Thursday, July 31, 2008

Books read in the month of July

I love the smell of rain. The sound of it in the gutters. The way it fogs up the windows on the bus. It's really excellent weather to stay inside reading, which is why I was standing at the bus stop downtown at 9:30 at night in it.

Here are the books I read in July:

  1. The House With the Clock in Its Walls (John Bellairs), 179 pages, finished 7/1/08
  1. Versailles (Kathryn Davis), 206 pages, finished 7/5/08
  1. Doomsday Book (Connie Willis), 578 pages, finished 7/8/08
  1. Havemercy (Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett), 388 pages, finished 7/25/08
  1. A Shropshire Lad (A.E. Housman), finished 7/26/08
  1. Narrative Poems (C.S. Lewis), 178 pages, finished 7/28/08
All pretty nifty. Not to mention, that whole writing a novel thing. Most of one, anyway.

Also, during the month, I have started reading The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje), Tales from the Macabre (Daphne du Maurier), Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert), Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome), and The Poems of Oscar Wilde (these last three via DailyLit). I've already talked a bit about The English Patient, and I'm not far enough into the others to really comment on them, except that Three Men in a Boat is most entertaining.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On Michael Ondaatje

So, every once in a while I have a day where I can't for the life of me decide what to read next--I want to read it all, and I don't want to read any of it, and I can't remember what all the books I've been meaning to read for ages are. I always wind up turning to my parents, who have read a great many good books in their time, and they will pull all sorts of books off the shelves, and stack them up in front of me, and then eventually I'll probably walk up to a shelf and pull something off and start reading it, or pick up the very first book they recommended which I originally scoffed at. It is all very trying.

Anyway, that is how I came to pick up The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. I suppose it's one I always figured I'd read eventually. I have read some of his poetry in The Cinnamon Peeler, which I should finish, and I love in that the "Elimination Game," which has such gems as,

"Those who have woken to find the wet footprints of a peacock across their kitchen floor.

Those who have accidentally stapled themselves.

Anyone who has been hired as a 'professional beater' and frightened grouse in the direction of the Queen Mother.

Any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail.

Anyone with pain."

And my favourite...

"Men who shave off beards in stages, pausing to take photographs."

It's not exactly poetry--I'm not sure what it is. A bit of a dedication, I suppose.

Anyway, I have so far read the first chapter of The English Patient, and hearing that the movie was terrible I see why it was, because I can't imagine how you could make a film out of this. It reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale in an odd manner, and it almost serves that desire I had for World War II novels, and it satisfies my fondness for books involving crumbling houses. There are books I've read (not that I can think of an example) where my favourite character is the house they all live in. Anyway, it's lovely, and I am definitely continuing.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The English in wartime

So tonight I watched the last ever episode of Foyle's War on Masterpiece Theatre. I am very sad that it is over, as it was an excellent show. I'm very fond of Michael Kitchen, not to mention the other regular characters on the show. Unlike some mysteries, it always had a good mix of humour.

Anyway, it gave me a desire to read some good English World War II novels, of which I have not read many (the only ones I can think of involved children during WWII, and thus rather disconnected). I would be partial to ones about the normal life during WWII, rather than any fighting. However, I have just resolved not to read anything but the books I already own, so maybe it'll be a while before I read any.

It also got me thinking about how wars seem to bring out in the English even more than normal that peculiar quality that is Englishness. It's like that story (probably not true), of how after Churchill announced the war (or some similar statement) the power went out all over England, because everybody went to make a pot of tea at the same time. Anyway, I'd like to write an English WWII novel, but it would involve a lot of research--I figure reading some novels about it might be a good start. Who is to say whether this will ever happen.

I have today been introduced to the idea of a verse novel. I find it fascinating, and would like to read one.

A little bit of poetry

I sometimes think I like reading about books better than I like reading the books themselves. Among book blogs, I have for quite a while been particularly partial to Stuck in a Book, and yesterday discovered Oxford reader, which I am liking.

Yesterday I picked up again after two years C.S. Lewis's Narrative Poems, which I bought at a lovely little antique shop on Vashon Island 4th of July two years ago. The place didn't have a lot of books, but it had a fabulous collection of all the Inklings' work. Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams. So I went for the Narrative Poems, which I like very much and shall endeavour to finish this time. I got through Dymer (which was terribly confusing, though very lovely--I don't know if it would have been less confusing had I not read it in chunks two years apart), and Launcelot. I am now on The Nameless Isle, which I think I like best so far of these, at least in style. Though I was rather taken with the style of Dymer. But I can't help loving that rolling Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, with the profusion of alliteration. What could be better than this?

Then came a turn of luck.
On the tenth evening too soon the light
Over working seas went beneath the sky line,
Darkness came dripping and the deafening storm
Upon wild waters, wet days and long,
Carried us, and caverned clouds immeasurable
Harried and hunted like a hare that ship
Too many days. Men were weary.

Try reading it out loud. That may not be the best example, but it's pretty good.

Here's the beginning of Dymer:

You stranger, long before your glance can light
Upon these words, time will have washed away
The moment when I first took pen to write
With all my road before me--yet to-day,
Here if at all, we meet; the unfashioned clay
Ready to both our hands; both hushed to see
That which is nowhere yet come forth and be.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Accidental Novel

So, I'm writing this novel. I call it my accidental novel, because it was accidentally begun, the main character was accidentally introduced, his sister accidentally died and left her son to him, there is a fair amount of accidental foreshadowing, and a lot of other accidental bits of plot that I didn't plan. Of course, I haven't planned any of this novel. It is a prime example of a story that takes over and begins to write itself.

I always thought that the novel I wrote last November was pretty unplanned, but I realize now that I had a pretty good idea how it was going to turn out. This one not so much. It's harder to write the less planned one, because I have to stop and figure out where I'm going next, but I think it's turning out much better. I think the plot is more successful, and since I didn't set out with a goal of where I wanted to go I can't be disappointed. And with the last novel, I had set out to have a lot of coincidences and incidents of small worldness, but this one has more of that by far.

My working title is Jude, or sometimes Hey, Jude. Jude, Prince of Tempest is tempting, but a little bit too obvious in its allusion to Hamlet. That's what the whole novel is, by the way. An allusion to Hamlet, and the title character is very heavily inspired by the portrayal of Hamlet by Shawn Law that I saw two weeks ago (and again, twice, last weekend).

We'll see how it turns out. The goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of this month, and to finish it by August 13th, exactly a month after I began. We'll see whether that happens. I have no idea how long it will turn out to be.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Our true intent is all for your delight.

I've just seen four plays in twenty-four hours. Three of them Shakespeare. All of them outside. I think that is quite the achievement, and I would go see three more tomorrow were I not just a little bit theatred out. This is all part of the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival, which features a whole lot of plays performed outdoors in Volunteer Park.

Last night I saw "The Tempest", which had a friend of mine in it, and was quite excellent, and very funny. I liked that it didn't attempt to do anything novel with the setting, so they could concentrate better on the characters and the story. And it was truly a blank stage, which was neat.

This afternoon/evening I saw "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "The Wind in the Willows", and "Hamlet".

A "Midsummer Night's Dream" had a vaguely Vegas setting, so Titania had a big feathery headdress and at one point one of the fairies had a big white feathery tail. And Puck had a stripey purple waistcoat, shiny purple tailcoat, and a very nice hat. They had a very interesting set, which consisted of two vaguely bridge shaped blocks and a semicircle block, which were moved around in interesting ways. There was a pug! You could see their backstage, and we kept looking at the pug and wondering what it was doing there, and finally realized when it came on stage. They had music, and it gave the whole thing a goodly air of creepy circus, which was apt with the fairies. However, I thought Puck was the only fairy who really seemed unhuman, which bothered me.

"The Wind in the Willows" was entertaining. I've never read the book, so I can't judge on that front, but I very much liked Rat and Mole, and although it was a little theatrical for my tastes, it was still lots of fun.

"Hamlet" was excellent. Largely due to Hamlet himself. Watching him become increasingly mad was fascinating, and the way you couldn't always tell whether he was really insane or just putting it on, and how he was sometimes completely lucid and sane, and then would suddenly snap and start giggling madly and hopping up and down and jumping back and forth and all. He was always moving around, and for a while he was wandering around barefoot and disheveled, and he kept walking through the audience in a distracted manner. They made very good use of his costume changes: they were always subtle, but very effective.

The other character I particularly liked watching was Gertrude. Hamlet had a scene with her which is apparently only in one version of the play and isn't so often done, which was lovely to watch. I found her much more sympathetic than I would usually think of her.

Ophelia's madness was fascinating. She was in a nightgown, and wearing Polonius's vaguely cassock like thing, and throwing rocks around and calling them rosemary and rue.

Horatio was played by a woman, as a woman. I don't know that this really worked very well, and I always think of Horatio as being more subtle than was played. Rosencrantz was also a woman, which wasn't quite so jarring, but Guildenstern was double-cast as Laertes, which was jarring.

The ghost was well done. He was played by Claudius, and there were various of the actors stationed off to the sides of the audience, echoing some of his words, which created a rather ghostly effect.

Fortinbras was cut entirely (which I didn't notice until the last scene); I think the aim was to focus on Hamlet and his madness.

Next weekend I'm planning to see "Twelfth Night", and maybe "Romeo and Juliet".

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Virginia Woolf, tricoteuses, plague

So, I went to Vashon Island to visit my grandparents and watch the fireworks for 4th of July, and naturally, went and bought more books. I have acquired The Letters of Virginia Woolf, volume 2--1912 - 1922, and a book on fairies and similar creatures which is a reprint of a 19th century book. I can't remember the title or author and am too lazy to look it up, but it's got fairies by country, which is pretty interesting. I read the Introduction to the Letters on the bus home from Vashon, and started reading some of the letters today. They are extremely pleasant to read. I should really get around to reading the rest of Mrs. Dalloway. I like how very frank she is about things that are usually skirted over in the time (or now). Things like sex--she counts the number of books she has read since she lost her virginity, which is just amusing. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading more.

While on Vashon, I finished reading Kathryn Davis's Versailles. It paints (and this is very much the best word for it) a very representative portrait of the place, and if, like a portrait, it doesn't give you all the details just by looking at it, maybe those details aren't so important anyway. The chapters go back and forth between ones narrated by Marie Antoinette herself, ones that outline the architecture of Versaille, and ones that are little playlets featuring the characters. It's a lovely book, and like always, I find myself morbidly fascinated by all the mentions of the French Revolution--the tricoteuses, tiny toy guillotines. I suppose lovely isn't quite the right word.

I am now in the middle of Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. I've previously read To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is utterly fabulous, and while this one isn't quite as enchanting it is nevertheless drawing me in very well, and managing to be almost equally fascinating in the different storylines in 2054 and 1320.


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