Shadowheart


He, umm… he did not, shall we say, stick the landing.

The final volume of Shadowmarch series managed to both be frenetic and also to drag terribly, an impressive accomplishment, but not fun to read.

Much of the book is an extended battle sequence – a series of engagements around the primary locale (Southmarch, if you’re interested) that are so frequent that they cease to hold the attention.

The climactic battle, involving a freed/awoken (though not ‘woke’) god, depended on some world building that the book didn’t earn. And some story lines turned out to be absolute nothings. There was, for example, a potentially interesting and morally weak poet named Tinwright who managed to take a large quantity of pages only to not do anything important or meaningful, in the end. It was like someone fired Checkhov’s gun, but missed and then did nothing more with it.

Finally, the ending went on for something like two hundred pages after the climax. Sure, Tolkien did that… but he was Tolkien. I didn’t know Tolkien, but I read a lot of his works, and you, sir, are no J.R.R. Tolkien.

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Not Catching Up


I am trying and not completely succeeding in catching up on my periodicals. The more timely ones like Foreign Affairs and The New Yorker are first and Poetry gets relegated because its news doesn’t get old.

But if you find this one somewhere, it has a great poem by Aracelis Girmay (another Floridian, by the way).

‘Late Fame’ By Arthur Schnitzler


Many years ago, while still in college, I read Schnitzler’s Road to the Open. I was inspired by some reading about fin-de-siecle Vienna and a reference to Freud calling him his ‘doppleganger’ (intellectually, not physically, I gather).

For most of the book, I read it as a sort of building satire, wending its way to an uncomfortably cringeworthy comic moment.

And then it didn’t. Continue reading

‘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.

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).