My daughter and I loved reading Flower Fairies of Autumn, so I put the other three seasons on hold a the library. Then, you know, COVID stuff happened and we couldn’t go to the library.
Well, we still can’t go in, but we can stop by and pick up holds and these two were available. We read them at bedtime over a few nights and I want to say again, these are a fantastic way to introduce your children to poetry.
A wonderful, moving work of recreated memory. Emily Jungmin Yoon‘s poems (mostly; there’s a glaring exception at the end) cohere around two related themes: the so-called Korean comfort women, taken by Japanese soldiers; and a Korean-American woman navigating race and gender prejudices (and the predatory gaze of men, mirroring, perhaps, the Japanese soldiers).
She tells, in verse form, specific stories of specific women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army, mixed with prose poems (each one titled Ordinary Misfortunes) focusing on the second theme.
There are some variations thrown in and the final poem, The Transformation, though written as more traditional verse, follows the pattern of the prose poems in subject and theme. However, the opening epigram (In early 2016, thirteen sperm whales beached themselves on Germany’s North Coast, their stomachs full of plastic litter.), while timely important, so bluntly introduces ecopoetics into a book about something else, that it badly jarred me out of the melancholy reverie the rest of the book had settled me into.
The Beetle is a work of horror by a man who seems not in control of his own sexual hang ups.
The characters are mostly too perfect or, in one case, too crippled by a twenty year old attack to be other than cryptic or hysterical at all times. In his defense, he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a beautiful young woman who was also a divine and immortal beetle.
Only a fellow called Atherton is exempt. He’s excitable, vengeful, and generally relatable in a way everyone is not. He’s an ass, but a normal and understandable one. He is also shown working on a horrifying chemical weapon which… is never used to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. It’s as if Chekhov forgot to fire his gun.
The villain, besides being indicted based on their ethnic appearance, has, when not a beetle, the body a handsome woman with the face of aging and preternaturally ugly man.
Also, nudity is surprisingly frequent for a novel from 1897. A man runs through the streets wearing only a cloak and everyone he meets notes he is naked beneath. When a young woman is forced to wear a man’s rags, the speaker notes that she must first have been forced to undress. Atherton catches a glimpse of the villainous beetle’s alluring feminine body before they transform.
And did I mention the rapes and orgies that preceded the sacrifice of (formerly) virginal white women by burning?
Also: brandy can cure almost all ills (and literally brings a man back from the dead, even if only for a moment).
Something happened to Mr. Marsh and I don’t care to know what.
In the meantime, better folk than I can comment on what this all says about gender roles, masculinity, and the end of empire.
In light of recent events, Starz has made this free to watch, which I am incredibly happy about. I saw this years ago, back before Netflix was a thing and was powerfully struck by it. An amazing performance by Roger Guenveur Smith (who I had never seen before nor, to my knowledge, since) and powerfully staged and directed by Spike Lee in a very stagey manner, but in a theater that resembles a panopticon.
I will here admit that I had almost no knowledge of Newton before watching this and to this day, not enough, but I can’t emphasize enough what a fantastic film it is and I urge you to watch it as an amazing performance and as an educational and aesthetic event.
I came across a (the?) letter where Thomas Jefferson speaks of watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots. I do not know if this is only or even first time he used such a phrase (I found it in a letter to Colonel William Stephens Smith, John Adams’ son-in-law, dated November 13, 1787 and written when Jefferson was still in Paris; I also know he tends to cannibalize phrases, as he repeats a phrase from this letter in one sent to Madison and dated over a month later). Read more
You’d think I’d be more embarrassed. I mean, I’m a little embarrassed, but not that much. This is my thing. Sci fi and fantasy pulps. And these particular ones are attributed to William Shatner, for whom I have a deep and abiding love.
The thread of these techno drug cartels (the titular ‘tek’) runs through all the novels and this one is no exception. While obviously science fiction, in a semi-near future way (more Neuromancer than Star Trek), I have settled into an appreciative groove by understanding these as decently crafted, fast moving detective novels. Jake Cardigan, the primary protagonist, is very much the archetype of a noir hero: middle aged, tough, haggard, former cop turned PI, formerly jailed for crime he didn’t commit, preternaturally good at his job, and not infrequently beaten up a little. Read more
This is the second time I have read Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. The first time was when I was a young man (late teens? twenties?) and was only the second book by Defoe I’d ever read (true to this day; the other being his book of the English Civil War, Memoirs of a Cavalier; incidentally, the use of ‘a’ rather than ‘the’ is interesting; I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, wherein the use of the indefinite pronoun and the implied rejection of a certain authorial omniscience makes the works feel more trustworthy). Read more
Thomas Jefferson was frequently accused of being an atheist (I tend towards those who suppose him to be a particularly secular Deist), but usually avoided commitment and included references to God (or someone similar) in his writings, particular the more or less public (I have been reading so much 18th century English writing that I almost spelled that ‘publick’) ones. An obvious example is the capital C Creator referenced in The Declaration of Independence. Read more
Finally… after two books, we see a colon used in the third volume!
More than ever, these books feel like Dungeons & Dragons tie-ins. I just finished a long campaign with my long time group, going from first to twentieth level. This feels like a campaign. But the thing is, there is a lot of filler that doesn’t really tie the true narrative together. When playing, it’s not that important because the real joy is the relationship with your companions and seeing your own character grow and evolve. But it doesn’t really work in a novel. This was possibly my least favorite of the three.
I picked this up before the pandemic hit (or at least before we knew it was hitting). I am sure that I have read A.E. Housman before. I didn’t read it for a while, but it has been something I have been keeping nearby lately and reading from. I even read it to my little one during dinner (poem XVII, which opens with a stanza about football [which I changed to ‘soccer’ when I read it my little soccer fan]). Read more