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  • Shameless book promo

    Posted by Margaret on 17th October 2017 (All posts by )

    I’ve started writing again after a ten-year pause, so it’s pretty much like starting from scratch and I can use all the help I can get. The first two books of a three-book science fiction series, Insurgents and Awakening, are available on Amazon now, and the third, Survivors, will be up in a week or two. (The books work as stand-alone novels; you don’t have to read them as a series, though I think they’re more fun that way.) All three are/will be available in paperback and e-book editions, and the e-books are free in Kindle Unlimited.

    There’s an excerpt from Insurgents here and the first chapter of Awakening here, if anybody’s interested.

    I hope ChicagoBoyz readers will find the trilogy interesting, since it’s meant to be the chronicle of a totalitarian society’s collapse over a period of several generations.

    If anybody happens to read one, I would be very grateful for a review.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blegs, Book Notes, Diversions | 6 Comments »

    D-Day, June 6th 1944, Plus 72 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 6th June 2016 (All posts by )

    To commemorate D-Day, here is a current view of Omaha Beach from Wikipedia —

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omaha_Beach#/media/File:Omaha_Beach_Nowadays.jpg

    And here are a pair of columns I’ve written previously on D-Day in 2014 and 2013.

    This is a review of three very good books on D-Day —

    History Friday — Books to Read for the D-Day 70th Anniversary
    6th June 2014

    And this column is about the sacrifices of British Royal Air Force early warning radar unit, the 1st Echelon of 21 Base Defence Sector, that landed at the Les Moulins Draw, on Omaha Beach, Normandy about 5:30pm on 6 June 1944.

    Royal Air Force at Omaha Beach
    6th June 2013

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    Why I read City Journal.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 6th April 2015 (All posts by )

    This book review of three books, is why I read City Journal. I don’t know where else you get these insights as well done.

    Today, 50 years after its issuance, some liberals “bravely” acknowledge that 1965’s so-called Moynihan Report, in which the future senator warned about the dire future consequences of the collapse of the black family, was a fire bell in the night. But at the time, and for decades to come, Moynihan was branded as a racist by civil rights leaders, black activists, and run-of-the-mill liberals. “One began to sense,” Moynihan wrote, that “a price was to be paid even for such a mild dissent from conventional liberalism.”

    And…

    As an aide to Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey in the 1990s, Greg Weiner knew Moynihan, and he picks up on the crosscurrents that made the senator such a fascinating figure in American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Weiner describes how Moynihan distinguished between two types of liberalism. Pluralist liberalism, with which Moynihan identified, emphasized situation and circumstance in making policy. This was the position, Moynihan wrote, “held by those, who with Edmund Burke . . . believe that in . . . the strength of . . . voluntary associations—church, family, club, trade union, commercial association—lies much of the strength of democratic society.” But Moynihan saw another kind of liberalism developing, one caught up in an “overreliance upon the state.” This statist liberalism produced the bureaucratic “chill” that “pervades many of our government agencies” and has helped produce “the awesome decline of citizen participation in our elections.” That decline has continued to the present day, producing record-low turnouts in the recent New York and Los Angeles elections.

    And…

    Steele’s new book, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized our Country, explains why Moynihan’s fears of statist liberalism have been realized and why Moynihan has had no political or intellectual heirs. While generations of immigrants have passed African-Americans on their way up the social ladder, black leaders continue to excel at trying to leverage grievances into more entitlements. African-Americans, explains Steele, courageously won their freedom only to sell themselves into a new sort of bondage—to perpetual victimization and federal subsidies. The doors to modernity, which demand that individuals make something of themselves so as to advance in the marketplace, opened for blacks in the wake of the civil rights movement—only, explains Steele, to have blacks retreat into a group identity based on cultivating grievances.

    They all sound like great books and I will read at least one of them.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Leftism, Politics, Society, Urban Issues | 3 Comments »

    Nature and Nurture.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st January 2015 (All posts by )

    I have long been a fan of Steven Pinker’s books.

    I have read many of them, beginning probably with his books on speech as he is a linguist first. This was probably the first as I was intrigued by his theories about irregular verbs and how children learn language.

    He points out, for example, how normal construction in archaic forms such as “Wend, went and wended” have become “Go, went, gone.”

    The child makes an error he or she may not understand that “Goed” is not a used form for past tense, whereas “Wend” is an archaic form whose past tense has been substituted. The child is using language rules but they don’t account for irregular verbs. He continues with this thought in The Language Instinct, which came later. Here he makes explicit that this is how the mind works. One review on Amazon makes the point:

    For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week… but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago…

    Now, this is interesting but Pinker has gotten into politics inadvertently by emphasizing the role of genetics in language and behavior. I read The Blank Slate when it came out ten years ago and loved it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Architecture, Book Notes, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Science | 11 Comments »

    More Science Fiction Fan Follies

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 26th June 2014 (All posts by )

    I don’t know if I can really claim to be a science fiction fan – I am not hard-core, at any rate. I have had my moments with particular authors in the genre, I’ve been to a couple of cons (Salt Lake City and Albuquerque – the con here in San Antonio costs too much at the door for my budget) – I have all of Blake’s 7 on VHS tape (taped from broadcast on Salt Lake City’s public TV station in the early 1990s), most of Babylon 5, and I have purchased every on of Lois McMaster Bujould’s Vorkosigan novels when and if they present themselves in paperback. Oh, and I really enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but they’re not really science fiction – more fantasy with a wry twist. I watched Star Trek when it was originally broadcast – but who of the age that I am now didn’t, unless their parents were Luddites who wouldn’t have a TV in the house?
    And Dad worked as a scientific sub-contractor for NASA, now and again. Something to do with circadian rhythms and space travel might possibly affect them, either positively or negatively, so –yes, science!
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Diversions | 27 Comments »

    Meditations on Maoism — Ye Fu’s “Hard Road Home”

    Posted by T. Greer on 30th April 2014 (All posts by )

    This post was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage, 30 April 2013.


    A great divide separates the worldviews of the average Chinese and American. The most profound description of this divide I have ever heard came from the mouth of a friend who has never been to America and who was neither a historian nor accustomed to deep political reflection or debate. She concluded that Americans lived in a different world than the one she and her countrymen knew on the strength of a single observation: “In America all of your most exciting movies are about the future. In China, our blockbusters are all about the past.

    Her mundane observation points neatly to a paradox of modern Chinese culture. The people of China are steeped in history. Places, figures, and sayings from most ancient times fill their cinemas and televisions, inspire their literature and music, and find their way into both their daily conversation and clever turns of phrase. One cannot study the Chinese language or befriend the people who speak it without realizing how proudly the Chinese people trace their identity some three thousand years into the past. It defines who they are and what they want their country to be. When China’s heavy laden allow themselves a hopeful glimpse into the future they see first the glories of the past.

    Thus the dreadful irony: despite the high esteem which they hold for history and the strong affinity they feel with the triumphs and humiliations of their civilization, few Chinese feel any connection to–and in many cases, have no real knowledge of–their country’s more immediate past. As a society they honor the stories and glories of tradition, but have abandoned headlong the social order from which these stories sprang. This was not all intentional. Seven decades of war, famine, and revolution ripped Chinese civilization apart at its seams. The old order of family and clan, official and elite, emperor and loyal subject, is gone. The patterns which held Chinese civilization together for a millennium are acknowledged, but honored mostly as the creation of some mythical past whose connection to the present is more a matter of style than of substance. In between this golden past and frantic present lies a gaping hole. A swirl of confused details, loathsome slogans, and obscured calamities lies in this abyss, little talked about and, in the minds of many, best forgotten. The grim episodes of those days are but a dim image in a mirror, only tethered to the present with fading memories of tumult and terror.

    I did not fully appreciate how deep a gash and great a gulf this separation from the past has torn in the Chinese mental landscape until I read a newly translated set of essays and meditations published under the name Hard Road Home. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, China, History, Morality and Philosphy | 11 Comments »

    Do The Great Books Have a Place in the 21st Century?

    Posted by T. Greer on 24th August 2013 (All posts by )

    Originally posted at The Scholar’s Stage on the 27th of May, 2013.

    A selection of the 60 volume Great Books of the Western World.
    Image source.


    A “proper education” changes with its times.

    In the days of America’s founding a true education was a classical education. An educated man was not simply expected to be familiar with the great works of Greek and Roman civilization; the study of these works was the foundation of education itself. Thomas Jefferson’s advice to an aspiring nephew captures the attitudes of his era:

    It is time for you now to begin to be choice in your reading; to begin to pursue a regular course in it; and not to suffer yourself to be turned to the right or left by reading any thing out of that course. I have long ago digested a plan for you, suited to the circumstances in which you will be placed. This I will detail to you, from time to time, as you advance. For the present, I advise you to begin a course of antient history, reading every thing in the original and not in translations. First read Goldsmith’s history of Greece. This will give you a digested view of that field. Then take up antient history in the detail, reading the following books, in the following order: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophontis Hellenica, Xenophontis Anabasis, Arrian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, Justin. This shall form the first stage of your historical reading, and is all I need mention to you now. The next, will be of Roman history (*). From that, we will come down to modern history. In Greek and Latin poetry, you have read or will read at school, Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles. Read also Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakspeare, Ossian, Pope’s and Swift’s works, in order to form your style in your own language. In morality, read Epictetus, Xenophontis Memorabilia, Plato’s Socratic dialogues, Cicero’s philosophies, Antoninus, and Seneca…. 

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History | 11 Comments »

    Bourgeois Dignity

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th August 2012 (All posts by )

    I was struck yesterday by a post on Ann Althouse’s blog, and by a Virginia Postrel piece that makes the same point, how wrong Obama was to say “You didn’t build that..”

    The incident, so characteristic of this leftist ideologue president, is the stimulus for theorizing about how economies work, and perhaps why this one is so stuck with Obama in the White House.

    There is an excellent analysis by David Warren printed last year in Canada and which I have saved. It is a comparison of Obama with Gorbachev and brings considerable light on the subject of success of nations.

    Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.

    Gorbachev seemed to assume, right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and then beyond it, that his Communist Party would recover from any temporary setbacks, and that the long-term effects of his glasnost and perestroika could only be to make it bigger and stronger.

    There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.

    This brief discussion fits well with the book that was recommended by the Postrel piece.


    The Bad History Behind ‘You Didn’t Build That’
    By Virginia Postrel

    The controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s admonishment that “if you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen” has defied the usual election-year pattern.

    Normally a political faux pas lasts little more than a news cycle. People hear the story, decide what they think, and quickly move on to the next brouhaha, following what the journalist Mickey Kaus calls the Feiler Faster Thesis. A gaffe that might have ruined a candidate 20 years ago is now forgotten within days.

    Three weeks later, Obama’s comment is still a big deal.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship, France, Human Behavior, Judaism, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy | 9 Comments »

    A Little Bit of History – The Nueces Fight

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 2nd August 2012 (All posts by )

    As I am going up to Comfort, Texas on the 11th of August, to take part in the 150th anniversary observences of the Nueces Fight, and since this Civil War event is very little known outside of Texas — herewith some background. It’s longish, so in two parts, the second part posted tomorrow.)
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, History, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    The Spectacle of Wrecks on the Internet Superhighway

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th July 2012 (All posts by )

    I am not one of those people who thrive on discord – which may be one of the reasons that I gave up posting on Open Salon yea these many months ago. I am at heart a rather peaceful and well-mannered person who does not actively seek out confrontation, on the internet or in real life … no really, stop laughing! I merely present myself as someone who doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and who will not hesitate to squash them, which has the pleasing result of not being very much bothered by fools. It’s called ‘presence’… and has worked out pretty well, actually online and in real life. I can easily count the number of fools I have squashed … only a dozen or so that I remember. And none of them came back for seconds.

    I don’t deliberately slow down to gawk at epic highway pileups either … except that in real life, everyone ahead of you has slowed down anyway, and the full spectrum of destruction is spread before you. And as for epic internet crackups … one can go for months without being made particularly aware of them, but this week my attention was caught by news of the mother-in-law-of all internet crack-ups to do with books. This one I must pay some attention to, as books are my vocation. It’s a more appalling spectacle than the Great Books And Pals/Jacqueline Howett Review Crackup of 2011, which should have served as an object lesson in how an author should not respond to a mildly critical review. This fresh slice of internet literary hell is what I am dubbing the Great Stop the Goodreads Bullies Cluster of 2012.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Lit Crit, Personal Narrative | 15 Comments »

    Further Adventures in Book Marketing

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 16th June 2012 (All posts by )

    Well, no one ever really considered our family or anyone in it as cutting-edge … although it might be fairly argued that we were mosying so slowly along behind everyone else in our practices and preferences that the cutting-edge, tres-up to the minute actually came around full circle in the last half-decade and caught up to us at last. Home-made everything, home vegetable garden, chores for children, no television, tidy small houses and abstention from debt of every sort, from student to credit-card … an enthusiasm for all such things are now apparently trendy and forward-thinking.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Book Notes | Comments Off on Further Adventures in Book Marketing

    Looking Ahead, Looking Over My Shoulder

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd January 2012 (All posts by )

    The month of January is associated with the Roman godlet Janus, conventionally pictured with two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. I’m looking forward at 2012 with subdued anticipation, wondering if the new year will be as much of a mixed bag as the old one was. Personally, during 2011, I felt as if I were skidding from one extreme to the other, in between every kind of loss and gain imaginable, both personal and professional. We lost my father, for one – the day after Christmas, 2010. Then I had a book to launch early in the year, and the sequel to it to finish in time for the Christmas rush – plus the all-in-one edition of the Trilogy. I had a round of speaking engagements – much fun ensuing from those, including keeping a straight face when urged to join the Sons of the Confederacy Ladies’ Auxiliary. I didn’t mention that my ever so-g-g-grandfather the Quaker abolitionist and Underground Railway safe-house keeper probably was a major disqualifier.

    I severed a professional relationship with one publisher, and moved over to another, smaller and local publisher. I had sufficient paying projects as a free-lance writer and editor in 2011. Between the freelancing, my books and partnership in the Tiny Local Bidness, I didn’t need to take on a job such as I had to take some years ago, in a telephone call center. I’m starting off this year with a guest appearance on a local internet radio show – this Thursday afternoon at three CST on the Yankie Grant Show. For books in the new year? I’ll be working on the research for the next one for sure, a picaresque adventure set in California during the Gold Rush years. I’ve always wanted to write a novel about the Gold Rush, where an extraordinary number and variety of people came to California all at once, seeking their fortunes in the mines or from the miners.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Diversions, Personal Narrative | 7 Comments »

    Reading lots of books. Ignoring televised GOP debates. (Looking over the transcripts hurts enough.)

    Posted by onparkstreet on 14th December 2011 (All posts by )

    Strobe Talbott, Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb (2004):

    Joe Ralston had the awkward assignment of making sure that he was with General Karamat during the launch of the Tomahawks. That way, if the low-flying missiles showed up on Pakistani radar screens, Joe would be able to assure Karamat that they were not the first wave of an Indian sneak attack. Toward the end of a dinner at the VIP lounge at Islamabad airport, Ralston checked his watch and told Karamat that about sixty Tomahawks had just passed through Pakistani airspace en route to their targets in Afghanistan. Shortly after, he thanked his host for dinner, shook hands, and departed.
     
    Karamat felt humiliated and betrayed. The next day his anger grew more intense when it was learned that one of the cruise missiles had gone astray and come down in Pakistan. Those that found their mark killed a number of Pakistani intelligence officers and trainees at the Afghan camps. These casualties were further cause for outrage in Pakistan, but they also confirmed Indian charges that Pakistan was officially supporting terrorism and the U.S. administration’s need to keep the operation secret.
     
    The attack missed bin Laden by hours. Suspicions lingered for years afterward that even though the Pakistanis did not know exactly when the attack was coming, they may have known enough to tip off bin Laden.

    (Emphasis mine).

    General (Ret.) Hugh Shelton, Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior (2010):

    One might think that the obvious solution would have been to inform or coordinate with Pakistan up front and let them know the missiles would be ours. Under normal circumstances, that might have worked. In this case, Pakistan’s national intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), was so connected with al-Qaeda, there was no doubt that such a forewarning would go right back to UBL and his minions, and in ten minutes those camps would be more deserted than an old Western ghost town, leaving our missiles to pound sand on empty tents and vacant training facilities.

    At this point, what is there to say?

    PS: I deleted a bunch of stuff I wrote after “what is there to say,” because it was silly. I meant to save it and post it in the comments instead so as not to be accused of “scrubbing” this post but I didn’t. I’m sure it’s cached somewhere. It’s not really anything terrible, anyway. Here is what I wish I had posted instead:

    Lasch described the emergence of elites who “…control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate.” These elites would undermine American democracy in order to fulfill their insatiable desire for wealth and power and to perpetuate their social and political advantages. Middle-class values, Lasch warned, would be hollowed out by a value-neutral educational system preaching multiculturalism. Their replacement would be narcissistic values based on self-gratification and worshipful of fame and celebrity as the ultimate values in a world devoid of deeper meaning.

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, India, Military Affairs, Politics, Quotations, Terrorism, War and Peace | 9 Comments »

    “The Contemporary Art Of The Novella”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 24th April 2011 (All posts by )

    Browsing a bookstore on a rainy and strangely November-like day for April, I came across a display of novellas from Melville House Publishing. Slim, neat volumes with the book titles printed on each stark white cover page in primary colors and black. Irresistible to the book lover who is busy at work, a bit tired of blogging and blog commenting (and yet, I’ve left over ten comments here and elsewhere over the course of the entire weekend. Physician, heal thyself!), and who misses reading fiction.

    And so, the novella. After the fantastic comments about postmodernism left at my last blog post, “A Lazy Sunday’s Blogging,” the following blurb seemed especially intriguing:

    Part murder mystery and all jet-black satire, and based on a real life scandal, this edgy novella tells the story of Leopold Sfax, world-renowned as the creator of “The Theory” – a bizarre literary theory that grew from an intellectual folly to a dominant school of criticism that enslaved college campuses across the country.

    To make the satire even blacker, Leopold Sfax, the world-renowned theorist, is hiding his past as a Nazi collaborator. No wonder he is a proponent of words and text divorced from the author….

    ….and all of this is in Gilbert Adair’s novella The Death of the Author. It is a very good book and I don’t agree with the tepid mini-review at Amazon by Publishers Weekly. Why are the Publishers Weekly mini-reviews at Amazon so generally off-base? To whomever at PW wrote “a narrative weighted down by the narrator’s unceasingly haughty academic rhetoric,” all I have to say is this: the book and its language is a satire of academics, academia, and postmodern language. That’s the reason for the haughty academic rhetoric. It’s part of the fun:

    I proposed that, again in every text, there would fatally arrive what I called an aporia, a terminal impasse, a blank brick wall of impenetrability, an ultimatum of indetermination when its self-contradictory meanings could no longer be permitted to coexist in harmony and its fundamental “undecidability” would undermine for ever the reader’s most fundamental presuppositions.
     
    It was, as it happens, at that last proposition that the long-suffering scoffers at the Theory were determined to draw the line – rather, it was by the window of opportunity offered by its theoretical incontinence and by the enormity of its affront to sheer common sense that they sought to infiltrate and invade the rest of the fortress. What? they squealed from Berkeley to Brown, and from Wesleyan to Columbia, is nothing to mean anything anymore? Hamlet, Faust, Moby-Dick, The Divine Comedy – that these possess not one meaning, fair enough, but are they then to possess so very many that it becomes meaningless for the reader to explore any of them? To which the screw-turners, nostrils twitching at the whiff of sulphur, would add: And Auschwitz? Dresden? Hiroshima? My Lai? All of them meaningless, indecipherable texts, saying the opposite of what we had always imagined they said? Wars as texts – go tell that, they protested, to the Marines, go tell that to the maimed, gassed, blinded, disfigured victims of civil texts and guerilla texts and one day, doubtless, the great nuclear text.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Book Notes, Education | 2 Comments »

    Book Notes

    Posted by onparkstreet on 18th October 2010 (All posts by )

    Allen R. Dodd, Jr.’s The Job Hunter is the flip-side of “Mad Men”. This is what the world of 1960′s advertising–of the white-collar workplace in general–looks like from the outside looking in. Subtitled “The Diary of a ‘Lost’ Year,” The Job Hunter began as an article in the 30 November 1962 issue Printer’s Ink–at the time one of the leading trade journals of the advertising business. Although Dodd acknowledges in his introduction that his first-person narrator is “a composite figure, a typical white-collar job-seeker, created from a variety of sources,” he fully succeeds in creating a believable character from what could easily be a stereotype of one of John Cheever’s middle-aged train-catching commuters.

    “It’s going to be tough on the company, of course, but the last thing in the world we’d want to do is to stand in your way,” Dodd’s nameless narrator is told one July afternoon by one of his higher-ups in a mid-sized ad firm. And so he is evicted from the world of the working and left to find another position, a process that takes him the better part of a year. Although many of the practical aspects of job-hunting have changed–Dodd’s narrator has little else besides the help wanted ads and a few business directories to go on–The Job Hunter is very effective in conveying the sense of being a social outcast that inevitably clings to a man without a job, particularly a white-collar professional.

    The Neglected Books Page

    Also from The Neglected Books Page:

    In 1939, Rollo Walter Brown was 59, a former Harvard professor of literature, a popular lecturer, and a dangerous man. In I Travel by Train, he recalls some of his many trips across the United States through the depths of the Depression. His work as a lecturer on literature, politics, and history took him to all corners of the country, from San Francisco to New Orleans and Atlanta, from the industrial towns of Michigan and Ohio to the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and north Texas. Wherever he went, he made a point of venturing out and trying to understand what was going on and why.

    Check out the utterly charming drawings accompanying the I Travel by Train post. Graphic novels are not such a new concept, it turns out….

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Book Notes | 2 Comments »

    “One of Irina’s grandsons, nicknamed Riri, was sent to her at Christmas.”

    Posted by onparkstreet on 22nd December 2009 (All posts by )

    “One of Irina’s grandsons, nicknamed Riri, was sent to her at Christmas. His mother was going into hospital, but nobody told him that. The real cause of his visit was that since Irina had become a widow her children worried about her being alone. The children, as Irina would call them forever, were married and in their thirties and forties. They did not think they were like other people, because their father had been a powerful old man. He was a Swiss writer, Richard Notte. They carried his reputation and the memory of his puritan equity like an immense jar filled with water of which they had been told not to spill a drop.” – from the short story Irina, by Mavis Gallant (Paris Stories collection)

    Paris Stories is a beautiful collection. The short story Irina has the most vivid sense of place – it’s all a feeling of hushed, chilled, snowy air outside, and the quiet of an apartment unused to children inside:

    “At half past four, when the windows were as black as the sky in the painting of tulips and began to reflect the lamps in a disturbing sort of way, they drew the curtains and had tea around the table. They pushed Riri’s books and belongings to one side and spread a cross-stitched tablecloth. Riri had hot chocolate, a croissant left from breakfast and warmed in the oven….”

    And now, Urban Sketchers:

    gamexmas

    The above drawing – by Cathy Gatland – is from the website, Urban Sketchers. Urban Sketchers is one of the most interesting sites I have encountered this year. It’s a group blog for people who draw, and they draw, charmingly, what they see: The city life around them! It’s dizzying, the talent on display.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes | 3 Comments »

    Do you ever feel like this?

    Posted by onparkstreet on 5th December 2009 (All posts by )

    Fellow, sometime-and-in-some-fashion, academics or others dabbling in paper writing?

    Dixon looked out of the window at the fields wheeling past, bright green after a wet April. It wasn’t the double-exposure effect of the last half-minute’s talk that had dumbfounded him, for such incidents formed the staple material of Welch colloquies; it was the prospect of reciting the title of the article he’d written. It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool. ‘Let’s see,’ he echoed Welch in a pretended effort of memory: ‘oh yes; The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485…’

    Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis.

    I never tire of this book – it’s one of my favorites – even as I pretty much dislike the main character and the object of his affection, the tepid and colorless Christine. What are your favorite campus, or academic, satires?

    Update: David Foster and Jim Bennett, in the comments section, both voice the same thought I had on re-reading the above excerpt: an article on the economic impact of shipbuilding techniques sounds pretty darn interesting, actually. I think the scene says something about the main character, Dixon, and his lack of interest in the very topics he is meant to research and study. In short, his heart’s not in it. Either that or Kingsley Amis had zero interest in economics and the title struck him as the most vapid imaginable. Anyone know?

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes | 18 Comments »

    On the emotional nature of work and business

    Posted by onparkstreet on 4th October 2009 (All posts by )

    As a medical student during the early nineties, I used to ‘decompress’ by reading light-hearted fiction; warm, simple stories about normal human problems. No War and Peace for me. Too ambitious. At the time, I liked to read Maeve Binchy. You’ve probably seen her fiction displayed in bookstores. One story in particular, titled “Marble Arch”, about a young female entrepreneur, struck a chord. By a lot of unglamorous hard work, she’s learned to make a living selling hand-stitched handbags. Her family is nonplussed that she left a salaried position selling cosmetics to strike out on her own:

    “Her mother had worked regularly and quietly in a restaurant. She said that her one ambition was that Sophie should never have a job which meant walking and standing, and dealing with dirty plates and difficult customers. She was happy when Sophie was selling nice, fresh, good-smelling oils and paints for people’s faces. She was worried when she seemed to become a person of no account sitting in a little stall shouting her wares to the public.”

    It’s an attitude I heard growing up – where a nice safe credentialed job was lauded, while business was seen as mercurial and unsafe. Well, starting a small business is risky. The story continues:

    Sophie sighed, thinking how little everyone around her knew about business…….Really she had made very little impression on anyone, with her own businesslike attitudes. Nobody realized that it wasn’t easy to be organized and disciplined and to make money. It took a lot of time, and worry, and ate into all those hours you could be sitting around and enjoying yourself. Nobody ever got drawn into her belief that people might be on this earth to work hard.”

    Nobody ever got drawn into her belief that people might be on this earth to work hard.  Sounds like every lecture ever given to me – as a young person – by my parents. I think they were exasperated by my youthful ideas about work and life. I thought, I really thought, that everything should be sweet, easy and pleasant. Ah, that dangerous expectation: that work should always and everywhere be fulfilling, whatever that means.


    Posted in Book Notes, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »