I am amazed at how much time I used to put into blogging. Wish I could say that it explains why I never got anything done, but then what would my current excuse be? At any rate, I am tentatively returning to the blogosphere. Mostly at my Reconstruction website, where I will be cross-nattering endlessly about the Civil War and other 19th Century-related topics, but possibly also here where I can natter about books and movies perhaps.

Last year I endeavored to read Zola's Rougon-Macquar
t series. I got through the first 7 books and half of the 8th, but then had to take a break (L'Assommoir was just too much ~ sooo good, but man, what a depressing book). Late in the year, for reasons I can't explain, I decided I would like to read Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. So I picked up Master and Commander over the Thanksgiving holiday and now I am just shy of halfway through book number 4.   A quick catch-up on my opinion of the series [from my Goodreads account]:

Master and Commander:
Other reviewers have likened O'Brian to Jane Austen ~ but with battleships. I get the comparison.

I can appreciate the wealth of historical detail and the slavish attention to all things nautical, but this first novel is sadly lacking in things like, well, plot, for one. And yes, Stephen and Jack are charming and there are some genuinely wonderful moments, but I felt exasperated waiting for something to happen. How can a book so chock-full of battles be so wanderingly aimless?

I didn't hate this, but neither was I madly in love with it. This was just so-so; impeded by strange choices in the pacing, truly bizarre dialogue at times (and I don't even mean the period vernacular ~ I mean it felt like the writer was paying no attention as to whether a reader could make context out of random snippets), and again, an odd plotlessness in which the setup never pays off and the final battle is just a 50-page denouement.

Post Captain
this second book is a stronger effort in my estimation. there appears to be a more cohesive plot (or set of plots, really). so generally i enjoyed it much more than Master and Commander, though it still had its detractions and plenty of aimless boat boat boat blah blah blah kind of stuff that i occasionally skimmed.

Stephen was kind of weird in this one (and getting on my nerves as a result). he comes off very Mary Sue in this novel with O'Brian attempting to temper his awesomeness by c...more
this second book is a stronger effort in my estimation. there appears to be a more cohesive plot (or set of plots, really). Generally I enjoyed it much more than Master and Commander, though it still had its detractors and plenty of aimless boat boat boat blah blah blah kind of stuff that I occasionally skimmed.

Stephen was kind of weird in this one (and getting on my nerves as a result). He comes off very Mary Sue ~ with O'Brian attempting to temper his awesomeness by constantly referring to him as "reptilian" ~ but i don't buy it. I actually enjoyed my time with Jack much more this go round, though the two of them together continue to be pretty awesome. There were numerous interactions that were comic gold.

And Pullings is just adorable. He desperately needs more page time.

HMS Surprise:
best so far of the series. Stephen is much less weird and bitchy in this one (perhaps torture humbles him a bit), and it feels so much less all over the place than the previous two; there's an actual plot with some over-arching complications, and an ending satisfying enough that were this the only book O'Brian penned, it would have been just fine. I am almost afraid to be disappointed with the series moving forward, but move forward I shall.

A handful of bits out of this were borrowed to plot the Weir film adaptation. I am grateful that the film didn't bother trying to include either Diana or Stephen's intelligence agent storylines ~ the former I hope to be done with and the latter really feels more like an intrusive (and convenient) plot device. Also, lovesick stephen was mercifully restrained (I thought I would hate it, but it was just right), while lovesick Jack was hilariously adorable.

As was Mr. Pullings, who once again did not receive sufficient page time.

~ * ~

p.s. I realize there is a whole subculture out there of Aubrey/Maturin slash fandom (and had the misfortune of encountering some of it in my trawl for an image for this post). I seriously have to wonder whether people who go there with this series have ever bothered to actually read the bloody thing ~ beh.

i realize you are supposed to take this one day at a time and expound on your responses, but i haven't got the patience or discipline for that, so here it goes:

Day 01 – The best book you’ve read in the last year: right now it's a battle between Emile Zola's The Sin of Father Mouret and Don Robertson's By Antietam Creek. It's been a good year, so this is a tough call. I love both books for different reasons.

Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times: Coming through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje jumps to mind first. this book changed the way i approach writing and i often return to it just to dip my toes in that inspiration.

Day 03 – Your favourite series: not much of a series readers. the Montmorency books by Eleanor Updale are perhaps my favorite? 

Day 04 – Your favourite book of your favourite seriesMontmorency on the Rocks (which is Book 2). not sure how a book about a drug-addict thief and dead babies made it to through the editors of children's books, but i am sure glad it did.

Day 05 – A book that makes you happyThe Romance of Rosy Ridge by MacKinley Kantor. i think i smiled through the whole thing.

Day 06 – A book that makes you sad: The Judas Field by Howard Bahr. i applaud his tough choices, but this one made me very sad with regard to what happens to the characters.

Day 07 – Most underrated book: probably everything i have already named would qualify. i would add S. Weir Mitchell's Far in the Forest, which, though a bit overwritten, is just a great story.

Day 08 – Most overrated book: anything by J.K. Rowling.

Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up lovingComing through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje. it was given to me by a friend and i thought: gack, what do i care about some jazz trumpeter from the 20s? despite being totally out of my element, the book blew me away. also, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. refused to read it in high school. couldn't stop reading it in college.

Day 10 – Your favourite classic book: depending on my mood it's either Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, or Ulysses by James Joyce.

Day 11 – A book you hatedFor Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. no commentary. i could run a long list here, but it's kind of a drag of a question. would rather focus on the good stuff!

Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore: this is a more interesting question. i loved loved loved The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub when i first read it. in the last decade i tried going back to it and couldn't get past chapter one. weird.

Day 13 – Your favourite writer: can't really say i have one. maybe Alan Moore, but that's a strange choice. i do love, without exception, everything by Stephen Crane, so maybe he qualifies.

Day 14 – Your favourite book of your favourite writer: from Alan Moore it's From Hell. From Stephen Crane it's The Red Badge of Courage.

Day 15 – Favourite male character: Javert and/or Valjean from Les Miserables are the first, most obvious choices. i would add Roland Deschain from Stephen King's Dark Tower series of the more recent things that i have read. he is absolutely priceless.

Day 16 – Favourite female character: probably Eponine from Les Miserables. women characters are tough for me. maybe Jo March from Alcott's Little Women? how sad is that? i can't even think of any.

Day 17 – Favourite quote from your favourite book: geh? too brain dead to even produce such a thing.

Day 18 – A book that disappointed you: most anything by Neal Gaimen has disappointed me, some of Sandman being the exception. The Silent by Jack Dann was hugely disappointing (and has the infamy of being the reason i almost never buy new books at full price). also, Geraldine Brook's March gave me cause to quibble. i will also throw in Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides, which is an amazing book save for the final page. i gave it as a gift once and cut out the offending matter, but once read, you can't unread things, alas.

Day 19 – Favourite book turned into a movie: incidentally turned into a movie or does the movie have to be good too? oddly, the one that leaps to mind is Bambi by Felix Salten. also Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. just because i think these are good adaptations.

Day 20 – Favourite romance book: not a genre i read, but The Romance of Rosy Ridge by MacKinley Kantor would count, i suppose. also, i would include Silk by Alessandro Barrico.

Day 21 – Favourite book from your childhoodWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. also Bambi by Felix Salten.

Day 22 – Favourite book you own: i own most of my favorite books, so assuming the question is asking about the artifact rather than the text itself, i would have to choose non-fiction items: Lincoln and Episodes of War by William E. Doster, and John Wilkes Booth Himself by Richard Gutman. also i would throw in Photographic Atlas of Civil War Injuries by Bradley Bengston & Julian Kutz. there are others. i am choosing these because they are rare (and pricey) birds.

Day 23 – A book you’ve wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t: i "save" books on purpose when i know an author only has limited work available. included on my save self are books by S. Weir Mitchell, Don Robertson, and Howard Bahr. one day it will rain and i will have wondrous things to read!

Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read: i wish more people would read the authors i have mentioned throughout this list. but if i had to pick one, i wish more people would read Don Robertson. he is a lost gem (and he doesn't just write about the civil war). of the living authors, i wish more people would read Eleanor Updale. she is totally underrated.

Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most: most everyone in Les Miserables (except Marius and Cosette because they are silly ~ sorta like this question). 

Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something: Saint Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. also his letters.

Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending: not sure it was a surprise, really, but wow it did me in anyway: Prayer for the Dying by Stuart O'Nan. also Jerzy Kozinski's The Painted Bird. hooo boy.

Day 28 – Favourite titleComing through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje. i loved this title so much i named my second novel From Slaughter's Mountain.

Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked: maybe a lot of what i read would fall under this. maybe most obviously some of the classics like Moby Dick by Herman Melville? 

Day 30 – Your favourite book of all time: i used to be able to say Les Miserables without reservation, but it really depends on my mood. right now i keep Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen by my bedside along with Silk by Alessandro Barrico, Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King, and Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. does that make them my favorite? i actually haven't read The Red Badge of Courage in over a year, but i think it might be close to no. 1. that's pretty good for a book i hated quite passionately in high school.

: D

in reading news: last night i finished reading s. weir mitchell's When All the Woods Are Green (such a nice title). i couldn't find any substantial synopsis of the book online. only a single sentence: a family in the Canadian woods. then i read the book and realized that's about all the synopsis it deserves.

this book was an appalling 400+ pages. and i finished it. it was an endless prattle from start to finish between some hoighty campers who considered themselves terribly droll. about 150 pages in there was the hint that the story might be about a murder. then, about 300 pages in there was a bear attack and that almost got interesting. fifty pages later a child's gravestone was stolen and wow what a great plot that might have made. but the characters continued to talk about fly fishing and ancient greek poets and i don't even know what ~ witty nonsense, only it wasn't terribly witty, mostly just nonsense. and then in the last twenty pages of the book, the murderer made her move, shot a guy and only wounded him in the shoulder, and the last ten pages were endless denouement about the guy and the girl finally getting together to live happily ever after.

ye gads what a turd of a book. i've never thought mitchell was a "great" writer, but up until now i had at least enjoyed his stories. this was a waste of a good premise (the stolen grave, rolling rich campers for their money, hunting bears), as well as some perfectly good characters (nerdy ned lyndsey, who got almost no book time after the first few chapters and oliver ellet who was adorable but completely pointless), and had the most annoying heroine in the history of literature (whiny, stuck-up rose lyndsey). blarghhhh.

in writing news: i have spent most of the day working on various projects and have settled in to the writing this evening, though with some unease. it's very hard to cope with a protagonist who is a racist. i never used to let this bother me because i used to avoid the presence of scenarios in which the fact would come up. but clearly i can't write an epic about the Civil War and Reconstruction without addressing the issue. so i've been doing a lot of reading and trying to get some perspective on the exact kind of racist i'm writing about. and it's hard because characters in books are allowed to have flaws, but i have such a low tolerance for racists myself it's hard to permit such a flaw (and especially seeing the degree to which it manifests). and besides, character flaws are usually pc. archie bunker would never fly today. today, it's okay if your character is misanthropic ~ as long as they treat everyone equally bad. but you can't have a character who hates jews or black people or homosexuals. it's too easy to judge.

and today i was idly shopping around online for some perspectives and wound up watching the first part of Goodbye Uncle Tom, which is a heinous film. what is it about me that reads a review in which a film is declared shocking and exploitative and i immediately have to see it ~ i did the same thing with Soldier Blue and i was pretty grossed out about it. i am dead certain i will have nightmares after watching only 40 minutes of Goodbye Uncle Tom, which is ludicrous and offensive in turns. i don't know quite what to make of it, but much of the truth of what it portrays is revolting enough to make me queasy.

America doesn't like picking at its scabs. boy does it have some doozies.

painting of a Richmond slave auction
by english artist Lefevre James Cranstone (1862).
Richmond sold an average of 10,000 slaves a year
in the 30 years preceding the Civil War

you see pictures like this and everything looks so cheery and clean and colorful! then you take a real hard look at what this business was really about (i mean really look at it), and the suffering and indignity of it all can really overwhelm you. it's hard then, as a writer, trying to find ways of making a character blind enough to the humanity of slaves as some vile, egregious justification for their own lack of empathy. merg.

okay, not so cheery a thought on which to end this post. i hope everyone is having a less gruesome weekend!

: D
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
i am forcing myself to do an update today. i've been slogging through a lot of stuff this week and have not been very diligent about this ol' lj blog. sorry flist!

webcomicsnation has stopped throwing shoes, but my confidence in it is shaky at best. i've decided to just take a break from Reconstruction as i need to finish all the other summer projects i got swirling around right now. i've made a good dent in things this week (and took thursday off, which helped a lot). i just keep staring straight ahead for the horizon. in three weeks this craziness will be over and i can get the keel even again.

in writing: i took a break from comic lettering to rewrite the first chapter of Figfield in one of those strange bursts of creative inspiration that strikes like lightning (if i may be so cliché). the results surprise me. they seem dense, but the voice is mostly right and i think i can work with it. i am sending it to some eyeballs (poke poke?) in the hopes of getting some feedback.

in reading: i also read Montmorency and the Assassins yesterday in a rare fit of page-turning. i've never been able to put a book from this series down once i have gotten started on it. can't believe i waited so long to read it. now i'm sad that i only have one book left and i desperately want to devour it this week since the last book ended on quite the cliffhanger.

if you're not familiar with the Montmorency series, i cannot recommend it high enough. Updale's world is full of charming characters, gritty details, murder, espionage, goofy romance, and vast silliness of the victorian sort that is simply irresistible. even though these books are tempered for young adults, they are wonderfully dark and don't shirk from realism: crime, drugs, etc. i loved book three, but so far book two Montmorency on the Rocks is still my favorite. i've never had an edge-of-my-seat read like that: it was just relentlessly good! but i do think you have to start from the beginning to really appreciate them. so do!

on top of which, Eleanor Updale is just a fabulously generous person and deserves all the credit and support she can get.

i love the smell of update day in the morning!

today's "page" is maybe sorta goofy-looking. no, i didn't get lazy and skip drawing a whole bunch of the conversation. i'm trying to find a reasonable way to mix and match the narrative with the sequentials. it's not entirely working yet, but i'll figger it out. meanwhile, Collie sure can go on! i never realized how chatty this scene was. on the page it seems entirely reasonable for a conversation, but having to draw it feels interminable. definitely something to consider moving forward because i do love dialogue and my characters do seem to run off at the mouth a lot ~ to the detriment of forward action.

: o p

in reading: i got ron hansen's new book (eagerly awaited), Exiles, through innerliberry loan and started reading it last night. it's about gerard manley hopkins (s.j.) and his writing of the "Wreck of the Deutschland". i'm only on chapter two, but i have to say, having absolutely adored hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, i'm a little baffled and disappointed by this one so far. it feels so stiff and lumbering by comparison to his earlier work. like he's really laboring with the subject matter. some passages feel over-explained and others have no context whatsoever. and it's clear that he's pulled a lot of hopkins's dialogue from his writing (because no one actually talks this way).

i get the sense that hansen wasn't all that comfortable with the subject matter or felt he might do a disservice to hopkins (the book is framed with disclaimers, etc.). i'm hoping he eases up on the clutch as he gets more comfortable with the material. right now i'm mostly reading it because it's an interesting study of a 19th century seminary (which is no reason to read something!).

p.s. i really need new avatars. this having only 6 to choose from is for the tweets.
i have fallen tragically behind on my flist. i'll try to catch up, promise. yesterday i read my list without logging in so i missed all the flocked posts. der....

i've been reading a lot of books on what i would categorize as "American terrorism" (19th century-style, of course). finished three books this weekend (two of them rather short). dunno if any of these would be of interest to anyone on my flist, especially since i don't necessarily recommend two of them. first up:

Victims: a true story of the Civil War by Phillip Shaw Paludan ~ The problem with this book isn't that for its 130 pages it's quite the dense, lumbering behemoth (reads more like a academic dissertation than anything else). The problem is that it sets out with a thesis that it cannot seem to prove.

The narrative starts off really strong with a very good overview of the community of Shelton Laurel, but by the time it arrives at the killings, the ambiguities of guerrilla warfare have been presented in such a way as to render me undecided on what actually went down. People were killed. Probably without cause. But while I couldn't possibly condone summary executions on any level, one has to wonder at the fear and frustration (and utter incompetence) of those who ordered and carried out the killings. We see it time and time again: some small thing that sets off a chain of events more extreme than warranted. The maze of offenses and retaliations in this arena in particular are incredibly hard to untangle.

So there's a lot of new information here and that's fabulous, but the way in which it's presented left me feeling like the author meant to take a strong stance against the killings, but actually failed to make the point that this was a bona fide war crime. While I accept that the burden of guilt is on the prosecution's head to prove (and they don't prove anything beyond reasonable doubt), it's hard to judge anything in a case in which a degree of reason is entirely lacking on both sides.
A good springboard for further investigation, but between the heavy-handed and too-often discursive writing style, and the failure to effectively make its case, I was disappointed.

for a super-short overview of the "battle/massacre", you can read a quick summary here that gives a somewhat fair context for understanding the events that lead to the heinous deed. they call it a "battle", but in fairness, i think the bushwhacking feud was really too dirty on both sides to be called a battle proper. "massacre" more accurately covers it, regardless of the circumstances by which it came about.

i ain't saying it didn't happen.
i just don't think paludan proves that it
was done without provocation.
this seriously weakens his case that these
men and boys were "victims" as opposed to
obstructive patriots and/or partisans.

on a lighter note, in completely unrelated news, if you haven't read this article on a recently authenticated picture of W. A. Mozart, you oughta, because it's pretty cool. i especially love the closing:

One of Mozart's friends described him as a man "in whose personal intercourse there was absolutely no other sign of unusual power of intellect and almost no trace of intellectual culture, nor of any scholarly or other higher interests." Yet that same man was to music what Shakespeare was to theater.

How can we turn this mysterious and unsettling fact to use? What lesson can it teach us? One thing comes to mind at once: humility. You don't need a portrait of the composer of "The Marriage of Figaro" to know that next to him, nobody looks smart.
click here to check it out!.
since i am no longer doing the 50bookchallenge, i'm no longer numbering, but last night i acquired and read (cover to cover ~ and to the exclusion of all else that might have been useful) Mary Abbie Walker Porter's The Surgeon in Charge.

The good news is, this is a weird little aggregation of George Loring Porter's leftover diary, letters and notes regarding the conspiracy trial (and he seemed to have saved most everything that got put into his hands).

a bonanza, right?

well no. unfortunately, Porter was a by-the-book fella who took very seriously his oath to convey no information about the proceeding whatsoever ~ not even privately to himself. so the diary ends with him saying he's been called to duty with General Hartranft, and then is dead silent until the 4th of July when he recalls the grand procession in Washington ~ complete with a hilarious reference to Sherman and Stanton: "they had a spat". i doubt anyone on my flist would know this, but Sherman was so furious at Stanton (and visa versa) that they very publicly snubbed one another on the grandstand. even today there is debate about who did the snubbing first, Stanton later claiming it was he who snubbed Sherman, not the other way around. unfortunately Porter doesn't shed light on this very pressing historical issue.

silly generals and politicians. does it amuse me that my two least favorite people in 1865 were such brats? oh yes, yes it does.

anyway ~ the book answers one really important question regarding the whereabouts of the surgeon's reports. there simply were none. Porter reported verbally to Hartranft and, if there was some pressing issue that couldn't be resolved between them medically, Hartranft reported to Hancock, who reported to Stanton, who sat on his throne and made all the decisions. so we'll never know the particulars of who was ailing and what with. and if Porter wrote no reports, then it is highly doubtful that Dr. Gray (the insanity expert who reported directly to Stanton) ever wrote any either.

click for more woobling and wibbling about all sorts of truck, including a fun picture )

Porter's "ticket" to the execution, signed by General Hancock
(i just love that guy's writing!). even with my very rudimentary
paleography skills, i am pretty confident the handwriting
on the back is General Hartranft's.
~ 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
lookingland: (coach)
( Mar. 9th, 2008 11:50 am)
i've doing a lot of reading, but not reporting on it as of recent. i'm currently sort of muddling through thomas nelson page's Red Rock, which is interesting, but a long narrative with too many characters (i'm having a hard time keeping track of them all). i've also been reading fits and futz from various nonfiction books, but nothing substantial worth reporting (mostly retread). nevertheless, i have these two books to offer for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:

no. 6 ~ First Blood by david morrell. i've always been curious about what the original source material for the film was like. now i need be curious no more. i have to say i was mostly disappointed. somehow the movie improved on an interesting story that ends sorta eh. the book is oddly superficial. the motivations are scant, the violence is over the top. in the book, john rambo kills everybody (including teasle). in the film he kills nobody (though his actions do lead to a single death). in the book, trautman knows who he is, but they never worked together. in the film, they're like father and son. in the book, rambo gets it in the end (by trautman's hand, no less!). in the movie, rambo is redeemed. the book is a really bleak, nihilist take on the pointlessness of human existance and the desperate failure of people to connect.

i like the movie. now i have always liked the movie. i respect it now even more.

no. 7. ~ The Douglas Diary by Henry Kyd Douglas. this is Douglas's school diary (from Franklin and Marshall College, 1856-1858). i came across it by accident while looking for his war memoir and i am glad i did. it's a nice little book (beautifully printed!) with a good detail of life in a pennsylvania college town before the war (Lancaster). he mostly writes about "idling" a lot, oversleeping, not doing his homework, and stealing test questions by elaborate means (is there no honor?). Douglas and i would not have got along if he'd been in my high school. he seems a snooty, self-important little dork (a reputation that followed him as Jackson's youngest staff officer).
of historical note: it's speculated that Douglas was the idiot who lost Lee's order (for the invasion of Maryland) and possibly cost the Confederacy that campaign. there's no hard proof, but he was shortly thereafter sacked by Jackson and sent packing (the two evidently had a rather serious falling out, though Douglas would deny it later). most of his contemporaries called him a confabulator at best, a rank liar at worst. it's hard to know what to believe.

Douglas and J. F. Hartranft became friends during the war despite being from opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon (Douglas was an ingratiating, charismatic little rebel booger, for certain ~ and Hartranft seemed to be easily taken by charmers and toadies). the circumstances under which they met was certainly ineresting ~ Hartranft captured him. let it be testament to Hartrant's marshamallowy sentiment that even as captor, he couldn't help striking up a friendship with the boy-officer who had attended his own alma mater in Lancaster. anyway, the friendship turned out to be life-long (with Douglas reaping the benefits of Hartrant's influence). Douglas delivered an address at Hartranft's memorial unveiling in 1899 (which makes me all kinds of sad, though i can't exactly explain why).

Douglas was in prison for breaking parole at the time of the conspiracy trial ~ he was arrested for wearing a uniform hat (edit: i mean coat ~ in itself a hilarious story). he was brought in to corroborate the testimony presented by one of a number of government "plants" (probably in exchange for his release), but once on the stand denied ever seeing the man and contradicted everything the man had said. this infuriated the commission, he went back to prison, and his testimony was for all intents and purposes stricken from the record. it's impossible to know what in the world he was playing at in all of this. my sense of it was that he enjoyed the power he wielded and wanted to make fools of the commission (which he did). he was that sort of person (i.e. a punk). in this way i find him an interesting study, but i still don't like him, though kudos (where duly due) for him for thumbing his nose at the military trial. and i am still endeared to him for admiring Hartranft as he did, even under the worst circumstances.

h. k. douglas about the time of his writing of the diary.
okay, he was just a kid, but i still think
he was a conceited little miscreant.
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
lookingland: (penguins)
( Dec. 7th, 2007 11:10 am)
guess i have gone into hibernation mode. days away from my final presentation (which i have somehow managed to make about J. F. Hartranft ~ yes, i amaze myself sometimes), i am not thinking much about anything except finishing school and getting to the holiday. so i am sorry for my absence, though i can't promise i will be much better in the coming weeks.

for the [livejournal.com profile] bookchallenge:

no. 63 ~ Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. i had tried to read McCarthy many years ago and couldn't get beyond the first four pages. had better luck this time, though with mixed results. loved the writing, but the story was rather, hmmm, gross? basically it's about a sorta crazy loner who, increasingly isolated, becomes a serial killer who practices necrophilia with his victims. lots of beautiful language for such an ugly story. i feel sort of meh about it overall in the end. not recommended for the squeamish.
i have a couple more books i would like to finish before the end of the year, but overall i am pleased that i read as many as i did. i know some of you out there read a gazillion books a year, but i am a pretty lazy reader and while i can occasionally read a really good book in one sitting, i am more inclined to take weeks and weeks to get through something. i've been reading Quicksilver since last Christmas and i may or may not finish it by the 31st (i am thinking "not" at the this point, but miracles do happen).

as with every year, i want to write a Christmas story. i have one in mind (nothing fancy), but i will prolly get started on it this weekend. in the meantime, here's a nice holiday picture for you to enjoy!

Troika on St. Petersburg Street
19th Century
Carl von Hampeln (1808-1880 Russian)
lookingland: (snow)
( Dec. 2nd, 2007 07:35 am)
hot cocoa and grilled cheese for breakfast. i guess, after an interminable summer and only the briefest of autumns, winter is finally here. we had a nice heavy snowfall yesterday and today it's blue and silent. alaska looks better and better all the time. i have my last weekend class (ever) today. the campus is gorgeous in the snow. i wanted to share this picture of the duck pond so you could see it. i didn't take the picture, but that's what it looks like right now.

i have been trying to catch up on my f-list, but i fear i won't, so please let me know if i missed anything huge in my absence (i feel as though i have been gone forever). congratulations to all you NaNo winners and attempters! bravo on many many words! i'm hoping to finish my school stuff this week so i can get back to writing. classes end on the 12th, but i am ready to be done now.

it occurred to me, going through my to-do list that i was hoping to finish a more complete, coherent draft of In the Pursuance of Said Conspiracy by the end of december. i don't know that i will, but i would like to get that pile of mess organized in some fashion to work on it during the holiday break. of course, it's been so long since i touched it, i feel like i am going to have to start all over again to refresh myself with the research. ugh. i knew that would happen. details, man. endless details.

in reading: for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:

no. 62 ~ Sin Killer by Larry McMurtry. i read Lonesome Dove nearly twenty years ago (the fact that i can even say this makes me cringe and my paperbackcopy is piss yellow from acidity). i thought i would give another of his books a try. this one is the first in a tetralogy about the Berrybender clan. Tasmin Berrybender is the daughter of a wealthy english lord who takes his family on a wild hunting trek in the west. she can't stand her own clan, so strikes out on her own and falls in with the Sin Killer, a white fella raised by both indians and a preacher, whose mix of holy terror and no-nonsense frontiersmanship is both dangerous and charming. the book is absurd (and meant to be: it's a parody of western mythology of sorts). not sure how much i like it. well enough to want to read the second one, i guess, but i'm not madly in love with it.

i guess it might be obvious that i have fallen out of posting on lj. i expect i will be back to it once the semester is over. i am glad december is finally here. happy Advent to all of my Catholic flisters (and why not all you heathens and heretics as well!). you are all in my happy thoughts.

: D
lookingland: (doggy)
( Nov. 13th, 2007 05:13 pm)
yesterday i wrote notes for myself and posted them all over the house: things to do, to take care of, to address. so far this morning i have managed to ignore them all (go me!). i wish i could say i was trying harder, but clearly i am not. i should have worked on my homework this morning, but i foodled and noodled the time away, as usual.

in writing: i am playing the what-if game trying to make something work. that's all.

in reading: couple of wee books for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge from W.D. Howells (who i have curiously never read before):

no. 60 ~ Evening Dress: a Farce. incredibly silly, but delightful story about an evening party to which a couple must attend for the sake of certain social graces. but the husband is dead tired, having just arrived from a long trip. the wife is in a tizzy, gives him a dozen instructions to meet her there, and of course, he promptly falls asleep. he's awakened by a friend and hilarity ensues as they try to get him ready for the party in time, unable to find his evening dress coat, and tearing apart the dressing room looking for it. lots of very silly and entertaining reversals. was very charmed by this.

no. 61 ~ A Parting and a Meeting. bizarre story of a pair of young lovers; an ardent schoolmaster and a high-strung young woman who, on their engagement, go to visit a Shaker town that the girl visited with her grandfather in previous years. insert intervening chapters of endless tedium about getting there, meeting the brothers and sisters, talking endless about nothing, and finally, when it is time to leave, the two get the proselytizing pitches to join the community. the girl laughs it off, but her affianced is quite taken with the whole affair. they quarrel on the way home and he leaves her in the middle of the road. she's kind of a ninny, so you almost understand why, but the whole thing is absurd, really. sixty years later, they meet again: she's still a ninny and he's a doddering old Shaker who scarcely remembers her. the end. er...what?
apparently Howell's farces are better than his "serious" fiction.

and that's about enough of this.

: o p
lookingland: (shark)
( Oct. 26th, 2007 09:58 pm)
first off, for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:

no. 59 ~ The Guillotine Club by s. weir mitchell. this is a sequel of sorts to A Diplomatic Adventure. at first i was impatient with it because it was too much Grenville and Alphonse and not enough Captain Merton, but once Merton arrived on the scene, hilarity ensued. the premise is kind of silly: two secret french "clubs" of opposing politics challenge one another to a duel every year and an unfortunate count who belongs to one club and has been nominated to the other by his crazy uncle has been ordered to challenge and fight himself (unbeknownst to either side that he is, in fact, the same person). machinations abound, but nothing they do manage to get the count off the hook. in the end, naturally, Captain Merton saves the day with some impromptu swashbuckling. it's a clever story ~ even if rather silly. i enjoyed it, of course.
in drawing: i'm struggling with the usual "issues" and am coming to the conclusion that one style is as good as another ~ all have their plusses and minuses, and that regardless of what i do in real media, i end up losing a lot of fidelity after the processing ~ both in terms of texture and nuance as well as just stuff getting obscured by dialogue, etc.

take, for example, the image below. i was finally (after about 8 runs) pleased with how it came out, but reduced and desaturated, it loses a lot of the detail. so i named the file "get used to it" because clearly this is just going to be the way that it goes.

: o p

that said, i guess i launch on the 28th. which means i need to get drawing!
lookingland: (stamp)
( Oct. 10th, 2007 10:25 am)
alleluia the weather has finally turned (after a weekend of devastating near-90 temps ~ ugh!). it's crisply in the 50s in the morning. tea time!

: D

for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 58 ~ Far in the Forest by s. weir mitchell. this one got off to a slightly rocky start: a bit slow and a bit grindy (good Lord, woman, just throw yourself at the man!). but interestingly, the couple's hesitation is sort of the point of the thing, and mitchell pays off all his tedious lumberjacking stuff with a climax that's pretty amazing. liked this book more than Westways in the end, and actually think it could make for a good film (it's that well plotted). i was thoroughly pleased, and as with some of mitchell's previous works, rather surprised by the level and candor of some of the violence. just when you think you're reading a rather pastoral romance, gruesome things happen. The horrific way in which he kills the villain in this one is a winner+.
in other news, no news ~ just bopping along. still drawing, slowly, not doing much writing, though, and feeling a wee itchy about that. i really would like to finish my conspiracy novel in some form by Christmas.

it's turning all autumnal ~ yay!
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
in writing: just noodling so you can prolly skip it. )

in reading: for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 56 ~ A Diplomatic Adventure by s. weir mitchell. strictly an adventure story with some priceless amusements including a single case of mistaken identity that results in three duels (the character of Captain Merton is hilarious when he accepts the challenge even when he has no clue what's provoked it, and i love how he gives his enemies musketeer names). Merton's falling in love with a woman he's never seen is also wonderful, alongside his subsequent theft of a piece of ribbon (brilliant) that leads him to finally meet the mysterious spy (and marry her, of course). i love the fact that this romance happens entirely in Merton's head and then ultimately off-scene. the last chapter is throwaway recapitulation, but the rest of the book is highly entertaining. still not quite as good as New Samaria, which remains my favorite.
i started Far in the Forest last night and only read a chapter. i really ought to take a break and read something else, though.

in film: lastly, i watched Seraphim Falls last night.

[some spoilers in this review!]

liam neeson chases pierce brosnan down out of the mountains into an appalling desert, torturing him along the way. yeah, fun stuff! but i could watch either actor skin cats and prolly still be entertained. the ending got a wee convoluted and i don't know how i feel about the resolution, but i was still entertained. it's a pretty straightforward story about vengeance and forgiveness, but could have been helped with a wee better development of the characters. i kept wondering through most of the film: why does pierce brosnan's character keep running? what does he want to live for? that question never gets answered (in fact, it gets compounded when we find out that he lost both of his sons right before his eyes fighting at antietam).

so all in all i enjoyed it (especially the fact of so many horses dropping dead from the chase ~ not because the horses die, but because for once we get some realism: horses aren't machines; they need water and food and rest!), but overall, if it had been a book before being made into a film, the book woulda prolly been much better. the cause of animosity between the two men is obvious (i think) at the start, but when the flashback moment is revealed, it was still effectively chilling, brosnan's line: you said the house was empty! and the soldier answering: of rebs! ~ geh! quite horrifying, regardless of the cliché. and i love the impression the director gives of brosnan leaving the farm, taking off his sword, and basically walking out of the war and of that former life forever. i wish the symbol of the knife he carries ever afterward had been more clearly explained, however. i feel there was a missed opportunity there.

the usually suave pierce brosnan
takes quite a relentless beating in this one.
lookingland: (house)
( Aug. 21st, 2007 03:46 pm)
schtuff for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 53 ~ The Romance of a Christmas Card by kate douglas wiggin. the premise of this one is rather complicated: one woman has a son who skipped town for adventures. she paints Christmas cards of her friend. her friend has been abandoned with twins by her deadbeat brother. the Christmas cards cause both men to return home again after a lengthy absence. it's a fun Christmas story and i was amused that it included such a profligate brother who knocks up and marries a notoriously wicked woman, then ditches his own babies after she kicks the bucket. those Victorians were so romantic.

no. 54 ~ The Snow Image by nathaniel hawthorne. i think a lot of people find hawthorne heavy-handed and excessively preachy. this little snow story is likewise in that vein, but he's never bothered me (is it just me or does anyone else think hawthorne was hot?). anyway, two children with the ridiculous names Violet and Peony build a girl out of snow who comes to life. their father, a wholly too-practical man with no imagination, thinks the girl is real, insists she come into the house, and she, of course, melts by the hearth. the moral of the story is something about "don't mess with things that you don't understand" or something. it's a strange, sad story.

no. 55 ~ The Comedy of Conscience by s. weir mitchell. this is the 6th of mitchell's books that i have read (i think). this is an odd story about a woman whose purse is picked on a bus by a man with a large wart on his face. in the commission of the crime, the man drops his diamond ring, which turns out to be worth a princely sum. after much scrupling, the woman advertises for the "real" owner to pick up his ring. the press gets wind of the story and bends it all out of proportion (to ridiculous lengths). then the criminal tries to claim the ring, but is thwarted by the woman's friend (and love interest). the most bizarre thing about this story is that the woman, desiring no further notoriety, lets the thief go once he confesses. overall amusing ~ not as good as New Samaria, but entertaining.

Wiggin's book is a nice one:
with lovely illustrations throughout