‘Ars Poetica’ By Horace


I read this twice, which was a good thing, because the first time, I just had no time for it. Fan of his poetry, by his Ars Poetica or Art of Poetry simply didn’t speak to me.

Even on second reading, this is not going to be my go to resource, but I liked it much better. Mostly, I enjoyed his wit, which is the best part of his poetry. But it’s no Poetics (the Aristotle one; which I also read recently and am kind of over it; yes, he is arguably the greatest thinker who ever lived, but I am just not seeing anything more for me when I re-read The Poetics).

But, I appreciate his modulated advice to write what you emotionally know, to not let correctness lead your to smooth all the roughness which gives a poem emotional power, and also be sure that you know your audience when you read aloud.

Ion


Nope, not talking about particles or science, but about the minor dialogue by Plato, wherein Socrates interrogates a rhapsode name Ion on his vocation.

Generally, a rhapsode was someone who memorized an epic poem or myth and was an expert on reciting it. Ion specialized in Homer. He says that he also comments on it, but that doesn’t quite track, not in the least because Socrates’ questioning more or less positions as a sort of idiot savant who is able to recite Homer’s epic poems so well because, in the moment, he is divinely inspired. Socrates shows this by arguing that you could only speak well on, to use one Socrates’ example, horsemanship if you were also an expert horseman. He then, rather meanly, shows up Ion as a bit of dolt, which leads Socrates to conclude that Ion is divinely inspired and, by implication, all such performers who reach the highest levels of their profession.

Baptism Of Fire


I am done with these Witcher novels. I’m enjoying the Netflix series. I tried playing the video game, but just wasn’t up for learning anything new on that front.

I will simply repeat what I’ve said before: the titular Witcher, aka, Gerald of Rivia, is much better as the star of short stories than as the protagonist of a novel.

The Vietri Project


What a terrible disappointment. Gabriele, an interesting, traumatized young woman with dual U.S-Italian citizenship who works at a bookshop in Berkeley, California becomes powerfully intrigued by a customer named Giordano Vietri. Vietri orders from his apartment in Rome huge numbers of books on academic and mystical topics. Eventually, our protagonist feels compelled to track him down, leaving her boyfriend and aimless life in California to go to her mother’s homeland. She reconnects with family while she attempts to track down the mysterious Vietri.

He had been captured by the British in World War II, he had been the neighbor of a painter who was also a journalist and anti-fascist activist. What was he searching for in these books? Who was he?

We never know, because she decides it is less important than… I don’t know. I don’t feel I got a better answer than “I met a nice guy who is better and more mature than the young men I have been casually hooking up with.” I don’t really care who she sleeps with, though her attitude towards sex seems portrayed as being an expression of maternal trauma (her mother was schizophrenic).

I do care that this story is much less interesting than the tease of the mysterious Giordano Vietri, who is dropped as if the author got bored of writing the book looked for an excuse to end it.

The Time Of Contempt


The second novel of the Witcher series, it’s better than Blood of Elves, but not as good as Last Wish nor Sword of Destiny, which were a short story collections. If you’re watching the series, the second season diverges strongly from the books (the first season pulled heavily from the short stories), though viewers of both will pick up on something that was mentioned at the end of the second season and is clearly foreshadowed in the book (though I might not have guessed had I not seen the series).

One interesting thing is that the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, is made smaller. He is badly injured by the end and is also portrayed as being relatively small compared to the power wielded by wizards (including his sometimes lover, Yennefer).

‘The Cartographers’ By Peng Shepherd


Ever since I read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, I have been looking for it in other conspiratorial novels about learning and books. The closes I have come is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which I still recommend and now want to read again (which would be, probably, the fourth of fifth time).

The Cartographers doesn’t really come close, but it’s still pretty good. The villain’s motivation never really seems that evil (or, if it is, then the protagonists couldn’t have known about the really evil part, which is an underdeveloped criticism of a certain breed of technofetishism/technoutopianism) and their identity is rather crudely telegraphed about one hundred pages out.

But, listen, it’s still good. Not being as good as Eco or as good as one of my favorite novels published in the last twenty years can’t be the criteria here. I enjoyed and I’m glad I read it. I learned something about map making and the premise, which is held secret for long enough in the book that I don’t want to give it away here, is pretty clear. The primary protagonist is a pleasantly flawed, obsessive, and intelligent woman, even if the rest of the cast can feel a little thin.

‘Disorientation’ By Elaine Hsieh Chou


A funny, terrifying, and ultimately, honestly depressing book.

Ingrid Yang, the protagonist, is an unreliable narrator in her lack of self-awareness, which is part of the comedy and horror. She clearly hates her work as a PhD student working on the oeuvre of a Chinese-American poet that she really doesn’t care for and her bland fiancé is clearly a manipulative douche (Hong’s recent Minor Feelings identified his type, as the sort of middling white guy who has found that racism enables him to find an Asian partner who is much more attractive than he could otherwise ensnare). However, she only barely recognizes any of this.

The novel, which I feel is secretly a horror story, is about her understanding that her whole existence has been gaslit by white men.

It was inspired by a white poet named Michael Derrick Hudson submitting a poem under the name of an Asian woman: Yi-Fen Chou. Chou, in addition to being author’s name, is also the name of the Chinese-American poet in the novel, who turns out to be a white guy who actually indulged is ‘yellowface’ disguise to teach at her university for years.

The whole thing gets worse and worse, with her sinophilic (white) advisor having actually known and conspired in the deception, before turning into a demented Tucker Carlson-esque figure with his own MAGA style movement (DOFO – Defense of Freedom Organization) to protect the feelings of white people.

Chou (the author of this novel) stays true to the story’s movement in that it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s not unhappy, but essentially, the bad guys win, which feels kind of unhappy.

The publishers also did this thing where you had to flip to book around, relative to the orientation of its cover, in order to read it. I get the metaphor (‘disorientation’) but really could have done without that. The book is good enough on its own.

‘The Second Shooter’ By Nick Mamatas


I can’t remember where I read about this novel. I think it was a Washington Post piece by one of their book reviewers, in a round-up piece. But I was inspired to put it on hold at the library and here we are.

Did I like it?

No.

Did I dislike it?

No.

Did I think it devolved towards the end into a poorly explained morass of occultism under a rationalistic veneer?

Yes.

The most interesting part was point of view character (the novel was written in third person limited) of Michael Karras, a writer of leftist and usually conspiratorial books for a small, left wing press. He had a bit of the air of a journalist about him and you are inclined to think of him as being a reasonably smart guy. And he was. But somewhere along the line, you are reminded that he’s also a conspiracy theorist kind of guy and you think back and wonder if you missed things because he’s far less reliable than you initially assume. Oh, and he kills himself at the end after taking an uzi from a guy in an invisibility cloak in hopes, one assumes, that by doing so, his semi-mystical status will make the world better, which, in the epilogue, doesn’t seem to have worked.

The Social Life Of Books: Reading Together In The Eighteenth-Century Home


As a scholarly work, it is more a series of thematic anecdotes than the explication of a sustained thesis, but it shows an admirable amount of archival research into the clues left behind by middle-class households in the 18th and early 19th century. It does a strong job of arguing that 18th century England (and this book is almost exclusively about England) was more literate than perhaps we give it credit for, though, as always, we should remember that the plural of anecdote is not data.

I enjoyed those glimpses into these lives and homes and learning about the way in which people read. Which also leads to the most interesting, if only cursorily examined, idea which she tosses out there in the chapter about novels: the rise of of the novel is directly linked to the decline of poetry as a subject of popular reading.

Much reading, she says, was done aloud. It was done by families in the evening, but also at social gatherings. And publications were designed for that purpose, which means not too long and easy to put down and pick up at a later time. If your neighbor came over and stayed while you read to your family, it wouldn’t do for him to hear just the middle of a dense novel, but something like poetry was perfect.

The novel, by its very nature, encouraged solitary reading and this led to the decline of certain shorter forms that were also strongly linked to oral traditions, i.e., poetry.

‘How To Pronounce Knife’ By Souvankham Thammavongsa


A lot of very good short stories. Some were weaker than others (the short story that gave the collection its title was not my favorite), but overall a good read.

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