Shadowheart


He, umm… he did not, shall we say, stick the landing.

The final volume of Shadowmarch series managed to both be frenetic and also to drag terribly, an impressive accomplishment, but not fun to read.

Much of the book is an extended battle sequence – a series of engagements around the primary locale (Southmarch, if you’re interested) that are so frequent that they cease to hold the attention.

The climactic battle, involving a freed/awoken (though not ‘woke’) god, depended on some world building that the book didn’t earn. And some story lines turned out to be absolute nothings. There was, for example, a potentially interesting and morally weak poet named Tinwright who managed to take a large quantity of pages only to not do anything important or meaningful, in the end. It was like someone fired Checkhov’s gun, but missed and then did nothing more with it.

Finally, the ending went on for something like two hundred pages after the climax. Sure, Tolkien did that… but he was Tolkien. I didn’t know Tolkien, but I read a lot of his works, and you, sir, are no J.R.R. Tolkien.

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Not Catching Up


I am trying and not completely succeeding in catching up on my periodicals. The more timely ones like Foreign Affairs and The New Yorker are first and Poetry gets relegated because its news doesn’t get old.

But if you find this one somewhere, it has a great poem by Aracelis Girmay (another Floridian, by the way).

Exact Thinking In Demented Times


Apparently, we’re doing back to back Viennese themed books.

The last one was better.

This one is good and interesting, but keeps failing to do more.

You see, Exact Thinking in Demented Times is about the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers, mathematicians, economists, and physicists who roughly made up the core founders of (now mostly… I don’t want to say discredited, because that’s not fair, but let’s just say that it’s not something many people identify themselves as these days) logical positivism.

While it does a good job of showing how physics, in particular, played a fascinating cross-pollination role in this philosophical school, it doesn’t really tell us much about the actual philosophy. It also spends too much time on people who weren’t really logical positivists nor participated in the meetings on the Vienna Circle (I’m looking at you, Wittgenstein!).

And aspects of the depiction of the historical milieu seem a little half-baked. For example, I am assuming that the ‘demented’ references mainly to Nazism and fascism, but somehow, until the last quarter of the book (in a way that feels tacked on), he manages to elude the urge to talk about this key aspect of the time period.

So we neither get an exact picture of their thinking nor a good view of demented Nazis.

Which isn’t to dismiss it entirely. It was a worthwhile read, just not what it could have been.

And it did inspire me to try and dig up some Carnap make another go at reading him after some abortive efforts in college (I used to study at a table very near the shelf where The Logical Syntax of Language could be found, taunting me).

‘Late Fame’ By Arthur Schnitzler


Many years ago, while still in college, I read Schnitzler’s Road to the Open. I was inspired by some reading about fin-de-siecle Vienna and a reference to Freud calling him his ‘doppleganger’ (intellectually, not physically, I gather).

For most of the book, I read it as a sort of building satire, wending its way to an uncomfortably cringeworthy comic moment.

And then it didn’t. Continue reading

‘Shadowrise’ By Tad Williams


The Tad is back! By which I mean that Shadowrise, the third book in his Shadowmarch tetralogy, is much better than the disappointing second, Shadowplay.

This one is more exciting and the characters have grown so that they are less irritating than they sometimes were in previous installments (though I would have liked more from the perspective of Chert, the funderling [read: fantasy dwarf]) and he seems to have firm control over the narrative.

I’m already reading the fourth book and will blog about it soon, if my daughter will let me finish it.

Poetry East


I just finished reading the latest copy of Poetry East, one of my favorite poetry magazines.

One could criticize it by saying that it publishes too little work by new and emerging poets and too many by dead poets (like, Shelley levels of dead). But when you read it… well, it’s hard to criticize such a well put together publication with so much great poetry and beautiful (if not original) artwork.

This one (actually from Autumn 2017) features Carvaggio paired with passages from the Gospels (do you consider that poetry?). Ovid and Bernini. Facing pages with the Italian and English translations of Petrarch. Selections from American writers who visited Rome. English writers (the earlier mentioned Shelley, for example).

And yes, some new poetry. As part of three short poems collectively entitled Storyflowers, Suzanne Rhodenbaugh included this small gem, called Iris:

Once I was all lips and tongue.
Now I am a fist.

Can’t wait until the next issue.

The Road To Monticello: The Life And Mind Of Thomas Jefferson


While reading it, I was constantly contrasting its view of Jefferson with that in Friends Divided.

The short version is that Road takes a significantly more positive view of Jefferson. Friends was overwhelmingly complimentary, but with notable moments of, dare I say, snark. Jefferson was sometimes portrayed in that one as a bit fatuous and image obsessed and even slightly shallow, especially in comparison to the earnest and earthy Adams. Both, interestingly, more or less skip over Jefferson’s presidency.

Road glossed over the eight years of Jefferson’s presidency because he was mostly busy with business of being president and the book is an intellectual history of Jefferson. More specifically, it is a bibliographic history of the third president, focusing on not just what he was writing, but on what he was reading. The immense research into his book buying, reading, and library contents is staggering. Others might find it boring, but not me.

Even more than in Friends, the treatment of Sally Hemmings is disconcerting. I was particularly struck by a moment when the book talked about James Hemmings coming with Jefferson to Paris and then noting that his sister, Sally, came, too. James gets mentioned quite a bit, but Sally, hardly at all and the absence feels jarring. How can you talk so much about James Hemmings and not mention the relationship and children Jefferson had with Sally? I’m sure that the author wanted to get back quickly to the particular subject of his sort of biography, but it just feels… weird.

Friends several times noted that Jefferson did not read novels (unlike Adams; the book had a slight bias against the third president, I felt, and even this felt like an attempt to imply that he didn’t have much of an inner life) and Road once, towards the end. But Road also repeatedly stressed his great love of… what for it… the novels of Lawrence Sterne! Yes, that’s right! Tom loved Tristram Shandy! For some reason, I got a kick out of that.

If there is one thing that this book will do, it will make you want to move into a house on a Virginia mountain or hill and fill up a large library and read all day long.