

PS about A Gentleman in Moscow --

One of the major themes of the book is separation from loved ones. In particular, separation beyond the grave, or separation in circumstances where people don't even know if a loved one is alive or dead.

For me this is one of the two or three most moving themes in stories, whether written or filmed. I'm not sure why; the reasons are more opaque to me than with the other themes that touch me the most. David Mitchell's books portray it repeatedly, as do Celeste Ng's two novels. Of the latter, I love Little Fires Everywhere as much as I love Gentleman, as different as they are in setting and tone.

the point is the story

Not to everyone, only to one, very traditional and conservative, way of looking at literature. Although, I am duty-bound to say, it is frequently (although not always) what I want too.


the point is the story

Not to everyone, only to one, very traditional and conservative, way of looking at literature.

Indeed. The music of written language is one of the layers that is always in my mind when I do my (amateur) copy editing, even if it's only for a press release.

The music always matters. (Since sweeping, ostensibly objective pronouncements seem to be in fashion.)

You know, this reminds me that often, in the mid-twentieth century or thenabouts, people used to say of Picasso "my five year old could do that". Of course now, most people with any interest in the matter have seen examples of Picasso's paintings done in his mid teens demonstrating complete, extraordinary mastery of naturalistic representation, so those types of people have had to accept that he could do what they consider "good" painting with one hand tied behind his back, so he was obviously interested in doing something quite different.

From a different angle: Like most people, I watched lots of movies and TV in my earlier life. But in more recent times, I spent several decades not watching much at all.

Then, as of last summer, I started to watch movies and "TV" (series) again. When I look back on what I've watched, I realize that the things I've liked the best at a superficial level are a subset of those where, as in wj's phrasing, "the point is the story."

One big reason for that, I'm pretty sure, is that I don't have the experience or sophistication to appreciate what's being done in some of the other films I've watched. I'm not familiar with enough of the classics, so I don't pick it up when a movie plays on tropes from earlier movies. I'm a novice when it comes to how film works in general, so I'm just beginning to cultivate an awareness of cinematography, sets, acting, etc.

With more experience I'm enjoying more and more of what I see, and re-evaluating what I've already seen. It's an ongoing process. And of course as with books, my own tastes play into it as well. (The "different strokes" aspect.)

I've been struggling a bit with how to respond to this thread about reading. My gut reaction being that I've really not done much reading over the last year (my bedside pile has barely moved), but that's not strictly true. I'm reading all the time, but so much of that reading is done in the context of teaching that it doesn't fulfill anything like the same role. That reading is not my own.

I imagine it's what a studio musician must feel like a lot of the time. So much ability and interest constrained by a very limited context.

So when I would, in the past, have spent the twilight hours reading, I find myself instead listening to music for an hour before bed. Really listening. This last week it's been the Steven Wilson remixes of Yes albums (The Yes Album through Relayer). I can get lost in that soundscape for a bit even when my eyes are just done with reading and meaning-making.)

But this morning I was struck with the reading that I have done during the academic year that I had not counted as "reading." I'm involved in three separate Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, and have read and reread several sourcebooks in service to playing in two of those campaigns, running one, and beginning to plan to run another.

Needless to say, the collaborative narrative and worldbuilding aspects of forty-some odd years of roleplaying have had a profound effect on my reading habits and my analysis of reading. It's made me keenly aware both of the ways in which people create cohesive narratives out of shared happenstance, and the importance of empathy and of attempting to imaginatively inhabit the subjective position of another human-ish being in an honest and playful way.

Playful in the sense of Homo Ludens, not in the sense of lightheartedness.

A lot of the literature that wj doesn't match speeds with is prose or poetry that is, in a sense, playful, but the aspect of writing that is being played with undercuts one of the structures (or conceits, or protocols) that wj finds most enjoyable about reading - story, narrative, naturalism, realism. Others find the violation of those structures, conceits, and protocols to be engaging. For some, that act of transgression is emancipatory.

As always, these thoughts of mine threaten to expand out endlessly and lead off into an impromptu lecture. Classroom habits die hard. So I'll call this done, hit post, and go off to prep for tonight's D&D session.

Was away for a few days dealing with dental issues. We have reached an age where it is fairly normal for teeth, and older existing repairs, to fail.

The Colorado member-per-county proposal for the state House isn't new, it's been kicked around for years. The Republicans as a group are perfectly aware that Reynolds v. Sims would have to be reversed, and that the Colorado constitution would have to be amended. It's just a signal these days: I stand with rural Colorado in opposition to the Front Range urban corridor.

There have been three attempts to recall Gov. Polis. The first two came up short on signatures. The third was getting so few signatures they abandoned the attempt early.

I'll go a step farther than nous on the subject of the Colorado Republican party, and say that the crazies have won. The Big Lie will be the official party line this year. All that remains to be seen is if the Republican candidates for statewide office are crazy enough to run on abandoning the enormously popular mail ballot system.

@Donald's & GtfNC's comments on Austen -- I was tickled by both of them because I usually end up rereading P&P and Persuasion about once a year, but Mansfield Park remains my third favorite of the Austens, although I've only read it 3 times I think. But I find Emma herself so annoying that I cannot reread that book.

I wanted to elucidate slightly my somewhat fatigue-addled comment from last night. I meant to note -- based on the suggestion that empathy is required to read fiction well and also that fiction develops the empathy muscles -- and based on my view that in our culture women are more likely both to be better at empathy and more interested in it, IN GENERAL -- and noting that I assume this is cultural, not innate -- that I suspect that is one of the primary reasons that women tend to like to read serious fiction more than men do. I actually don't understand why it is I can finish a history book filled with horrors but not a novel about a depressed woman (Weike Wang's Chemistry, still on my shelf at 50 pages in), but it may be because the history book leaves you outside other people's heads. And one of the specific lacks of psychic energy I mentioned before seems to be an inability to find the empathic energy required to be a good reader.

I nevertheless tend to still follow Dr. Science's John Donne rule for mysteries, I still think it's a good one. Although I will suspend it for Michael Connelly at least.

Another good tidbit from your 9:10 posting, Donald, about Serious Fiction as a marker of moral or at least intellectual superiority -- I was thinking recently about what a relief it was some years ago to recognize that different tastes are merely different, as opposed to say high school, when I thought one of the signs that other people were dumb was how they liked garbage like, eh, Duran Duran or Flock of Seagulls as opposed to Rush or Genesis (early Genesis of course lol). Yeah, I was one of those guys. Anyways, I'm thinking after seeing your comment that this view of Serious Fiction is just a grown-up version of this kind of pretentiousness -- since favoring one rock band over another can't be taken seriously as a marker of intellectualism when you're in your 30s, but you might be able to get away with that with the books you read.

This kind of evolution (or lack thereof) has been on my mind lately because I've been wondering if one of the reasons that our media has failed us so badly at least since the Bush-Gore debates is because most journalists were the kids in journalism and yearbook classes in high school, who really wanted the cool kids to like them and figured they could at least orbit those circles by being the ones who wrote about them. The court scribes, if you will.

BTW my favorite formulation about using taste competitively comes from David McRaney's You Are Not So Smart, in which he observes that since they are comfortable enough not to have to compete for pure survival, like the poor, nor rich enough to be able to compete via conspicuous consumption, like the rich, the middle class compete via taste -- knowing the next hot band, the newest best book, etc.

God I have logorrhea, or is that graphorrhea, today.

Speaking of this interplay of music and words, have any here read The Leopard? Another book I have only gotten partway through, but Lampedusa's language is so beautiful that it is right on the edge between stunningly wonderful and cloying, at least for me. Too rich a dish, perhaps.

This topic also reminds me of one of the many wondrous things in Gene Wolfe's masterwork The Book of the New Sun, in which one of the characters speaks in blank verse, although I didn't recognize why their speech seemed special until I read Wolfe's meta-book The Castle of the Otter in which he mentioned that.

Touching on GftNC's feelings about A Gentleman in Moscow, when I was going through a dark spring of the soul some years back, one of the things that I think might actually have saved my life were the four books in The Book of the New Sun. They were so gorgeous and filled with so many things, that I felt somewhat similarly -- like the sun shone on me for a bit after months of dark skies -- and reminded me that there was still joy to be found in life. I've always Gene Wolfe for that, even though the books of the Long and Short Suns left me completely indifferent later.

But speaking of the Book of the New Sun, I agree with the critic, whoever he or she is, that said one of the interesting things about it is that is indeed something aiming to be high art in a completely genre form, albeit science fiction masquerading as fantasy. Which brings me to ask, GftNC, can you mention some of the SF or Fantasy you've particularly liked, in case it provokes other possible ideas for suggestions?

ha. I meant to write 'I've always loved Gene Wolfe for that', of course.

Okay, and finally -- nous's comment reminded me that I was going to replay Neverwinter Nights II a few years ago (the single-player version, which is relevant here), and suddenly realized that since what I really loved about the games was the character interactions and the idea of teamwork amongst characters with different skills, that I would be better off creating my own such things. This led me not back to paper-and-pencil campaigns (b/c not enough regular free time in my schedule rather than being antisocial) but to starting to write my own novel in a D&D-like world. I still write for a few minutes a day, and it's funny how that has become one of the few things I do every day, and how thoroughly it has satisfied the desire for interacting with that particular kind of fantasy world. (It's only up to about 500 pages now, though, so nowhere near long enough to be publishable as a fantasy!)

Although I will suspend it for Michael Connelly at least.

Amazon Prime ended its Bosch series after seven seasons. But Amazon is now releasing the first season of a follow-on series, Bosch: Legacy, that's free-to-view with ads on their Freevee channel. They've also released the Bosch series on Freevee. A binging opportunity for anyone who may want to watch one of the better police procedurals. Or watch it again.

I'll go a step farther than nous on the subject of the Colorado Republican party, and say that the crazies have won.

Ditto in California (albeit a couple of decades ago). Which is why they trail even "No Party Preference" in voter registrations. Helped along, admittedly, by our "top two" primary system -- registering as a member of a party makes no difference when it comes to who you can vote for in the primaries (except the Presidential primaries).

This may be why red state Republicans are scrambling so on voter restrictions: they can see the same doom heading their way, and hope to head it off. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the rest of the country, it seems likely to be a matter of delay rather than prevent. Unless they can capture the Federal government and shut down democracy altogether. Even that may not work forever -- see Heinlein's ...If This Goes On

JakeB: your graphorrhea is nothing but a pleasure. Funnily enough, I was quoting from The Leopard on one of these threads just a couple of days ago. And I know Pro Bono has displayed a very accurate knowledge of it in the past. The description of the casual, incidental exploration of the old, decaying and barely known rooms and/or wings of Donnafugata will stay with me forever, among many other things.

I read the Book of the New Sun quartet last year, and found it clever and interesting, but not deeply engaging. That may have been more to do with me, than with it. Recently I have very much enjoyed the Ancillary trilogy, and its spinoff Provenance, and Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace, as well as Becky Chambers's Wayfarers quartet. This last in particular had the rather unusual quality of leaving me feeling somewhat cheered up. Actually, so did the Ancillary trilogy. Just like, in Fantasy, The Goblin Emperor. So, after what I have already written about A Gentleman in Moscow, it appears that I heavily favour books that console, rather than e.g. provoke. Huh. Interesting - this is certainly a reaction to life events, and was not the case in my youth.

But none of these is anything other than critically praised and heavily prize-garlanded. I almost certainly can't steer you towards anything you don't already know about. However, my mind has gone a bit blank, if I think of anything else while this thread is active, I'll let you know.

Other than that, the only book I have read recently which gave me a lot of pleasure is an old novel by Laurie Colwin called Happy All the Time, and this was (I think) because I particularly loved one of the characters. Also, I found it very funny. But I would not assume that others would react the same - if anybody has read it, or goes on to read it, I would be interested to hear reviews.

"Department of Applied Miracles" has always been one of his better throwaway lines that implied so much. Long ago when I was in the business of making roadshow tech demos work, I had to fool lots of equipment into thinking it was in the proper environment, rather than a hotel ballroom. I labeled the Linux box that did most of the fooling "Property Dept of Applied Miracles."

Oh, I suppose I should mention that not long ago, when I was running out of the kinds of books in which I know I might lose myself (a terrible and not-to-be-endured situation), I trawled lists of past Hugo winners etc, and hit upon something called The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer which came out in 1996 by someone called Neal Stephenson. To habitual readers of Sci-Fi on ObWi, he or it is probably very old news, but I had never heard of him (he obviously belonged to the period when I was not reading Sci-Fi). I did actually find this a really interesting book. A lot of the futuristic science stuff of course was no longer surprising, or particularly contemporarily relevant, and it ran out of steam before the end, but the setting and ideas were clearly the product of a fertile and original mind.

(I have left this as written, but I see from Wikipedia what most of you will probably know: he is incredibly influential and well-known, and I am quaintly clueless. Oh well - you might as well know the worst!)


Picasso is a special case. He had the talent to paint like the old masters and gave proof of it. So, his later works are the result of his decision NOT to paint that way anymore. But part of his later art was (according to his own testimony) an extended practical joke on professional art critics, an experiment on what crap he could feed them without them catching on.

The Israeli satirist Ephraim Kishon (originally a sculptor by training until his native Hungary became..eh.. inhospitable to Jews) came up with a personal rule that only an artist that first shows that (s)he possesses the classical skills should receive the benefit of the doubt when going 'modern'. He chose Picasso as the prime example of an artist who fully qualified. But he had nothing but scorn for the many BS artists whose only real talent was self-promotion and the 'professional' critics that are their accomplices and/or useful idiots. He wrote two books on the topic but I do not know, whether they were ever translated into English. The German titles translate as 'Picasso was no charlatan' and 'Picasso's sweet revenge'.

Libertarians have a fondness for Neal Stephenson. Among other reasons, in his novel, Snow Crash, the federal government has been reduced to an armed compound in California.

Be careful what you read... :)

On Obsidian Wings.

Don't read this.: Slartibartfast - April 21, 2005

Over the last couple of weeks I read Jim Butcher's Dresden Files short stories. Some are throwaway "I was invited to write a story for an anthology" stories. Some are character backstories, which are almost always fun.

I was somewhat disappointed to discover recently that Butcher has said there are eight books to go in the series: five more of the case file sort and then an "apocalyptic trilogy" to cap things off. At his historic pace, that's about ten years. I don't know that I can stay interested in five books of tidying up loose ends, and then three as Harry becomes a demi-god and takes on the Old Ones. Which seems to be the only place the series can go now.

The thing about Stephenson that delights a lot of readers is that he takes on interesting technological ideas but writes like a Victorian novelist - kinda like if Dickens were a Beat.

I found The Diamond Age hard because his Victorian fetish seemed to really reify a lot of colonialist tropes in ways that I found problematic. For some reason I keep thinking about it alongside Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. Both have some racial/cultural characterization that I find uncomfortable, but I think Bacigalupi has done a deeper worldbuild and has a deeper sense of empathy for his characters where Stephenson operates on a more concept/caricature level with his writing and pulls it off mostly through wit and bravado. My discomfort with Bacigalupi arises mostly from his having some POV characters that I dislike and it all starts to feel a bit too grimdark for me. But I believe his worlds far more and more deeply than I do Stephenson's. I found Gibson's Bridge Trilogy believable in much the same way. Stephenson always feels a step too close to melodrama for my tastes, and The Diamond Age is hardest for me of the books he's written because it's the one that most nakedly embodies his more didactic tendencies.

Stephenson operates on a more concept/caricature level with his writing and pulls it off mostly through wit and bravado.

This strikes me as very true. Despite my appreciation of aspects of it, it did not really leave me wanting to read more of him, which is always a tell.

The link to an ObWi post about it by Slarti in 2005 was rather fascinating - pretty much none of the people commenting are still here.

Okay, I read Slarti's post and a few comments and now I am totally wigged out that someone mentions The Master and Margarita in one of those comments. It's all connectedn, man!

I recall enjoying The Diamond Age and freely admit I totes overlooked the colonialist elements that nous refers to. I do recall how much I liked the notion that given how complicated the world had become, with borders no longer serving as ways of unifying certain ideas or customs well enough to allow societies to cohere, that people were basically left to choose a kind of society that suited them well enough within it. I recall thinking that such an idea seemed absurd in the world we all actually live in. Oh, past JakeB. How adorably naive you were.

The mention of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle also provides a convenient link (for me, at least) to my pomposifying above about tastes for fiction vs. non-fiction. I love Stephenson's style and was quite taken with Eliza's character in particular, but I find his abuse of historical events intolerable such that I had to put Quicksilver down about the time that Jack ends up on the slave ship. Beyond Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O'Brian, my empathy for history-altering fiction authors ends.

@CharlesWT -- thanks for the info re the Bosch series; that is valuable information. I haven't seen any of them but keep thinking that's a series to keep in my back pocket for when I really need something to watch and binge on.

@GftNC-- my comment was actually asking what you had liked in hopes that I or others could think of other books you might enjoy! (Always looking for a chance to mansplain don't you know)

A book that reminds me a bit of Ann Leckie's but yet again I have not finished (but plan to! I do like it!) is Megan O'Keeffe's Velocity Weapon. It might be worth looking at if you haven't already. Do you know that there's another book in the Goblin Emperor world? I want to say it's Speaker for the Dead, but I since I want to avoid veering into the anti-homosexualist agenda I will go in the other room in check that that is right.

No, it is not. Thank God I checked. It's The Witness for the Dead. Unfortunately shorter than Goblin Emperor but still a very enjoyable read. Another book I see on my shelf, of a not entirely dissimilar tone, is Kage Baker's The Anvil of the World, which for no particular reason reminds me of Elizabeth Willey's The Well-Favoured Man, which has some delightfully eloquent albeit anthropophagic dragons in it, if you can find it. Also let me mention Terry Dowling's Rynosseros books, fantasy/science fiction in a world where Australian aboriginal psychic sorcerers interact with AI and all kinds of other science-fiction stuff in some wild ways. And speaking of Australians, I've really enjoyed both series by Sean McMullen, the Greatwinter saga (SF) and the Moonworlds saga (fantasy). He does something interestingly subversive between each book that is both infuriating yet well worth tolerating, at least for this reader. FWIW!

Also @GftNC-- I think most people have an experience more like yours with those Wolfe books than I did. It's interesting to me in part because I recognize they're not books where you feel truly fond of the main character the way you might with say Frodo or Sam in the Lord of the Rings. What I responded to I think in part was the sense of taking in a great work, perhaps as one might with Bach, where emotion is bound into a particular kind of structure and is expressed by elements of the structure itself. I'm not sure I'll ever reread them, though.

JakeB: I do not consider it mansplaining when you are truly trying to help! Thank you, your suggestions of other things to try are duly noted. I did read The Witness for the Dead when it came out, I try to keep track of authors I have particularly enjoyed, but might well miss some. I did not particularly like Leckie's foray into Fantasy with The Raven Tower, I very much hope she goes back into the universe of the Imperial Radch - I think the invention of the Presger is masterly. But yes, I do seem to need characters I can find sympathetic, preferably working together in teams of however many. Interestingly, although I read The Expanse to the end, I think it lost some of that as it went on, but perhaps that was inevitable given the story arc.

I have just finished a cycle fairly heavily recommended by the NYT by Jenn Lyons, called A Chorus of Dragons. I found it (as I find many Fantasy books/series) disappointingly thin, or perhaps a better word would be shallow. Which is to say, the effect on the reader is superficial. As so often, there is plenty of complication, but either the characters are not good enough to truly engage one, or the underlying world is insufficiently interesting. I am not good enough at lit crit to describe it better, but although it was sufficiently professionally done to keep me reading, it never truly absorbed me.

The (endless) search goes on!

All of those look very promising, JakeB. I see Kage Baker has also written a long series about something called the Company (oh how I miss Banks and his Culture), have you read those, and if so what is your (or anybody else's) opinion?

Don't know if anyone is following the temporary BJ website, or reading enough comments to have come across the link to John Cole going on the warpath:



Or, for that matter, whether anyone pays attention to the BJ front pager DougJ's parody Twitter account called "New York Times PitchBot" -- but he has me rolling on the floor laughing (sorry, too lazy for formatting):

New York Times Pitchbot
The odds of being burned alive in a spontaneous-combusting Tesla are so much less than dying in gas combustion car crash that no one should bother Elon about it. Nate and David discuss all this, plus the best Hatian beef patties in Flatbush, on the next 538 podcast.

New York Times Pitchbot
The Hunt | When they read that there are more AirBnBs for rent than actual apartments for rent in Manhttan, Chad and Tyler wondered: Could they evict all the rent-stabilized renters in the tenement Chad’s dad left them and get ten times the income? Here’s what they found out

Religious shelter for pedophiles and abusers of vulnerable children denies communion to those who would decrease its supply of victims.

I loved this headline about Pelosi being denied communion, Janie. Also John Cole's righteous rant against 365datacenters!

“My name is Rebecca and I have a bug collection. I read about yours and it is bigger than mine is. Can I see it? Also, I have a question. Do walking sticks have knees? Sincerely, Rebecca,” Varney recalled writing.

Although the envelope was only addressed to “University of California-Berkeley,” it made its way to the entomology department. A professor replied and invited Varney and her mom to visit the Essig Museum of Entomology. He let her hold a hissing cockroach and a live scorpion, and explained how walking sticks have knees, Varney recalled. He told her that college had “whole classes” where she could learn about bugs, and that she could get something called a PhD and spend her life researching them.

“And then he shook my hand and said ‘It’s been a pleasure to meet another scientist,' ” Varney said.

And so then four-year-old Rebecca did go on to get a PhD, and spend her life researching them. And now she has tracked down that Professor with the help of Twitter. I love stories like this.


I would just remark that in English English, a walking stick is a straight piece of wood with a handle, used by an old person (most recently the Queen) to help them walk. I am assuming (but not looking it up) that American English is different.

@JakeB -- Look for Orwell's essay exploring why Tolstoy put down Shakespeare, particularly King Lear.

GftNC, I believe the British English form is "stick insect"

GftNC, try this. American English is not different.

Then look here.

If y'all enjoyed the intrigue-and-manners aspects of The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Justice, you might enjoy my wife's Rory Thorne books (though it gets compared most to the Lunar Chronicles).

Her current series is more of a science/fantasy/noir set further in the future of the same timeline, with more of a RPG feel, like a mashup of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. First book is Nightwatch on the Hinterlands. Second book due out in November.

@JanieM -- I consider NYT Pitchbot, along with such luminaries as Terrible Maps, to be one of the true glories of the Twitterverse.

@nous -- I will give your wife's books a try. What could go wrong?

@GftNC -- actually my aside about mansplaining was a small, weak joke. I believe I emit those at about 1/15 Becquerel. Sorry!

Oddly enough, since I have already had enough synchronicity in this thread, this very day I was visiting my mother in the facility in which she lives, and entertained her a bit by telling her about how there are actually a non-insignificant number of entomologists who suffer from arachnophobia. As someone who deals professionally only with much smaller bugs like TB and A. Baumanii, somehow it seems deeply silly (?) to me that someone could love, say, beetles, or pillbugs, or cockroaches for god's sake, yet get the cold shivers when they see a spider. The extra two legs? The sense of menacing webitude? The sometime hairiness? What does it?

More generally, I was ranting a bit to my girlfriend yesterday about the endlessly irritating characteristic of book reviewers regarding the bright line of SF vs. not SF, since no Serious Author would ever write science fiction (the kinds of books those pathetic nerds read), and thus Cormac McCarthy, Emily St. John Mandel, and Margaret Atwood are actually physiologically incapable of writing sci-fi. (I actually take this to be in the same family as that of journalists failing to truly call the right wing or certain Democrats to account because of their desire to hang with the cool kids, but anyways)

All that said, I was wondering what those here who have read some of these books think of them as Serious fiction? As SF? As a genre-liminal thing?

“I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled "science fiction" ... and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.” —Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

@JakeB --

1. I'll have to look for Terrible Maps. I don't have a Twitter account, I see most of the Twitter I'm exposed to on BJ. But I love that kind of humor -- Anne Laurie picks up some gems every day.

2. Don't get me started on spiders. But I'm not an entomologist and I don't care much for other bugs either, especially the huge fuzzy centipedes we used to get when i lived in Milwaukee.

3. As to your 11:46: I don't read much SF or fantasy. Nor have I read much of the three authors you listed -- Mandel never, McCarthy only one book and long ago (don't recall which one, but I didn't enjoy it), Atwood a few of her earlier ones. Found her intriguing but not enough to reread or keep following her.

That said, I face the genre question in relation to David Mitchell, most of whose books I love and have read and reread quite a few times. (All but Number9Dream, which I can't seem to get into at all.)

I never know how to describe him to people unfamiliar with his work, and it's certainly not everyone's cup of tea, so I don't tend to push it. Seems like someone might have said something like the following above, but: since Mitchell's books are all interconnected to a greater or lesser degree (repeating characters, etc.), and it feels like he's going somewhere with the stories, I'm chagrined that he's 19 years younger than I am, so I figure I'm going to find out how it all turns out.

... I'm NOT going to find out how it all turns out.


@JanieM -- I believe the Terrible Map best-loved by viewers is a 1-color map entitled "Electricity Consumption in Europe in 1507". I think it's fair to say that is characteristic of the style of the poster.

Laughing out loud and I haven't even seen it!

Personally, I'm all for spiders. Simply because they keep the population of other bugs under control.

No desire to cuddle them. But if I come across one, I'll carefully relocate it to a safer place.

Another great Terrible Map:
Or, if you prefer, a nice map.

Thanks for the suggestion.

McCarthy and Ishiguro play with science fictional topoi, but I wouldn't claim any of their works as science fiction. I don't think they have enough of a commitment to estrangement or to worldbuilding. They are more fabulists.

Atwood, I think, mostly aims to reject science fiction because she does not wish to engage with the science fiction community. Most of the SF authors and scholars I know admire her work but roll their eyes at her rejection of the genre label, and her preferred label "speculative fiction" is generally either taken as a sort of synonym for science fiction (as in Judith Merrell's definition: "Speculative fiction: stories whose objective is to explore, to discover, to learn, by means of projection, extrapolation, analogue, hypothesis-and-paper-experimentation, something about the nature of the universe, of man, or 'reality'... I use the term 'speculative fiction' here specifically to describe the mode which makes use of the traditional 'scientific method' (observation, hypothesis, experiment) to examine some postulated approximation of reality, by introducing a given set of changes—imaginary or inventive—into the common background of 'known facts', creating an environment in which the responses and perceptions of the characters will reveal something about the inventions, the characters, or both.") or they treat science fiction as a subgenre of speculative fiction (along with fantasy, horror, and alternative history). By the latter definition, however, Atwood's Oryx books most definitely would fall within the science fiction category of speculative fiction. So as far as I can tell, she's just saying she feels no kinship with science fiction writers. Certainly her own personal labels for the genre/mode of SF are at odds with how critics discuss the limits science fiction.

Other liminal figures in the genre/mode: Vonnegut and Pynchon.

I mostly think they didn't want to be placed on a continuum with writers on the more pulpy end of things.

JakeB -- found it. Population per capita cracked me up. Thanks!

GftNC, I believe the British English form is "stick insect"

I had rather assumed this. My crack re English English v American English was just a (very weak - you're not the only one JakeB) joke - although I don't believe I have ever heard them referred to as "walking sticks" here.

Am in a bit of a rush, but on the "serious literature" v Sci-Fi question, apart from Atwood the most dramatic example I remember is Doris Lessing and her Canopus in Argos series, which I read long ago and don't retain much memory of (like so much of what I read).

nous, I may well try your wife's books, but with trepidation!

A YouTube channel with humorous takes on the differences, including language, between Britain and America.

Lost in the Pond

The Joyce discussion was funny, there was mild sense of "épater la bourgeoisie" about it. My take: if you don't like "Ulysses" (never read it myself) read the "Dubliners".

I just finished "Conversations with Friends" by Sally Rooney - wow, she's a very smart writer, incredibly alert and I like her style, can be quite funny too. Also interesting, the class angle(s).

As young people will face increasing economic difficulty, I expect that will be reflected more and more in literature again.


nous, I may well try your wife's books, but with trepidation!

So far as I know, only I and my wife’s agent are contractually obligated to like her books. Just don’t leave any bad Yelp reviews…

Just don’t leave any bad Yelp reviews…

Nor Amazon ones either!

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