Is It On Or Off The Wagon?

That was a question asked by an episode of Seinfeld. I love Seinfeld. My better half ranges between ambivalence and mild dislike. But that’s neither here nor there.

And I’m talking about my phone, not alcohol. Continue reading


Happy Anniversary, Bilbo

This is the particular edition from which my mother read to me

This week is the eightieth anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit and so I’ll add my two cents to the celebrations.

I can still recite the opening several sentences of  the novel from memory (‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.’). Continue reading

Verses From The Center

This was all the DC Public Library system had, in the way of Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist theologian (and founding figure of one of the largest rivers of Buddhist thought and also the origin of Thai Buddhist theology; Mahayana Buddhism – look it up).

The translator, Stephen Batchelor, openly acknowledges that this is not an academic work and I find it a shame that the library does not have a such a translation (this is not a criticism of the DCPL; it’s an awesome library system and I can’t honestly say that such a book should be a burning priority for them; it’s more of a personal disappointment).

I don’t know much about Mr. Batchelor, but if I were to guess, I would say that he does ‘pop’ Buddhism for well-to-do white people.

Knowing a smidgen about the subject, I was able to interpret how these verses relate to the so-called tetralemma (a kind of logic or form of logic or aspect of logic associated with Nagarjuna with four predicates: x is; x is not; x both is and is not; x neither is nor is not). You can also see Buddhist ideas of time and how they relate to the absence of a self.

You can see a lot of stuff. Kind of. Partly, I know, it’s because these works were not written for me, were not written in a style nor a language nor form intended to help me understand.

Partly, though, I can’t help but think that this was intended as a sort of self help book for people who wear Lululemon to yoga classes.

‘The Shrinking Man’ By Richard Matheson

If you’re a fan of the Charlton Heston classic, The Omega Man or the less classic, but more recent, I Am Legend, you have been exposed to the sci fi writer, Richard Matheson.

Some time ago, I read I Am Legend (the actual name of the novel; both movies are based on it) and while I wasn’t much interested in delving further into his oeuvre, this was in a four book collection of mid-fifties science fiction from the Library of America, so I read it.

And it ain’t bad.

Scott Carey is shrinking inexorably by approximately 1/7 of an inch a day. The narrative runs on two parallel tracks. First, when he is one inch tall (seven days to live!) and being stalked by a black widow spider in the basement in which he is trapped. This tales alternate with him shrinking over time and watching his life and family fall apart under it all. The tales converge when the second timeline reaches when he gets trapped in the cellar.

Half of it is exciting, survival fiction in what is, effectively, an alien environment. The other half is more thinking person’s sci fi, about the personal implications (finances; becoming shorter than one’s daughter; ceasing to be sexually attractive to one’s wife; being mistaken for a child by bullies).

‘More Than Human’

To dispel some, perhaps, common misconceptions: the novel More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon is not very much like the White Zombie classic, More Human Than Human. One is grand guignol rock classic and the other a meditation on identity.

The novel dragged a bit to begin with and it wasn’t until about a third of the way through that the disparate pieces started to come together. There was a bit of second rate Faulkner-ism in the third person limited narrative sections featuring children and brain damaged adults and I honestly couldn’t see what Sturgeon was doing. I now see, but I’m not convinced it was worth it.

‘The Long Tomorrow’ By Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett wrote heady, thinking person’s sci fi, pulpy space operas and planetary romances, and also worked on the script for The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve read a little of her pulp (one of her Eric John Stark novels/novellas – an homage to Burroughs’ Barsoom novels), but it’s more books like The Long Tomorrow that have made her important to the history of sci fi.

The Long Tomorrow is post apocalyptic, but more in a Canticle for Leibowtiz way than a Road Warrior way. The world is still around. She’s thought out some interesting implications (the new America is politically dominated by groups descended from Mennonites, because they were already reasonably self sufficient in the absence of much technology; and America still exists, but it’s a lot more low-tech).

The evolution of the main character, Len, is interesting. It’s not that he’s super smart, but he is a thinker. More, he can’t help thinking and can’t help taking his time when thinking, but then, in the end, acting on the implications of what he has figured out.

The ‘twist,’ if that’s what it is (and it just might be my interpretation) is that the secret colony of scientists may just be spinning their wheels and the answers may not exist. Which also might be the point of Len’s thinking.

‘Empty Chairs’ By Liu Xia seemed unfair (and possibly sexist) to read Liu Xiaobo and not read his wife and fellow poet, Liu Xia.

I do not know how typical the poems are (the dates range from 1983 to 2013), but based on the sample size of one collection each, Liu Xia was the finer poet. Maybe that really means she had a finer translator, but the artistic and political demands are better balanced and… they’re just better to read.

And knowing that her husband, who is addressed or referenced in the many love poems in here, died recently (while serving a eleven year sentence; ostensible ‘crime’ doesn’t matter; he was a political prisoner) and that she is under an extra-legal form of house arrest (so also a political prisoner), makes many of the poems, which touch on love and on freedom curtailed, devastating (and never didactic).