I spent most of Sunday gnashing my teeth. the reasons why are pointless to explain (same o'crud). then I did the stupid thing of reading myself a bedtime story so depressing that it carried my mood overnight and now I am officially in the glums.

The book, Dennis Brandt's Pathway to Hell isn't spectacularly written ~ it's rather short (barely over 200 pages), and isn't exhaustive about much ~ but that made it perfect for me: no long explanations of campaigns I already know too well, no endless nattering about hardtack. instead it's a true chronicle largely in Angelo Crapsey's own words from his letters and diary, documenting in the most painful way imaginable, his slow decline into self-destructive dementia.

Crapsey's story is unique as far as books of the war go, though there's unfortunately nothing unique about what happened to him. It tells the story that Paulson's Soldier's Heart tries to tell, but doesn't.

When I think back on the origins of Reconstruction, I think i wrote it in part because this book hadn't been written. Crapsey's story is more heartbreaking than any novel anyone could ever write: a disaster that could have been avoided a hundred different ways. The circumstances of his bizarre upbringing at the hand of a religious whack-job father, his fervor for the Union, his abolitionist sentiments that sour after emancipation drags the war into a seemingly endless slaughter, the shame of his surrender and imprisonment ~ all of it horrible, horrible ~ and then to come home to the father-figure and friend he looked up to the most only to find himself rebuffed, feared, and ostracized. And finally the everyday event that led to Crapsey's end is so banal, almost ~ so utterly human in its simple cruelty. It isn't any wonder he blew his brains out. Twenty two years old.

Of course I imagined a different end once upon a time for Reconstruction which is in many ways this same story: an endless cycle of addictions, an abusive marriage, desolation, death. Even I was never so brave to actually make any of that stick, though. I had to find some hope in there somewhere. So I did.

But there was none for a lot of young boys like Crapsey. Even Howard Bahr didn't shrink from drawing us a picture in The Judas Field (which is maybe why I didn't like that book as much as I wanted to ~ it hit a nerve with me).

So yeah. I don't know why I am writing this except to wonder at the meaning of it all. I really seem to be out of touch with the world in so many ways. I don't see that improving, either, and it concerns me from time to time.

from LookingLand.com

Nucleus LiveJournal Plugin © Evgeny Lykhin

lookingland: (fellas)
( Feb. 11th, 2009 07:34 am)

Tomorrow being the 200th anniversary of the man in the funny hat's birthday, I sat myself down and read something that wasn't about him getting shot (yes, it's possible to find such a book in my house, believe it or not!). This is a little book written by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews after the turn of the century called The Perfect Tribute. I believe it was originally published in 1906, but my own personal edition, a well-tanned ugly duckling, is from 1908 (and has an owner's stamp of "J. Lewis Riggles" which amuses me).

The story is not badly written, but is bad in general. It's a fictional account of Lincoln's day at Gettysburg and how insecure he feels about his pithy little speech and how no one applauds and therefore it was a complete failure. Scholars have interesting things to say about why no one applauded, but I love to read the reactions from people who actually heard the speech (which is why I really love Gettysburg Remembers President Lincoln). But this isn't a review of that book, it's a review of Andrews' fictional account, so I will leave it at her interpretation for now.

The story goes from there back to Washington where Lincoln runs headlong into a young boy in a dither over his dying brother: a Confederate prisoner who needs a will so that he can leave his property to his sweetheart and she will therefore be forced to accept it (otherwise she's too prideful). Lincoln, being a lawyer, volunteers his services and they go to the prison where he draws up the business for the bravely suffering young man. In the course of their conversation, the soldier brings up the Gettysburg speech, which is in all the papers, and he talks about how astonishing it is, blah blah blah. And of course he says that not clapping was the perfect tribute because the words were so perfect and so solemn. He talks about how he'd like to shake the President's hand, he's so dern grateful. Then the fella kicks the bucket holding Lincoln's hand, never knowing it's him.

The story works, even if it is melodrama. Its apotheosic (is that a word? I doubt it) bent is only mildly disturbing and the depiction of the two southern boys as righteous, indignant, but well-meaning is a rather dull stereotype. But in 1906 I can certainly see the appeal and I enjoyed the story despite my own prejudices.

So happy birthday, Mr. Lincoln. Enjoy your celebration year!

from LookingLand.com

Nucleus LiveJournal Plugin © Evgeny Lykhin

Can't get my car to start this morning. Yesterday it was -17 and it cranked over okay, but today at -21, it just ain't going to happen. I'm waiting to see if, when the temp gets up to at least 0 (we're supposed to have a high of 8 today!), I can get the poor thing on the road. If not, I get to work on Saturday. Which completely screws up my anticipated 3-day weekend, but oh well, what can you do?

So while I'm trapped here and AAA is so clogged with calls that I can't even get through and I'm stuck in my house (which is about 54 degrees right now ~ 4 below what's comfortable for me, so I'm going to have to turn the heat on, God forbid), I thought maybe I would do some blogging since I've neglected it for a while (being too busy and overwhelmed with other nonsense as of late).

The last book I read in 2008 was Howard Bahr's The Black Flower. I am a huge fan of Bahr, though have read his books sparingly and over long periods (I want to make them last and I'm now down to only one, so he better write another). The Black Flower was his first novel and I remember distinctly passing it over when it first came out because I was turned off by the paperback artwork (which I did not reproduce here, though it's the edition I own). I made the lousy assumption (judged it, I confess) that the tacky exterior was indicative of a tacky interior (and my apologies to Mr. Bahr because I know the photo used on the paperback cover was his own).

Anyway, after reading The Judas Field (the cover of which appealed to me), I was so impressed with the writing, I collected all of Bahr's other books ~ and it was a treat to end the year on such a positive note. The Black Flower reads like a great first novel. There are parts of it that seem a bit disconnected from the whole as though they were written independently before the whole thing was put together ~ so it is a bit disjointed in places, but Bahr is still amazing with a turn of phrase and his occasionally long-winded metaphors are never overwrought, always worth labor of reading. His descriptions of battle and its aftermath as not so evocative of Crane, though people naturally make the comparison. But where Crane's impressions come from inside Fleming's naive observations, Bahr's impressions seem to come from inside the exhausted veteran perspective of men who've seen it all and worse and just want a cup of coffee: good, bad or indifferent. To me, it's a whole different world. Fleming doesn't want to die. Bahr's Bushrod Carter just wants to get it over with if it's got to happen. Bahr's female characters feel a little flatter to me, but I like them and can appreciate the challenge. Writing women in this era is always a battle between prissy wallflower and full-blown virago, it seems.

Bahr's story here is pretty simple: following the messy Battle of Franklin, the army lands on the doorstep of an estate that gets commandeered as a hospital (if you follow that link you can see a picture of the actual plantation house where the story takes place. Actually, there's a really cool one here). What happens next is predictable, but so well-drawn you forgive it for being cliché: yes, the whole wounded soldier/nurse thing. But here the nurse doesn't want to fall in love in spite of her emotions, and honestly, I wasn't sure how it was going to end, which made restraining myself from reading forward too quickly a real trial.

I had a lot of problems with how The Judas Field ended. It was conclusive and completely realistic, but it made me angry (sort of in that good way that a book ought to provoke ~ and then again sort of in a way that annoyed me because I couldn't see why it had to end as it did). The Black Flower is similarly conflicting, but I felt like it was clearly "right". It felt right. Hard to talk about without giving anything away here, but I don't want to spoil it.

So that's my long spiel for the morning. If you love amazingly sensory, great writing, read Bahr's work.

from LookingLand.com

Nucleus LiveJournal Plugin © Evgeny Lykhin

lookingland: (ghost rider)
( Jul. 9th, 2008 07:23 am)
i've read a lot of books this summer (some of which have been surprisingly fun like last week's Brief Honors: a Romance of the Great Dividable, which was a morality tale about the evil of big corporations ~ written in 1877!). as i have been reading this summer, i have thought it would be fun to share some of these books in more depth (i wish i had journaled more about Montmorency because those books are so much fun and the plots are so twisty). so i thought i would like to blog a book in august ~ just for fun, give a blow-by-blow of my impressions for each chapter. i can't decide which book to choose and since i am no longer a paying lj peep, i cannot make the pretty poll thing, but feel free to express yourself in the comments if you have an opinion.

these are the candidates on the docket:

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Dalquist ~ at 725 pages this is quite the tome, but less daunting than Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (which i am still mulling through). also, i love the chapter format (had to send away to Ireland for it special). It's a fantasy adventure, but what if it sucks and then i will spend all my energy quibbling? that isn't a good thing. or i might challenge myself to not quibble, which would be fabulous.

Loveless by Azarrello ~ okay, it's a graphic novel, but it has twenty four parts, so it would be substantial enough to report on, i think. grim western, mature themes, probably lots to enjoy and/or criticize, and it's not as huge an investment as a "real" novel.

Oh Please Read Something New out of Your Vast S. Weir Mitchell Collection! ~ because i still have a handful of books i have been saving and you know how i love to go on about this guy's work, complete with side stories on obscure post-Civil War minutiae. of the books of his that i haven't read i would probably choose John Sherwood, When All the Woods are Green, or In War Time. I'm leaning toward In War Time because it opens with an army hospital post-Gettysburg and i am a ghoul for that sort of thing.

or, if none of these ideas seem fun to you, feel free to suggest something completely different ~ on the understanding that i rarely actually read book recommendations because my tastes are entirely too flaky. so if you want to increase the chances that i might actually look at something you suggest, just make sure the plot doesn't rely on telephones, cars, or understanding the least bit about the 21st century ~ because all of that might be too much of a challenge to my enfeebled antiquarian brain.
my idea is to read this book in August and just do a periodic update on its progress in an impressionistic sort of way (not necessarily a blow by blow, though spoilers would definitely be included, so consider that).

by the way i do have three other books on my reading list this summer, which i will probably be taking with me on vacation at the end of the month (so they aren't good blogging prospects, i don't think, it being hard to blog on the beach): The Birth House by ami mcKay, The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, and The Year of Jublio by howard bahr.

opinions, oh flist of mine?

: D
~ and you can't really help it. it has that sort of car-wreck fascination from which you just can't tear your eyes away. this has been my fodder for the last few nights. in the realms of the truly abhorrent.

for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:

no. 8. ~ Christmas with Robert E. Lee by Helen Topping Miller. i can't begin to imagine what compelled this author to pen such a wretched text. i was hoping for some treacle, but instead got a full-on helping of pathetic privation and disgrace (and endless pages of expository dialogue during which General Lee's children go on endlessly about stuff they all already know). man, this was a doozy: bad writing, a depressing, bad story, and some bizarre characterizationss. worse still, i have the sinking suspicion that everything in this slim volume was documented, right down to the Arlington carpets curled under against the wall because they were too big to fit at the shack at Washington College. i honestly couldn't tell if this was written to illicit sympathy for the Lees or in the spirit of some wicked schadenfreude. someone just spork my eyes out, please.

no. 9 ~ Madame Surratt: a drama in five acts by James Webb Rogers. oh. my. word. i'm not even sure i can begin to decribe this meta-theatrical pantheon of bad taste. the plot is inscrutable, the parade of random historical personages (including ~ oh wow ~ George Washington!) is bizarre (francis scott key and powhaten and patrick henry also make appearances ~ there is also an allegorical fantasy sequence, not quite but almost a ballet, in which actors representing the dissenting states comes back to the Union). honestly, i have no idea what to make of this mangled apologetic of southern honor that simultaneously damns the assassination and begs sympathy for its perpetrators. the dialogue is truly, pricelessly, dreadful: warbling Shakespearean monologues full of bombastic overbloated metaphors. this is my favorite exchange:

BOOTH: Richard the Third is on the boards to-night, and you shall learn the lesson while I play.

POWEL: Impossible, for I return to-night.

BOOTH: Whither?

POWEL: To my command.

BOOTH: Then wherefore did you come?
it is, in fact, so absolutely dreadful, i feel i must make use of it. immediately! i'm soooo working this in to my book somehow. if you would like to see for yourself this horror in all of its glory, feel free to read it online! (i love openlibrary.org).
and because we need an accompanying picture, here's something pretty and also slightly educational:

this carte-de-visite played a big role in the conspiracy trial.
it was found in the Surratt house with John Wilkes Booth's photograph
placed behind it. the prosecution kept trotting it out as
if it were some profound piece of evidence. it becomes an interesting
fixation during the course of the testimony.

anyway: it's Thursday and you know what that means? Update Day for Reconstruction. hopefully it's palate cleanser for inflicting bad books on you!

: D
my internet on my home computer is not running very well ~ i have no idea why, but it's just cranking ridiculously slow and keeps timing out, etc. could be weather related (that's my guess), but anyway, that's why i have been slow and silent on this end, perhaps. i am having a sorta crummy week anyway, so it's probably just as well.

i ain't gonna kvetch about the worm feasting on the damask cheek and all that. i've been a little storm-tossed the last couple of days, but am finding my sea-legs gradually. i was sorta browsing back through my journal from the past year and realized that it was almost exactly a year ago that i polled all you lovely peeps in ljLand and you voted pretty whole-heartedly for "a lotta little books" from me.

and have i written them???

: o p

well, never fear intrepid readers of this oft-mundane, certainly inconsistent, and most definitely unfocused blog in the sphere. i said i would have a book by valentine's day, said it would be An Abiding Something, and while i lied about which book, i am going to really push myself to finish one nevertheless. i don't have a title for it yet, which sorta stinks, but i'm working on it!

meanwhile, for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge (on which i am sorely behind):

no. 4 ~ The Coal Black Horse by robert olmstead. this book isn't really about the horse at all, first of all. secondly, it's painfully clear that the writer wrote it with a thesaurus in hand, trying entirely too dang hard to make it all "literary" or something. this is the worst book i have read in quite some time. basic plot: 14 year-old Robey is charged by his mother to go find his father at Gettysburg. Robey (quite randomly) is loaned a horse that gets stolen and is (just as randomly) recovered and then he finds his father, mortally wounded, buries him pointlessly, and saves a girl from her lecherous rapist guardian. she's knocked up and has twins, that she subsequently throws in the river, but Robey saves them. the end. i gave this book far more of a chance than it deserved. the story is lame and the writing is wretched. yuck on all counts.

no. 5 ~ Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester. having watched all the movies, i thought it would be fun to read the books. i'm amazed at how well the films are adapted from Hornblower's early exploits. there are changes and accommodations here and there, but much of the film dialogue is taken straight from the book. forester's style is easy on the eyes and his stories are easy on the head. i think, at long last, i've found some pulpish books that i can actually read (huge coup for me!). this late-written (but early chronologically) omnibus contains most of the stories that make up the first four films. fun stuff!

it's especially interesting to me
that so many later "captain" models admit their
inspiration and influence coming from Hornblower,
from P. O'Brien to Gene Roddenberry!
last night we took a break from work to go downtown to a Borders that is closing and is having a 40% off sale. unfortunately there were no books i desperately wanted (it was getting picked clean since the sale started saturday). but i did get a copy of Far Away, So Close, which i had been wanting, so that's cool. anyone who doesn't know Wim Wenders's work needs to go out and get some. immediately.

one of my favorite scenes in Wings of Desire
(which is the "prequel" to
Far Away, So Close) is this one
in which the angel Cassiel listens to the interior
monologues of various people in an immense library.
absolutely gorgeous.

meanwhile, i am loosely doing the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge again this year, i guess. i think i mentioned somwhere earlier that i wanted to focus on fiction, and especially fiction in the era/genre i work in, so i am off to a good start in that regard. catching up on the year's books:

no. 1 ~ Wicked Water by McKinley Kantor. this is a pretty straight-up genre western which made it somewhat disappointing. well-written and page-turner paced, it nevertheless had that sort of fluffy quality that meant i never really cared about any of the characters. i also think, after following the hired killer and the bimbo chanteuse through the first two thirds of the book only to switch over in the end to some new sheriff's pov (Roscoe, no less!), was jarring and somewhat of a cheat. the revelation of the killer's ocd about running water was also pretty lame. a couple of great scenes and otherwise really great writing made this worth while (at least it was mercifully short).

no. 2 ~ Among the Camps by Thomas Nelson Page. here's another one of those writers someone never told me about. i picked up his stuff in the garbage basement at half price books and while it's definitely victorian and rather saccharine, it's right up my alley. this book in particular was a series of short stories about towns under occupation during the war. at least one of them (a Christmas story, no less, called "A Captured Santa Claus") is noteworthy (and might make a great short film). another one about an annoyingly cute girl and her kitten turned out to be really wonderful (shades of Mikhail Sholokhov's "The Colt", but with a happy ending). i'm looking forward to trying on one of Page's novels next go-round.

no. 3 ~ The Judas Field by Howard Bahr. it took me what seems forever to finish this book. not because it was bad, but because it was so good i didn't want it to end and i feared it would end badly. i'm still iffy about the conclusion because i think the way the events unfolded could have (maybe should have) been done differently for it to have been really satisfying. i won't say more because i don't want to spoil it and i Strongly recommend this book to anyone with even a middling interest in this genre (Civil War/Reconstruction). i would also not hesitate to recommend this to people who don't know diddly about it.

Bahr's mostly seamless storytelling is amazing in its "wholeness" without bogging down in the exasperating detail that usually drives me around the bend in books about this era. it's also mostly restrained about the violence (oh, there's violence a-plenty, but he doesn't get so gratuitous that you feel like the book is just an endless excuse to talk about people's heads exploding). finally, one scene in which Cass Wakefield is visited by a priest whose church he has insulted (a scene of note in its own right) is worth the whole read. it's rare i find something that i feel is "startling and beautiful" in a book, and this qualifies: it's subtle and human and poignant (and i don't use that word ever lightly).

while the epilogue does feel a bit long-winded after all that needs to be said has been said, i can't fault Bahr's indulgence too much ~ the rest of the story is pretty spectacular. two thumbs up and despite my grousing about the ending, i wouldn't hesitate to put this on my list of top Civil War fiction written in our own time. easily.
lots of work to do this week. the gears are still spinning in my head around projects. had a long weekend of frustrations, but i am slowly getting the horse back into the paddock for another attempt.
: D
i am a wee behind on reviews for the 2008 [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge. this year i am focusing on reading the gamut of Civil War fiction (not that i didn't read a lot of it last year, but i guess i'm making a real effort to tackle some of the books i just seem to perennially put off).

like those written by Howard Bahr. i couldn't get past page one of his first two books, but am having a very different experience so far with The Judas Field. maybe it's because the stumbling block of a name like Gawain isn't tripping me up in this one (though i confess "Cass" isn't much of an improvement). if i have bothersome names for main characters in my books, i pray to God people will tell me.

anyway, The Judas Field is so far surprisingly fresh. the story is pretty simple: dying woman enlists the help of ruined ex-confederate to dig up her father and brother where they were buried during the war and bring them home so she won't be lonely in the graveyard. then they set off on a trek to try and recover the bodies, slipping into the obligatory flashback to tell the story of their demise (with some apparent promises that their death might not have been all that it was made out to be twenty years before). anyway, i've been reading slow, but really digging Bahr's writing. it's very detailed and nuanced, his characters are not cloying, and the battlefield stuff is gruesome without being utterly gratuitous. much to admire there. i'm hoping it holds together to the end, but so far i feel pretty good about it.

i guess the point of me writing this is that i generally complain a lot about Civil War fiction and lately i am looking to suss out the good in it.

i'm feeling sort of wogglish and the weekend will do me good. might try to see There Will Be Blood tomorrow. possibly. you'll hear about it if i do.
for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 57 ~ A Soldier's Heart by gary paulsen. coupled with an article from the Journal of Urology (don't ask, i work in a library, i just come across things) about Joshua Chamberlain's pelvic wound, it was a thoroughly demoralizing evening of reading last night. paulsen's book is, hands down, the most depressing Civil War story i have ever read. and get this: near as i can tell, it's geared for pre-teens. the story isn't much and hashes a number of tired stand-bys: kid runs off to enlist, lies about his age to get in, suffers the trials and boredom of warfare, sees things that would raise hair on a billiard ball (one particular description of what happens to horses under cannon fire will stick with me forever now, thank you, gary). the kid is wounded horribly and makes it home, but the final image of the book (gadzooks), is him sitting on the bank, thinking about "pretty things" and checking the condition of a well-oiled .36 he's brought with him to his solitary picnic.
and the final kicker, of course, is that it's based on a real person. i should have known it was going to be pretty harsh. it opens up with a primer on post-traumatic stress-disorder and how there was no treatment for it back in those days. the "soldier's heart" refers to one variation on what ptsd was called back then. the most common clinical term was neurasthenia, which referred to a mysterious debilitating depressive malady with no particular discernible physical origins from which most of the post-war servicemen suffered. which brings us back to Joshua Chamberlain, who also suffered from a "soldier's heart" and was even put out of battle service for a spell to recover after a nervous breakdown following the battle of Gettysburg. he rebounded, but apparently suffered from lingering agony (and a number of surgeries) after being wounded, as well as having intensely dark periods for the rest of his life (like so many men did).

geh. this was a real horrorshow of a little book and a good reminder of just how screwed up people emerged from this war. there was some good stuff the book, extra points for never mentioning hardtack, but overall uneven in the writing (perhaps because it's a tad dumbed down for 10 year-olds). i admit, though, i was irritated by an endnote which says that the carnage at Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle in American history, killing more men in two hours than all the previous wars put together. i believe that distinction belongs to the battle at Antietam (which i previously mentioned in my post of september 17th).

in other news, i am drawing, drawing, drawing, trying to take some risks with my composition choices, though so far they are mostly safe. anyway, it's going well.

: D
okay, so i finally finished Westways (at 500+ pages, it's pretty long for me ~ my attention span seems to cap off at about 350). so here are my notes for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 52 ~ Westways by S. Weir Mitchell. a reviewer had said that the first half of the book was really strong and then it sort of went sideways and lost itself. i tend to agree. soon as the war finally arrives, rather than getting more dramatic, the novel devolves into a long quagmire of letter-writing and minor subplots (some of which are pretty amusing, but nothing substantial). Mitchell suffers us through the whole four years of war and finally brings the two Penhallow men home, both wounded, with the squire shot in the head and not quite himself anymore. the denouement then consists of them trying to "fix" the squire while John wins back Leila's love. villain Peter Lamb is satisfactorily dispatched, but Mitchell leaves his mother sort of nebulously hanging and the whole bizarre thing about reverend Mark Rivers being in love with Leila is inexplicably dealt with by simply sending him away, which is a shame because he's one of the more complex and interesting characters ~ if not a bit Morse-like. i wasn't altogether disappointed with the ending, but it did drag a bit for what was to be the inevitable conclusion: the restoration of the happy home, etc.
couple of really interesting things in the text: a fictional depiction of Czar NastyOwlFace which feels, to me, dead-on. dunno if Mitchell ever met Stanton, but he certainly agrees with all of his contemporaries as to the man's character. a brief scene with Lincoln is also interestingly in keeping with the characterization of the president. other famous people who traipse through: General Hancock and Dr. Askew. i was hoping for a glimpse of some more famous pennsylvanians (like Mr. Hanty?), but oh well.

the other interesting thing is a rather overt subplot that involves the rape of a woman, which i thought was shocking for the era in which this was printed. rather than having a tearful woman come forward claiming she had been "insulted" by so-and-so, Mitchell actually depicts the drunkard Lamb emerging from her house and her chasing after, accusing in language, Mitchell says, "to leave no mistake as to what had been done." Lamb is dealt with by the Union army by being tied to a tree with a note pinned to his breast stating his crime and inviting the Rebels to do with him as they see fit (love this scene!). unfortunately, Lamb escapes punishment because for some inscrutable reason, Penhallow takes pity on him (which is totally infuriating). but ultimately Lamb gets his.

all in all a fine read with some great small story arcs and some wonderfully drawn characters (Leila and John are particularly well-written in a very otherwise victorian novel where usually the couple in love is usually the most cardboard).

in film: yes, i watched Night at the Museum (call it palate cleanser for that wretched spartan movie). and yes, i thought it was funny (even if stupid). i can't hlep but be a fan of owen wilson, and the concept just appeals to me too much to dislike. among my favorite moments is the chaotic end battle where night watchman larry (ben stiller) is forced to try to reign in some control over the entire museum, which has gone berserk. the harangue could have been a lot funnier, but this part cracked me up well enough:

larry: civil war dudes: you guys are brothers for god sakes!
you've got to stop fighting. North wins, slavery is bad.
sorry. don't want to burst your bubble. but South:
you guys get the allman brothers and...Nascar.
so just chill!

i would just like to add that anyone who thinks i'm too harsh in my film reviews, this is a perfect example of something completely stupid to which i would joyfully give a thumbs up.

okay must go make pizza for breakfast, write a paper, and then work on my book ~ happy sunday all!

: D
was roused out of bed by a terrific storm at about 3:30 in the morning. stumbled around, closed windows, listened to the rain. now i am yawning like the grand canyon (so much for getting extra sleep on the weekend).

for my birthday i was gonna order a whole mess of s. weir mitchell's books, but after carefully pruning through them and making selections and going through every used bookstore online, i piled about $60 worth into my alibris shopping cart and then just didn't feel like ordering them.

yesterday i read (and for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 51 ~ New Samaria & The Summer of St. Martin by s. weir mitchell. this is two stories bound together. the first is really fun: a rich man has an accident in a far away town, is robbed of his identity, and forced to beg on the street with a man he had previously treated rather harsh. includes a hilarious confrontation with a cop, a circus clown, and the man all arguing over a gold watch. and a dog named Tramp (must'n't forget the dog!).

the second story is exceptionally (and i really hate to use the word) sweet. a general in the twilight of his years sits in a fog of nostalgia and is visited by the young daughter of a friend who thinks all her suitors are beneath her. they play a game in which they pretend he's 25 and courting her and she refuses him despite his most gallant attempts to win her affection. we later learn that he lost the love of his life and never married, but we don't what precisely happened. it's all very innocent and charming and romantic ~ if a little sad. then they go in supper together and there's no promise that their game meant anything more than that ~ but i'd like to think maybe it does (hey, Poppet married a woman 20 years his junior late in life, so it wasn't unheard of then for young girls to fall in love with charming generals without the match turning out to be a foolish disaster).

illustration from "The Summer of St. Martin"

i'm still reading Westways (it's a long book!). but as i was getting ready for bed, i was trying to think about what it was about mitchell's writing that compells me (subject matter, certainly). but mitchell is a weak writer in many ways ~ his characters tend to talk about nothing a lot and repeat themselves. he has a habit of writing whole scenes that explain what just happened in the scene prior. this is the first full-length novel of his that i have read and he didn't have this problem in his shorter works, so i'm assuming at the moment he was just better in the shorter form (short story, novella).

but his ramblings don't really bother me. he knows how to weave a decently intricate plot (Westways has several arcs going all at once), and his characters are both steady and alive. halfway through the book they've gone through a lot of changes, but you still recognize them all. mitchell was definitely a student of psychology and seemed to understand people well. where most victorian novels fail (creating wooden people with stilted language and cliched gestures), mitchell succeeds ~ even if he could use a winch to tighten everything up (already i think Westways could probably lose about 100 pages and not really miss it.)

anyway, so he's good at characters and he's especially good at making storytelling easy (which, for me is a big deal because i can write and craft words, but i am not a very good storyteller). he seems so absolutely comfortable and confident that he knows where it's all going and when he needs something to happen, it does. it makes me reevalaute my own transitions in particular ~ i always feel like there's "stuff in between" that's missing. i really need to work on that.
i would just like to say, for the record, that until i came across his name in Rehabilitating Bodies: Health, History, and the American Civil War by lisa a. long at the beginning of this year, i had never ever ever before heard of S. Weir Mitchell, nor read any of his works, nor known anything about them.

so i can't account for the fact that his characters are disturbingly similar to my own sometimes (and have the same set of names even! Hunter, Preston, good gravy, common enough names, but honestly!), his plots are even more so (drug addicts, quadruple amputees, married people of opposing north/south politics), and his themes generally likewise (racism, the psychological effects of war, maiming and the idea of "wholeness").

so yeah, he's kinda pissing me off lately.

just thought i would say that ~ for the record.

picture of the day: "hope deferred" ~

in Victorian art, the carelessly tossed gloves
symbolize absent-mindedness or possibly compromised virtue
wow ~ i'm still crabasaurus rex from yesterday (and the fact that today's class was spectacularly snoozey and long). and i've had entirely too much sugar. ugh.

so it doesn't make any sense, but to take a break from the research, i decide to read fiction on sorta the same generel subject. this one for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge and as a cruise down roads heretofore unexplored:
no. 34 ~ Mr. Lincoln's Wars by adam braver. i bought this for a buck in the trash basement at half price books. i remember when it was on the new books shelf and having not heard one peep about it, assumed it bombed and was crud. well, the book calls itself "a novel in thirteen stories", but it's really just thirteen stories, which was a wee bit disappointing. also, braver's choice of subject matter is sometimes kinda eh and his contemporary writer's voice occasionally impedes (for me) on the setting. so i didn't love the content, but i think he's a really strong writer. even the stories i didn't like were very well crafted and the stories that i did like really stand out for me (two of the thirteen in particular made the whole book worthwhile). i could say more, but i don't have the energy to rage against the final story's final image (something i really didn't need in my head, ever ~ and don't go running out to read it because you'll regret it). hahahahahaha ~ so overall: nice writing, but sadly uneven.
the above book is dark and funny. i want to be dark and funny. maybe i should try writing dark and funny and see what comes of it.

picture of the day is the cover of the book of the day ~ it's such a lovely design i couldn't resist:

for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 32 ~ Dark Union by leonard f. guttridge, ray a. neff, and ray d. neff. oh boy. hahahahahahahahahaha ~ this is the kind of book that just makes you fall down laughing. every bit as bad as steers's review says it is, with appalling scholarship and ludicrous confabulation throughout. wow. bad.

no. 33 ~ A Court for Owls by richard adicks. another haha ~ this one is mostly funny for how lame it is (and the author's "creative license" excuses at the end just make it even worse). it was interesting to see a characterization (albeit brief) of Mr. Poppet by someone else's hand, but frankly i think this writer hasn't a clue who he's dealing with. i guess i should be glad this is such a lead zeppelin since i'm covering some of the same territory. this book is a good example of exactly what i don't want to do with my own writing: make a lot of crap up and not even use the "cool" stuff available to augment the story-telling! (in adicks defense, some of the current scholarship wasn't available then, but even so, it's no excuse for him making an otherwise riveting tale into a snoozefest.
and in extremely irritated news: innerliberry loans delivers and disappoints all on the same day.

got my history of the 4th pennsylvania (doesn't get more obscure than that). score!

but also got a notice that i have to buy Mr. Hanty's letterbooks from the commonwealth of pennsylvania ~ which i already knew and could have done four weeks ago! arghhhh ~ let this be a lesson for all of you who want something for nothing.

so now i have to order the dang thing (it'll cost me $50 ~ yikes) and then i have to wait another 4-6 weeks before i will even get it. then i have to find the time and fundage to make a hard copy of the blasted thing (it's on microfilm). all this and i have no idea what it actually contains or if it will be of any use whatsoever.

so i am not happy. already wasted a lot of time, but i'm convinced that i must have this because without it i'd be overlooking the key piece of a rather complicated puzzle. and without having seen the stupid thing and being able to say i read it, i could never in good conscience write this book.

so foo.

and piffle.

crab crab crab

i am exhausted.

: o p
for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 12 ~ The Autobiography of a Quack (and "The Case of George Dedlow") by silas weir mitchell. mitchell's stuff is so interesting. his preoccupation with the underside of the medical profession reveals the ways in which the culture of his generation had their own peculiar neuroses. not much to the story here. a young dissipated man takes up doctoring but doesn't actually want to do the work part of it, so falls into all sort of creepy schemes and winds up a homeopathic spiritualist who just dispenses pills and communes with the dead. of course he gets what's coming to him. my favorite phrase in the whole book is "the melancholy spectacle of my failure" (gee, i wonder why that is?). i already discussed George Dedlow before. while describing the story to someone this weekend, they pointed my nose toward Johnny Got His Gun. Honestly, sometimes i'm sure i have been living under a rock. now i have to read that before i can proceed.

anyway, having read his short stories and two novellas, i guess it's time to tackle a novel by mitchell and see if he can sustain over an even longer work.

no. 13 ~ Without Blood by alessandro baricco. a wee book by the author of Silk, which made my top ten of all time last year. i'm less enamored of this one, though its a powerful story, well told. unfortunately i sorta feel like it's a redux of The Night Porter, but watered down as a result of its non-specificity (in terms of time and place). i think baricco tries to give it a new twist by putting the character of Nina in control of the situation (control being a relative term here, since he defines revenge, by nature, as being a destructive force). i got impatient with the story, though it ended well (if not enigmatically). but The Night Porter is a much more powerful take on the victim/abuser complex.
wee warning to my flist peeps who read my film reviews and sometimes add things from my list to their queues: The Night Porter is an extremely difficult film (i couldn't even find a picture from it that i thought would be appropriate to post here). it's incredibly disturbing and i don't recommend it for the squeamish or the sensitive. it's been controversial forever, but i tend to think it's an important film (though have no desire to ever watch it again).

finished my contract, went to have pie with a friend.

i did a ton of reading this weekend. otherwise i didn't get any writing done, which is a shame. but i did turn over a dozen possible entry points in my head. i'm having a hard time placing the first scene. clearly i need to just start writing and see where it goes from there. i'm having a struggle getting my head out of 1862 and into 1874/75. it's just such a different world.

didn't read lj most of the weekend, alas. got a lot of catching up to do!

happy monday all!

: D
for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 10 ~ Sharpshooter by david madden. yes, mr. madden, you did your research. yes, mr. madden, it's all very interesting. here again another example of all enthusiasm and the maladroit writing skills of a novice. the story is interesting enough (if not a wee bit convoluted): young willis joins the confeds, becomes a sharpshooter, may or may not have shot general sanders, solves the mystery of sullivan and gardner schlepping bodies around at gettysburg, and then wanders into some tangential remorse about shooting a man at andersonville. the story has the makings of something worthwhile, but the telling is painfully dry like a textbook of civil war minutiae and the central mystery or dramatic question is ultimately not all that engaging. oh well.
if you don't know anything about the "body schlepping" at gettysburg, you might find this analysis by james groves interesting (it's long-winded, but worth a gander if you can get through it). i think some of groves's rationale is spurious, but nevertheless interesting ~ i always find this level of obsession quite fascinating.

"Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg"
from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, 1865
Often called "the most famous photograph made during the war"
and the source of endless controversy thereafter.
for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 6 ~ Photographic Atlas of Civil War Injuries: Photographs of Surgical Cases and Specimens, Otis Historical Archives by julian e. kuz. the first of kuz's books (this being the big mamalinchi of medical photography). i confess i caved and ordered a copy of this one for myself. couldn't see my way around having it and the library wants their copy back. it cost me, but it's worth it. when you have a definiitive text, you have a definitive text. not much more you can say about it.

no. 7 ~ The Hawkline Monster: a Gothic Western by richard brautigan. i enjoyed this until the departure from reality was so great that it rendered the outcome utterly pointless. call me an old-fashioned girl, but i like my surrealism to have a throughline. this was entertaining and mercifully a quick read. if it had been any longer, i would not have had the patience for it. i guess overall that's a wee disappointing for a book i've been looking to read for over a year. oh well.

i love the idea of the three-story
yellow house in the middle of the yellow field
surrounded by a ring of snow.
no. 8 ~ Little Stories by silas weir mitchell. i have no idea what i find so fascinating about this guy's writing. there's nothing special about it. it leans a little dark and a little "fabulous". maybe just knowing the undercurrents makes it more fraught or something. this little book was interesting enough that i'll try one of his larger works. see what he can do.

no 9 ~ Rehabilitating Bodies: Health, History, and the American Civil War by lisa a. long. it's taken me a long time to work my way through this one (and i confess i skimmed a chapter on gender and a chapter on race). although this book isn't what i thought it would be about, it's proved an invaluable roadsign for other, more relevent sources. i was looking for something more literally along the lines of the title, but this is an academic work on the body of early post-war literature and the mythologizing (and romanticizing) of the war, etc. it does talk a great deal about health, but the rehabilitation here is almost purely literary. very dense writing, but yielded a lot of interesting things (including dr. mitchell, above).

i'm glad i stuck with it even though it wasn't what i was looking for and will prolly talk about it more later.
i'll prolly finish Madden's Sharpshooter tonight. and here i thought i wouldn't step up to the challenge. i'm doing okay so far! whooo!

: D

and it's all sorts of snowing outside right now!
for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 44: Our Simple Gifts by owen parry ~ this was a fun Christmas present to myself: a book of short stories about Christmas set during the Civil War. owen parry is prolly best known for his Abel Jones mysteries (also set during the Civil War), but i've never read them because i don't like mysteries and there are aspects of the war that don't interest me much; pinkerton and the secret service being among them. anyway, parry's style doesn't endear me to him anyway, so it's not likely i will pick up his stuff again. it's almost as if he tries too hard to affect the victorian construction of the era and it just comes off stilted for the most part. he's also prone to repetitions and long-windedness (the first story, 72 pages long, could have easily been told in half as many). nothing new in these stories: small acts of kindess, chance encounters, and ghosts (the usual fare). i enjoyed "Tannenbaum" perhaps the most (a nice reversal in which a much-picked on Dutchman prepares a surprise Christmas feast for his company and we discover at the end that he's actually Jewish).
this was a fun quick read. i'm a sucker for Christmas stories. and i still intend to write a handful of them eventually if i ever get them out of my head. i meant to finish last year's, but never even got around to opening it.

i've got three more books almost finished and a handful of standbys. still don't think i will make it to 50, but am hoping to get a lot of reading done this weekend.

: D
finished the contract.
almost finished the term paper (just need to write a conclusion this morning).
finished writing my Christmas cards.
finished paying my bills (geh).
finished reading March

for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 43: March by geraldine brooks ~ oh what a sore disappointment 2/3rds into the book when brooks decided to switch to Marmee's pov. oh calamity! and for no reason at all, really. we didn't learn anything new. in fact, it was mostly retread as the Marmster learns this and that of her husband's doings. and then we leap inexplicably back into Mr. March's pov (so inexplicably i had to read the start of the chapter three times before i was sure that was what we had done). brooks should have never done it. it was a cheap easy-drama trick just to put grace clement and marms together. boooooo. not to mention marms's is just a big whiner anyway (and i don't like the stuff that so distinctly references the original book ~ and this is all of it). if you skip those chapters, the book is excellent. it's never as excellent as its first chapter or the confrontation scene between Ethan and March, but it's very well written anyway and i'm glad i read it.

(checks off one more Civil War pulitzer).

in other news, the book had a slight setback this weekend, jumping up a dollar! now it's settled back down to $40.26 (and once again still dropping).

i saw Apocalypto this weekend (my respite from the toils of work was to watch a man fleeing for his life from bloosthirsty slave hunters ~ that's always a cheering thought). my feelings about the film are mostly all positive. it is bloody, i guess (i wasn't all that shocked, but then the south american natives be my peeps, so i guess i come from bloody stock and stomach it well). there was only one really silly gratuitous moment of spurting blood that i laughed outloud at. very few people in the audience, but they were a vocal crowd and cheered quite a bit toward the end. i permitted myself a little celebratory "wooo!" as well.

the ending of the film is really interesting, especially if you bother to think about the man who made it. but i really liked the choice and the subtle dig at western colonization.

go for the costumes and make up if nothing else. the outfitting of these characters is astonishing. it's a sumptuous film on a lot of levels, and if you have no previous exposure to Mayan culture, you're definitely in for some surprises.

and i just love raoul trujillo who plays the bad guy in this. i've seen an interview with him when he did The New World and he's such a contrast to the scowling severe characters he tends to play: a dancer with a very boyish cheery american voice.

more about other movies, the state of LookingLand, and where i am at in the grander scheme of things later.

happy monday all!

: D
lookingland: (fellas)
( Dec. 10th, 2006 10:13 am)
Orthopaedic Injuries of the Civil War: $43.85 and still dropping.

adr script breakdowns: 2.5 down, 1.5 to go.

homework: oh yeah, i have a final paper to write (guess i better get on that).

i watched the pilot of The Young Riders last night. it's hard to conceive of a time when this sort of show didn't interest me. i caught some late episodes (must have been toward the end of its run because everyone's hair was crazy grown-out by then). even then i thought the acting was terrible (greg rainwater wins all sorts of award for this one), and the execution choppy. i laughed out loud at several points last night, so i guess the show was always bad. too bad. the concept was not too ill-conceived, but limited, and it's hard to imagine anyone treating 18-19 year olds like children in that era. they're boys by today's standards, sure, but not in 1860-whatever fantasy year they set this in (i never could reconcile the whole cody-hickock thing in this. too silly).

anyway, it's brain-flushing fun, i suppose. and in spite of myself, i admit to liking the kid-lou storyline. and the kid's horse. she was one of the better characters. the writing, however, is just amazingly bad. i prolly watched a handful of episodes back in its day (i remember one with timothy carhart in particular ~ and lou getting crucified up on a fencepost or something ~ oh, and a camel...yeah).

ride, boldly ride!

i'm 150 pages into March and feel much better about its storyline. brooks has made some attempts to even out the playing field (i see now what she's doing: tearing down Mr. March's assumptions, biases, etc.). i think the scene in which he confronts clubfooted Mr. Canning is an absolutely brilliant reversal. i think she's also managed to subtly show us that Mr. March is altruistic, but blind to his own faults (of which he has as many as anyone else).

i'm not much enamored of the Marmee/homefront stuff. i kinda wished brooks had just written a story about an abolitionist chaplain in the war instead of building on alcott's stuff. the book is good enough to stand on its own and the statement it makes by juxtaposing the women's experience at home and the "truth" could have been made in a short story and been dispensed with otherwise. in fact, i think it's brooks's inventions that are what make this book good ~ i find myself wanting to skim the other.

meanwhile, i haven't given up on Quicksilver. i'm just taking a breather.

~ * ~

i am writing.

at least in my head.

agencies, projects, and procrastination )

i'm looking forward to having a day in which i can just get myself organized. next sunday will be my first day totally free and clear of any and all work obligations. i'm planning to spend it reading, writing, and organizing (and maybe going to the movies!). i'm really looking forward to it!

hope everyone is having a great sunday!

: D