Black Mountain Poems: An Anthology


My father knew one of the figures associated with Black Mountain College. He and his older brother had been friends with Fielding Dawson, a writer. While Dawson’s poetry is not in this anthology, he is name checked in the introduction, though perhaps it would have been better for everybody had they chosen to include something by him instead of whatever Buckminster Fuller was writing that he mistakenly believed to be poetry.

Rightly, the poet who gets the most space is Robert Creeley (though none of the included poems featured the off kilter pastoralism that I associate with him). Charles Olson, featured early, was the best surprise. Of course, I know who he is, but I really haven’t read him, and the long poems with their swaybacked stanzas and shifting thoughts really are amazing and clearly, I need to read more.

Tek Kill


Do I really need to write anymore about the plots, characters, and pros and cons of (sort of) William Shatner’s Tek novels? Do I? Do I really?

No, I probably don’t.

It’s not clear why a drug cartel is going after the hero’s boss or why the hero is calm about his teenage son consistently getting involved in the machinations of drug cartels but… meh. It’s decent, untaxing fun.

And I will admit to a strange sadness at reading the intro to the next book, which announces that this (the next one, not this one) will be the last Tek novel.

A Memory Called Empire


I had some back and forth via email with a friend about this book. We both agreed it was amazing in so many ways, however, I felt that it was just a little short of the sum of its parts (he disagreed strongly).

My biggest issue was that, to me, Checkhov’s gun was taken out, placed on the table, and then the book ended without it even having been picked up again, much less fired. My friend pushed back on this and believed it handled well an ambiguity about a sequel that might fire the gun, while allowing for a smaller, self-contained story.

The good parts is a fascinatingly built world (the titular empire) which draws from both Pre-Columbian (especially Aztec) and Asian (especially Chinese) historical traditions. There are also fascinating depictions of different conceptions of identity and memory. There is one culture which prizes memory and the ability to memorize long passages of poetry and one which made perfect recall of past experiences so vital that it created technology to preserve memory and implant it in another, along with something resembling the deceased’s personality (which also brings up interesting questions about who one is when another person’s memories are in your head and also the question of whether those memories are sufficient to identity, i.e., are we just the sum of those experiences, versus identity being tied to being embodied or to a ‘soul’).

‘Vostok’ Is Even Worse


I don’t know even know why I really did, but I read the sequel to The Loch. It’s about another lake: Vostok, which is a real place in Russia.

But does the real lake have an alien outpost with telepathic extra-terrestrials who provide a pseudo-scientific argument for the existence of God and who planted information about atomic theory in the Bible and in Kabbalistic texts? Who knows really? I mean, probably right?

And is that real lake being investigated by a cabal of super rich companies who believe in aliens and are part of Majestic 12 (which, should you google, will lead you down a supremely stupid rabbit hole, so I recommend that you do not, but I did enjoy a particularly erratic character explaining that they stopped Obama from revealing the truth by exploding a missile nearby when he was in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peach Prize)?

In addition to his weird religious beliefs, Mr. Steve Alten (I keep on wanting to write ‘Steve Allen’) is a big fan of the idea of weird natural effects creating preserved ecosystems from prehistory. He showed a hitherto unknown to me lack of talent when it comes to writing science fiction about multiple and alternate timelines. Let’s call this Steve Alten (not Allen) ‘really terrible Philip K. Dick.’

Vostok is superior to The Loch in one key way, I will say. It is much shorter. While I haven’t read his most famous novels, the ones about giant sharks, he does gamely tie those novels to this one, creating, let’s call it, the Megverse. Actually, let’s not.

But it wasn’t all bad. I did learn something, like that there are multiple plains of existence. I would have thought that if such a thing existed, it would be multiple ‘planes,’ but apparently on page 308, the author launched a novel theory about alternate… grasslands? All very cutting edge stuff.

As one final note, let me just point out that the cover is a photo an alligator badly photoshopped into some generic snowy mountain lake. And while a giant, prehistoric crocodilian does appear, it is supposed to be closer to a caiman than an alligator. This is a pet peeve of mine. John Grisham wrote a book about a man who travels down the Amazon River and sees many, many alligators. Alligators only live in North American and China. There are no alligators in the Amazon. This felt like some super lazy research and an even lazier copy editor.

I Want To Be At That Party


My all time favorite fictional party is the one at Holly Golightly’s apartment in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (I read the book, indeed, it is the only Capote novel that I have, as yet, read, but the movie made a more startling and powerful impression on me).

My new second favorite might be the one in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum or, On the Nature of the Gods. Intelligent men having deeply thought-out conversations on ideas passionately held. It’s like one of Plato’s dialogues, but not everyone gets railroaded by Socrates, which, let’s be honest, would probably not be that fun to experience. Just ask Gorgias.

‘Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning’ By Cathy Park Hong


I borrowed this from the library (after a reassuringly long wait; people wanted to read it) partly because I like Hong’s poetry and partly because my daughter may experience some of what would be discussed.

First of all, a great book, beautifully, painfully written. Some remarks that delivered some deeply personal pain (some paragraph about how white men date Asian women because they can find Asian women who are much more attractive than the white women who would consider them and how Asian women, because of low self-esteem, will date a white man that no white woman would consider; as a white man with an Asian wife… yikes… but let’s just say, not without truth and move on).

The meditation on the erasure of the violence done to the writer Theresa Has Kyung Cha was devastating, but what I really kept coming back was something not in the book, but relevant.

My better half spoke about wanting me to take our daughter to school and to pick her up and be present whenever possible so that the roost-ruling white children and white families would see her white father and accept her as not being othered by race. Trying to make her safe and accepted by blessing her with my whiteness.

The Decagon House Murders


Despite these Japanese locked room mysteries supposedly being all about the mystery and the clues peppered throughout (a reader should be able to figure it out with the clues provided), with character and psychology being secondary, I noticed the this book and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders have similar characters. The lead ‘detective,’ in the case of Decagon, a man named Shimada, is a whimsical, almost romantic amateur (I need hardly add that I don’t mean ‘romantic’ in anything resembling an erotic sense).

This book ran in two tracks: on the mainland, where some amateur detectives get an idea of a potential mystery; and one an island (with the titular house) where you sort of know that everyone is going to die. While a neat idea, it also didn’t quite work for me. The island scenes were overly dramatic, but in retrospect, only existed to give us the clues we would need, as readers.

Now, I will freely admit that I didn’t figure out the mystery until the author revealed it. And even though I was disappointed, I won’t be afraid to try another Japanese mystery novel.

House On The Borderland


If someone ever said, hey, do you like Lovecraft, because, if so, you should read this, and then you read it, you would say that the aforementioned someone had a point. But only if you were a completist, because it draw a lot from Lovecraft’s more fantasy-like, dream tales.

The opening is a classic Edwardian trope of two well-to-do young men on an outdoorsy trip Ireland who camp and fish near an abandoned garden and find an old manuscript, which they read.

It’s the tale of man in late middle age (who, frankly, seems like he might not be a nice guy; he lives with his sister and I kept feeling sorry for her, without precisely being able to say why) who finds a put opening up near his house. He shoots a monstrous creature who are never explained but are usually explained as being ‘swine-things.’ Canny, they then lay siege to his house before mysteriously quitting the assault. Later, he investigates a tunnel, which seemed like surely the next step is to find an underground civilization, but no, the tunnel floods and he goes home. Where he has a dream (?) where he enters into a crazy cosmic phantasy, like someone decided to reenact Plato’s Timaeus after imbibing some kind of experimental pharmacopeia. And his dog crumbles to dust. And maybe the swine-whatevers come back? And did I mention they trap door to his cellar leading to… a supernatural river, maybe?

It actually was a little scary and, you know what, I’m going to recommend this book.

The Lost World


Arthur Conan Doyle’s yarn falls between the science fantasy of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the didacticism of Jules Verne, which is to say, it is an adventure about dinosaurs in the jungles of South America that makes some stabs at following the best science known at the time.

I remember reading this a kid in the kitchen of my Uncle Buddy and Aunt Anna’s house in Atlanta, especially the bit where the protagonist names the lake in the dinosaur-filled plateau, Lake Gladys, after the chilly, would-be fiancée who inspired him (and who subsequently married a clerk while the protagonist was doing feats of derring-do; suffice to say that Doyle has a bit of misogynist streak, not unlike his most famous creation).

What can you say about a book like this? That it’s a ripping good tale. That the racism… could have been worse? That the genocidal attack on a tribe of prehumans feels icky?

You can definitely say that it needed more dinosaurs (a truth which can also be applied to Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth).

I had a good time reading it though, all in all. From my father, I inherited a love of British adventure stories and from my childhood a love of dinosaurs. So, something for everyone, I suppose.

Reading Trump Into Camus


I have rejected looking to Camus’ The Plague for insight into… well, into this current plague.

But is just occurred to me, that there is an insight into Trump, or rather, into Trumpism, by which I am referring to the darker parts of the human soul. The fearful parts.

And the final lines of The Plague came to me:

He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.