‘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.

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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.

Books In The Field


That was the title and subject of an exhibition (now closed – I caught it on its penultimate day) at the Society of the Cincinnati, housed in the Anderson House, near Dupont Circle. The Society focuses on Revolutionary War history (Cincinnati comes from the Roman general, Cincinnatus, who you can look up on your own, but which connects to George Washington both resigning his commission and also only serving two terms). The books in question are the books used by Continental Army soldiers and officers during the war against Britain – mostly, as you might expect, books on military strategy and exercises and on medical/surgical techniques.

I am a sucker for exhibitions about books. I love looking at old books.

I will admit, it was a struggle to really linger over the volumes because my little one, unsurprisingly, is less enthralled by such exhibits than her father. I didn’t even try to complete a tour of the house later. But I hope to go back some day and see it all (the next exhibit is on Alexander Hamilton who is, of course, having a bit of a moment).

The Prisoner Of Zenda


This Washington Post article calls Anthony Hope’s wonderful, brisk novel, ‘The most romantic book you’ve never read.’

Well, I’ve read it many, many times. A dozen at least (though not for many years). And it is as awesome as Michael Dirda claims. Despite taking place in the 1880s, Hope is never afraid to make his heroes choose swords over pistols.

However, I have to break with the esteemed reviewer over his praise for its sequel and though, in the days before Amazon and the internet of things, I searched long and hard for it, I wish that I had never had it and that The Prisoner of Zenda had remained as it was: a single, perfect adventure.

Anyway, I may have to read it again. But not the sequel.

This is what my old edition looked like

#Instapoets


I have picked up copies of books by Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav and leafed through them. Like the alliteration of ‘Lang Leave and leafed,’ I am not convinced by their quality. Actually, I’m pretty convinced of their quality and don’t think they have much. I have seen, in magazine articles, screen shots of work by other ‘instapoets’ and it has made me think that the genre as a whole is pretty lacking.

I also don’t have much affection for slam poetry. If we are ranking these things, slam poetry ranks orders of magnitude above instapoetry in my estimation.

Me? I learn and comprehend best through interaction with the written word. I like to read, is what I’m saying. More than that, reading is how I engage in dialogue with the world around me.

So neither forms are really aimed at folks like me.

And I really don’t know what to say nor what to add to the current kerfuffle over instapoets and, to a lesser extent (mostly because of this article, which singled out a particular, recently published in book form, slam poet), slam poets. It’s not the first kerfuffle and it won’t be the last. Or, more likely, it’s all the same kerfuffle, which has been going on for a couple of years, at least.

But my two cents. It’s not good poetry. I haven’t read deeply into the genre, but I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground. Both in terms of my critical evaluation of what I have read and as regards the follow up question as to whether I’ve read enough to form a valid opinion.

But… I’m glad poetry is selling. I didn’t think the poetry collection by the singer, Jewel, was very good either (though, of course, I listened to her first  album constantly in the mid-nineties and nursed a mild crush on her in my early twenties). But I believe that having read one poem, people may read another. Having bought one book, they may buy another.

Also, though we may feel resentful that someone has achieved success with what we believe to be pretty shoddy work, most of these folks are in their twenties and I think we must forgive people their awful youthful poetry, even if it does get published, sell in the millions, and make them rich. And we should try not to be too bitter about it.