[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
[ << Previous 20 ]
[ << Previous 20 ]
|Friday, November 29th, 2013|
|The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
I finished reading The River of No Return
, Bee Ridgway's debut novel, on Thanksgiving. The novel was published just this year, and was brought to my attention because Ridgway is one of my daughter's academic advisors at Bryn Mawr.
The book engaged and interested me from the first chapter. The writing has a kind of slightly ironic sparkle to it that I like. The characters were well-drawn and developed in a way that seemed natural and unforced to me.
I had some trouble with the premise, which I think was largely my fault. The book is balanced between two subgenres: "soft" science-fiction/fantasy about time travel, and historical romance fiction with a time travel "hook". I am way more familiar with the former, and couldn't help reading from an F&SF "angle", but I suspect that the novel embeds more gracefully in the historical romance genre, whose tropes and conventions I don't know. Because of this, I couldn't help subjecting the time travel aspect to a lot more examination and head-scratching than I think it was supposed to elicit. The nature of time and time-travel in this novel are a bit incoherent, but I think it wasn't supposed to bother me as I watched the romance between the two protagonists develop. Probably a reader more used to historical romance would have way less trouble.
Ridgway delicately picks some
of the mysteries the novel introduces to resolve in a satisfying way by the conclusion, while leaving others for the obviously-anticipated sequel. My daughter informs me that a prequel novella is going to be released as part of the promotion for the paperback edition of The River of No Return
. I will be looking for these and reading them as they come out.
The author's website is here
; I recommend her blog. Her debut novel is available from Dutton Adult; its ISBN is 0525953868. Like most modern romance novels, the book has some explicit sexual content.
|Saturday, November 23rd, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #157: Daddy-Long-Legs
I finished Daddy-Long-Legs, a novel by Jean Webster, published in 1912, sometime early last week, probably on Tuesday. It's one of those charming, uplifting novels of young people going out into the world, like Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, and Gene Stratton-Porter's Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost. In this one, the heroine is a spunky orphan who catches the attention of one of her orphanage's trustees; the trustee supports the girl through college, in exchange for a promise of periodic letters. But the trustee wants to remain anonymous; the girl directs her letters to the care of her benefactor's private secretary, and she is not to expect any response. The main body of the novel is made up of her letters to the man she calls "Daddy-Long-Legs".
I've said before that I have a weakness for this sort of thing, and I enjoyed this one a lot.
Now I am taking a short break from Project Gutenberg to read a debut novel by one of my daughter's undergraduate advisors at Bryn Mawr (speaking of charming girls at college), a time travel romance called The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgway. And I have finally caught up with my backblog.
|Friday, November 22nd, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #155: The Moonstone
After I finished The Rise of Silas Lapham, I read Wilkie Collins's 1868 novel, The Moonstone. The novel was originally serialized in one of Dickens's story magazines.
The Moonstone is lauded as a seminal example of detective fiction, but it is interesting both for its similarities and differences with the genre it supposedly inaugurated. Yes, there is a detective looking into the theft of the eponymous diamond, and yes, he is a quirky character with above-average observational skills. But he's not at the level of Sherlock Holmes (whose career was launched two decades later). Sergeant Cuff gets some crucial things wrong, for one thing. It's also interesting that Cuff is dismissed from the case halfway through the story, and vanishes until some wrapping-up chapters near the end.
But The Moonstone has other interesting aspects, besides whether or not it started a genre. The narrative structure is unusual. The story is told by a series of narrators, each of which are most familiar with their part. Each narrator is an interesting character; the first one, Gabriel Betteridge, the old household retainer, is a frank delight. The narrators have various opinions about each other that they mostly politely withhold, but the reader can still divine them.
The novel certainly has flaws. The diamond comes into the Verinder family through out-and-out theft, and is sought for the whole story by its rightful owners. Yet nobody ever proposes just giving it back to them, even to get out of terrible danger, and the reader is not expected to think they should either. You might argue that its mighty value (20 to 30 thousand pounds, in 1868) was the motivation for keeping it, but in that case they would at least contemplate selling it, and they don't seem to do that either.
I had read the book sometime before, but I must not have been paying attention; I liked it a lot better this time around.
I finished it sometime last week. Then I skipped "etext" #156, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, in the form of four fairly poor MIDI files. (Maybe it's just my player that is poor. A MIDI file is like a score; it has to be interpreted by software, which can do a good or a bad job.) Etext #157 was a 1912 novel by Jean Webster, called Daddy-Long-Legs. I had never heard of her or it, so I began it with great curiosity.
Project Gutenberg etext #154: The Rise of Silas Lapham
I have gotten way behind on my Project Project Gutenberg blogging, which is a shame because I have been reading some interesting stuff.
At this point I have forgotten when I finished The Rise of Silas Lapham; probably around the middle of the November. William Dean Howells published this novel, his third, in 1885.
The story was interesting, describing the conflicting feelings of a self-made rich man in his uncertain relationships with upper-class society. But what really caught my attention was the setting, in post-Civil War Boston. I knew a lot of the places, but the geography of Boston has changed enormously since then.
One focus of the story is Lapham's project of building a new mansion for his family on "the New Land" on "the water side of Beacon", that is, on the land adjacent to the milldam that was built to enclose the water of the Back Bay in the middle of the 19th century. Beacon Street was originally just a couple of blocks long, running westward down Beacon Hill and along the north side of the Boston Common until it ended at the Back Bay, but it was extended along the new milldam and the new fill land on either side became desirable real estate. There are a lot of scenes of pleasure-rides along the dam.
I was amused that Lapham's wife was named Persis; I only know one Persis and I couldn't help imagining her in the role. She fit it pretty well.
Howells's authorial voice reminded me a lot of Mark Twain, though Howells is not nearly as arch. In fact it turns out that Howells and Twain collaborated on a couple of projects, the similarity might not be accidental.
The next etext is Willkie Collins's 1868 classic, The Moonstone.
|Saturday, November 16th, 2013|
|Another weird finger injury
I was just now playing guitar, and I got the same kind of injury as I described here
about four years ago. I think this is the first recurrence since then.
This time it's in my left index
finger, but the relative location is exactly the same: ventral side of the finger, a couple of millimeters lateral to the midline.
If I could figure out how to type without the letters i, k, p, u, x, and y, I'd be fine. (Don't look at your keyboard to try to make sense of that. I use the Dvorak keyboard layout.)
[ETA:] By the following day it was fine. As of four days later I still haven't happened to have a few minutes to play an instrument, but at least it doesn't hurt when I type.
|Saturday, November 2nd, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #153: Jude the Obscure
I finished reading Thomas Hardy's 1895 novel Jude the Obscure about a week ago, but somehow I haven't been able to make myself sit down and write about the book until now, and even now I'm overcoming some weird psychological resistance. I don't think this has anything to do with the book itself, which while depressing and downbeat, is less blackly depressing than Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I'm not sure what is making it hard for me to write. Maybe it's that I'm afraid I won't come up with anything interesting to say about it. I put a few bookmarks in, in places that I thought I might turn into talking points; we'll see how that works out.
Coincidentally, while I was reading Jude, I went to a birthday dinner for a dear old friend, whose knowledge of literature I greatly respect. She happened to mention that two novels she just hated were Middlemarch and Jude the Obscure. Then somebody asked me what I was reading at the moment, and I had to confess.
The story tells how Jude Fawley aspires to be a scholar, but he fails to get into university because he comes from a poor background. Instead, he spends his life working as a stonemason, occasionally lurking around the fringes of academia. One episode that I thought was very cute describes how Jude decided that he was going to learn Latin and Greek, but at the age of 11 or so he is completely mistaken about what it's like to learn another language. He imagines that he has to learn a single basic rule, like a secret decryption key, for each language. He's dreadfully disappointed when he finally understands what's involved. But Hardy mentions that this notion is not completely ridiculous, and gives Grimm's Law as an example in which the relationship between languages can be reduced to a translation rule.
Jude becomes the center of a gnarly "love W"; he gets sidetracked into a marriage with Arabella, but she abandons him and emigrates to Australia, where she presents herself as single and marries a Mr. Cartlett. In the meantime, Jude falls in love with his cousin Sue, but can't actually court her because he feels bound by his undissolved marriage to Arabella. Instead, Sue marries the schoolmaster Phillotson, twenty years her senior. Most of the story concerns the tensions caused by this romantic chain.
I was intrigued by a description of Sue's childhood; she was an odd child who adored reciting publically, and an older villager recalls her reciting Poe's The Raven. I had no idea that the American Poe had any currency in 19th-century England; one thinks of England always as the literary producer, and the United States as the consumer.
Jude was considered scandalous and obscene by many contemporaries; remember that this was the height of the Victorian era. Hardy describes Arabella's and Sue's bodies as part of the contrast he creates between them. Arabella is zaftig and Sue slender, and in particular Arabella has big breasts and Sue small ones. The author clearly preferred the latter esthetic, and I think he considered the body types to be correlated with character traits: Arabella is coarse and pleasure-loving, while Sue is refined and ethereal. But I was mostly surprised that Hardy would even go there.
Sue is almost completely asexual by preference; every act of physical affection is for her a sacrifice. She verbalizes her preferences as a generalization: she claims that no woman likes sex, and that they submit only to secure the affections of their husbands. It's easy to call this attitude antiquated and ridiculous, but I think as a sort of shorthand, it retains a lot of currency, more as a pernicious habit of thought than an actual description of psychological reality. It is at the heart of a lot of conventional wisdom about dating and courtship, and was reexpressed in the disturbing dating handbook The Rules.
Now I am reading etext #154, The Rise of Silas Lapham, by William Dean Howells. I had never heard of either novel or author before I started.
|Saturday, October 12th, 2013|
|Project Gutenberg etext #152: Wild Justice
Every once in a while, Project Gutenberg would accept and archive already-digitized copyrighted texts, when their authors offered them under terms that satisfied Gutenberg's conditions. I've already encountered, in this category, Norman Coombs's The Black Experience in America
, Winn Schwartau's Terminal Compromise
, Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown
, and Richard McGowan's Violists
. I'm leaving out of this list government publications that were already public-domain before Project Gutenberg archived them, and the now-pointless collections of the first million digits of various mathematical constants.
Ruth M. Sprague's 1993 novel Wild Justice
reminded me of Schwartau's contribution. It was published in 1993 by T'Wanda Books in New Mexico. I suspected that T'Wanda was a vanity publisher, and my desultory Internet research could only find one other T'Wanda offering, a poetry collection by, um, Ruth M. Sprague.
I was pleasantly surprised. Wild Justice
is certainly no worse than a lot of published fiction I've read, and it would probably make a pretty good movie. It is the story of a professor who is hounded out of her university chair by trumped-up forgery charges; the actual motivations are purely sexist. The novel is clearly a fictionalized memoir, but I haven't been able to determine the actual history.
The prose is just fine. I would call it "not quite publishable", but I know quite well that most
published novels looked no better in manuscript. We consistently underestimate the debt of modern literature to house editors. There is nothing in Wild Justice
that a decent editor couldn't fix. So, thank you, Dr. Sprague. That was an enjoyable story, and if you are the one who lived through the events described, I hope life has been much better since.
Etext #153 is Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure
. I hope it's not as depressing as Tess or The Native.
Project Gutenberg etext #151: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772 and died in 1834. He wrote dozens of poems and a few pieces of nonfiction prose, the most being the literary criticism essays compiled in his Biographia Literaria. But the two works of his that modern readers are most likely to have encountered are Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner several times when I was growing up, and finished it on this pass early last week. It's a work of what would now be called supernatural horror; Lovecraft's work has some echoes that are almost certainly conscious. The centerpiece is a beautiful and touching moment of redemption, when the Mariner finds it in his heart, on the point of his own death, to find beauty and grace in the most disgusting sea creatures. Only on this reading did I notice the necessary reverse of this beautiful scene. If the Mariner's redemption is by divine plan, then that same plan kills every single other member of the crew. And this was because of the Mariner's sin: he is the only one who survives the ensuing curse! A strange sort of justice.
|Sunday, October 6th, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #150: The Republic
I finished Plato's The Republic (Greek Politeia, written around 380 BC) on Friday.
It isn't what I thought, so I'm going to indulge in a little description of what it is, in case anybody else is curious but not quite curious enough to read it.
Socrates is waylaid by friends after a celebration, and taken home by them (he jokes that it is against his will). I'm not sure what the social conventions were, but Socrates seems to earn a living as a kind of teacher/entertainer. You could pay him to come over to your house and expound on various subjects. They definitely do pay him, but Plato is coy about how much. The whole dialog takes place, apparently, thoughout the evening and night following the celebration.
The question Socrates is invited to discuss is, "What is justice, and should people want to be just?" The question of the ideal society is an extended metaphor, really, even though the dialog is named after it.
The whole core of The Republic consists of drawing out this metaphor. The idea is that a person is like a society. Inside the person are different drives and tendencies that correspond to the members of the society. The conceit is remarkably Freudian in structure, and my jaw dropped when Socrates trotted out a tripartite theory of human personality that can be lined up with Freud's almost point-for-point. Probably everybody but me knew about this already.
The argument flows roughly like this. We want to know what justice is, that is, what a just man is, so let's first look at just and unjust societies. At some point we decide that justice consists of each part doing what it's best at and minding its own business, but achieving a definition (ostensibly the main point of the discourse) is an anticlimax. Over the main part of the dialog, we develop an ideal society (which does not stand up to close scrutiny, I think), and then attempt to reconstruct the ideal individual by assembling the parts of the personality in an analogous fashion. It's a tour-de-force, and deserves its immortality, but as a piece of logical argument it makes a nice doily. You have to buy dozens of implausible premises in order to get to the conclusion.
The vaunted Socratic method is more of a weakness than a strength in an argument like this. If you want to get a point across, it's very convenient to be able to argue both sides, and if your sockpuppet opponent turns out to be a bit of a pushover, nobody will notice, right? There are lots of places in The Republic where the argument would just stop dead if the opponent were a trifle less credulous and, let's face it, idiotic. The presence of a second voice lends only a vague appearance of credibility. Socrates proves the immortality of the soul, for example, by claiming, on analogy with a couple of examples, that things in general can only perish from evils that are inherent to them: metal from rust, bodies from disease, and so on. But the claim is false even for the adduced examples: metal can be ground to dust by human agency, for example, which is hardly an evil inherent in the metal. The big argument of The Republic suffers from the same problem in the large: the essential element is an analogy between human and political bodies, and the analogy is just never established in a satisfying way. Everything else is just pretty words.
But seeing Plato develop the notion of the human mind as a society of variously-coupled smaller agencies, two millenia before Freud and Minsky, was definitely eye-opening. And a lot of the psychological observations are perfectly valid.
Etext #151 is Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I will read for the umpteenth time tomorrow, if I get around to loading it onto my reader.
|Saturday, September 21st, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #149: The Lost Continent
Edgar Rice Burroughs's own title for this short 1915 novel is Beyond Thirty; it was republished, I think some time in the sixties, as The Lost Continent, but that was an inferior and inappropriate title, which makes one think of Atlantis fantasies.
This is the earliest novel I know that has an almost universal feature of modern science fiction: a setting in the more or less distant future. The whole thing happens over a few months starting in late 2137. Future settings are so ubiquitous now that older SF often dates itself by being set almost contemporaneously. The fabulous technology of early SF was trammeled by the requirement that it could be plausibly invented within the next decade or so; John Carter is transported to Mars by magic and finds advanced technology there, and the explorers of At the Earth's Core use a fabulous digging machine that strains credulity because it is claimed to be a contemporary invention. But this novel uses a span of centuries as a fertile source of speculative innovation and weirdness.
Beyond Thirty also illustrates a common failing of science fiction: the world is so complicated that specific predictions rarely come to pass. This novel was obsolete within five years, because it predicted that the United States would stay out of the Great War. It can be read retrospectively as an alternate history, but was intended as a projection, albeit a fantastic one.
In the universe of Beyond Thirty, Europe battles itself back into savagery, while American isolationism hardens into an interdiction against travel beyond 30 degrees west longitude. When the story takes place, America has heard nothing of the Old World for two centuries.
With such a fabulous setup, what Navy captain Jefferson Turck finds in Europe is disappointingly prosaic: a scattering of stone-age-level tribes battling wild animals in the almost-obliterated ruins of their past glory, being displaced by the two new world powers of Abyssinia and China. If you are wondering where in this devastated landscape Turck will find a sufficiently noble and high-hearted lady to fall in love with, you are underestimating Burroughs's inventiveness in such matters. He gets the Queen of England. Were diu werlt alle min ...
Now I have started in on etext #150, which will probably take me a while. It's Plato's The Republic, in the 1871 translation by Benjamin Jowett.
Project Gutenberg etext #148: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
I have been a bad blogger again, and let my reading get ahead of my blogging. I finished Benjamin Franklin's autobiography early last week, but didn't get around to mentioning it here.
Franklin wrote this memoir in three chunks. The first piece, written in 1771, describes his life from his birth in 1706 down to about 1730. This part is written in a leisurely fashion, and is about as detailed as one could wish. The subsequent parts seem a bit more hurried, and the whole narrative trails off around the time of the American War of Independence.
Franklin's life was entirely confined to the 18th century. The narrative has a striking air of modernity which I'm having trouble accounting for. In many ways it feels more modern than a Jane Austen novel, and all of those were written when Franklin was already dead. Had American English usage already diverged so much from European English that it feels more immediate and comprehensible to the American reader? I don't think so. As I said, I'm puzzled, but some of the effect is certainly due to the American milieu. There aren't any idle country gentry in Franklin's story, no aristocrats or even near-aristocrats except occasional visiting officials from England. The overall scene is one of a busy urban mercantile society. Everyone Franklin respects is a hard worker. His favorite adjective of praise is "ingenious".
Colonial Pennsylvania was, in theory at least, owned by a small group of wealthy Englishmen, some of whom were aristocrats, although the eponymous William Penn was a commoner. These owners were called "the proprietaries"; in Franklin's account they never visited Pennsylvania, and when the colony needed to negotiate with them, they had to send an emissary to England. Franklin was sent on one of these missions, and to me that episode was the most fascinating. The main question was whether the land held directly by the proprietaries could be taxed, and you can actually see both sides of the question: in the viewpoint of the proprietaries, they owned the whole outfit, and could not be compelled to share their profits with people who were, directly or indirectly, their tenants. But to the Americans on the ground, the distinction between their own businesses and farms and those of the proprietaries seemed arbitrary, and they were reluctant to finance the expenses of colony administration completely out of their own pockets.
After this, I read etext #149, an odd novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs originally called Beyond Thirty.
|Saturday, September 14th, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #147: Common Sense
Thomas Paine's famous pamphlet Common Sense was written in the winter of 1775-1776, at a time when the American colonies were clearly at war with England, but when there wasn't yet consensus about what they were fighting for. I had never read it before, though I think I first heard about it in grade school. It was worth the trouble.
Apparently a lot of Americans thought that they were just fighting to end certain administrative abuses; that as soon as England caved on the noxious policies, they would lay down their arms and go back to being loyal subjects. The purpose of the pamphlet is to convince people that that stance really couldn't be maintained rationally. Paine argues that having made a certain investment of blood and treasure, it would be insane to go back to the status quo ante, no matter what concessions were won from England. There would be no guarantee against future reprisals and sanctions if America kept its dependent status; the patriots would be driving themselves deep into debt, only to leave the whole task of self-liberation to their children or grandchildren.
One very interesting part is where Paine sketches a possible constitution for independent America. He doesn't understand the notion of checks and balances; in fact, he ridicules a similar arrangement in the British Constitution; and he imagines that the government would simply consist of a single unicameral legislature, meeting (and electing a president) annually. It would be interesting to learn more about other proposals for governance between 1775 and 1789. My only additional knowledge about this period is what I learned from The Federalist Papers.
Now I am reading some more Americana, etext #148, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I'm reading the part that was written in 1771, and so far it's utterly engaging. What a guy.
|Project Gutenberg etext #146: A Little Princess
My blogging has fallen behind my reading, so I have to make two catch-up posts tonight.
I finished reading Frances Burnett's more leisurely 1905 remake of her 1885 novella Sara Crewe
in just a couple of days, probably on Wednesday night. I've always loved this book, and this time I made a point of admiring Burnett's deft use of very limited vocabulary. She clearly picked her words very carefully, preferring monosyllables and easy words where this was at all possible, but her writing is so graceful that I never feel like she is talking down to me.
This time through, I noticed a plot hole that I'd never seen before, involving the very incident that charms me most about the story. Sara meets the next-door neighbor's Indian servant Ram Dass for the first time when the neighbor's pet monkey escapes from the neighbor's attic window and ducks into Sara's. Sara immediately recognizes the servant as Indian, and despite the fact that she hasn't used the language in about four years, she speaks to Ram Dass in Hindustani. Ram Dass, whose English is very poor, is delighted to hear the language of home from this eleven-year-old stranger.
The neighbor, an invalid named Carrisford, is desperately looking for a little girl, the daughter of a dead friend, who is of course Sara. For the next several months after Sara meets Ram Dass, the search continues all over Europe while its object is toiling away in half-starvation only next door. While Carrisford's lawyer is combing the Continent, Ram Dass entertains his master by secretly supplying Sara with luxuries via the rooftop.
The plot hole: doesn't Ram Dass ever mention to his master the fact that the little girl in the attic speaks Hindustani? One would think that would be a very salient fact. They talk about her a lot, as the servant tries to keep Carrisford's mind off the missing child. And if it were mentioned, they would certainly want to find out more about that little girl immediately. But somehow the final connection doesn't get made for months.
So, alas, it's a little bit of an Idiot Plot, one that only works if the characters are idiots. But it's still adorable.
|Tuesday, September 10th, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #145: Middlemarch
It took me only a little over three weeks to finish George Eliot's 1871 novel Middlemarch. I had read it twice before. The first time was in college, for a course about English literature by women authors, and I couldn't give it the time it deserved. The course was taught by Felicia Bonaparte, who is apparently quite a light in the field; she's a professor at CCNY, but she was visiting at MIT that year. I remember unsuccessfully trying to persuade her to read Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed.
The second time had all the time it needed: I read it aloud to Dr. Wife, probably in the late 1980s. I think it was then that I realized what a masterpiece it was, and had always intended to read it at least once more to myself. So I was glad of this opportunity.
The novel is set about 40 years before its writing, and takes place over two or three years, with the main action ending some time in 1831 or 1832. There are three or four main story lines, which interweave a bit. The "main" one is Dorothea Brooke's, but this time I found my attention attracted by the story of Tertius Lydgate, the idealistic and ambitious doctor whose life is trammelled by his almost inadvertent marriage to the vapid, narcissistic beauty Rosamond Vincy. Rosamond is a frightening character; her utter imperviousness is quite surrealistic.
I find that no other author than Eliot gives me the same impression of sheer intellectual power and scope. She knew art, science, history, law, and human nature. Those who had to suffer through her Silas Marner in high school might profitably give her a second chance with Middlemarch.
Now I am starting etext #146, the full version of Burnett's A Little Princess, which I've long known and loved.
|Sunday, August 25th, 2013|
|Twenty-sixth run of 2013
Yesterday morning was nice and cool, around 60 F when I started out for my run, and I tried to take it easy. Sometimes I start my first lap with a sprint, but this time I just looked for a comfortable pace and didn't try to bring up my heart rate too quickly. The result was a reasonable run, seven miles in 78:23
. I haven't been going often enough, though, because I had very sore lower back muscles all yesterday. It was much better today and should be completely gone tomorrow. Those lower back muscles can get out of shape very quickly, and I need to get them back on deck.
|Sunday, August 18th, 2013|
Project Gutenberg etext #144: The Voyage Out
Virginia Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915. I finished reading it last night.
The most striking element of the novel, to me, is the way the viewpoint shifts from character to character while remaining intensely subjective. The author loves to follow chains of thought; most of the "action" in the novel is internal and psychological. A lot of space goes to attempts to verbalize various difficult-to-grasp states of consciousness. The characters are constantly having epiphanies and disorienting mental experiences of one kind or another, and the actual narrative, the story, seems secondary to describing these.
It takes quite a long time to realize that Rachel is the main character. We see her at first through Helen Ambrose's eyes, and for the first half of the novel I found myself wondering when we were going to start advancing Helen's story. But we never do; the bulk of the narrative shifts over to Rachel and mostly stays there for the second half, though the camera angles continue to change.
It was interesting to be ignorant of the end of the story, to reach the last three or four chapters and not know whether Rachel will survive. But I don't think knowing would have ruined the story for me.
It was also interesting to hear a character aver that she did not want to die before humanity discovered whether or not there was life on Mars (though she says "life in Mars", my italics).
Etext #145 is another fairly big project, George Eliot's monumental novel Middlemarch. I've read it twice before, once aloud to Dr. Wife, which took more than a year. It may merit interim postings.
|Saturday, August 17th, 2013|
|Twenty-fifth run of 2013
This morning I had a fairly slow run. It was looking very fast until the third mile, in which I had to slow down drastically; I've mentioned that third-mile drop before. Anyway, I finished my seven miles in 85:16
|Tuesday, August 13th, 2013|
|Twenty-fourth run of 2013
28 laps in 76:15
, in cool weather. Third best run of the season, which means it's a crappy season so far. I just haven't been getting out to run enough.
|Saturday, August 10th, 2013|
|Project Gutenberg etext #143: The Mayor of Casterbridge
I've read Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge
(1886) at least once before, but I can't remember when. There's a copy on a bookshelf here, which must be the one I read, but I don't remember buying it; maybe it was bought by Dr. Wife.
It is way less grim than Tess of the d'Urbervilles
, and is closer in mood to The Return of the Native
. As in Native
, the tragic figures are mostly not very sympathetic. They are certainly interesting
, and you want to know what happens to them, but when what happens is bad, you say, "Well, yeah, you shafted yourself." Particularly troubling is the character of Lucetta, who seems to be willing to blight the lives of others almost without thought to buy herself a small amount of happiness, or to shield herself from shame. It's fitting that she ends up dying of shame.
This, like all the Hardy novels I've read, takes place in the semi-fictional area of southern England Hardy called "Wessex". A couple of random characters from Crowd
and some settings from Native
make an appearance, and allow those three novels to be ordered in fictional time. James Everdene and William Boldwood are young and prosperous, so Mayor
is a decade or two before Crowd
. The burnt fir-wood from Native
is still detectable, so Native
by at most about a decade.
Now I've started reading etext #144, The Voyage Out
, which is Virginia Woolf's first novel. I've never read anything of hers before.
|Twenty-second and twenty-third runs of 2013
I don't know exactly what day I did the twenty-second run; it was probably last weekend. Anyway, I did seven miles in 87:53
. This morning I went again, and was even slower: 90:21