Archive | December 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Give You This

One of my students is on a “portrait” kick. Most of his victims are not amused. Anyway, I sat for him today during the break between classes. With any luck the picture will age while I stay 35 forever.

He then drew one of my co-teacher. It was less than flattering. He wanted to give it to her, but I said he shouldn’t because she’d likely kill him. He did it anyway. My co-teacher laughed, tore it up, and threw it away before chasing him from the room.

For now he lives to draw another day.

Favorite Reads 2011

It’s December. You can expect some year end posts. Here’s my list of 10 favorite reads from this past year.

1. The King Must Die by Mary Renault: A historical novel set in ancient Greece retelling the early life of Theseus up to his killing the minotaur and returning to Athens. It walks a fine line between the real and the fantastic because while nothing “magical” happens, the characters believe their world is magical.

2. God’s War by Kameron Hurley: Probably the most recently published book on this list. Some people have a problem with science fantasy. I don’t. This read like a hybrid of China Mieville and Anne McCaffrey. If that doesn’t sound great then I don’t even want to hear it. In a way it recalled the 1970s when genre lines weren’t so fiercely defined. I’ll probably read the sequel Infidel when I’m home next month.

3. The Last Days by Brian Evenson: An absurdly violent detective novel about a cop infiltrating a cult of extreme self-mutilators. This is one of those books that grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go. Not for the squeamish.

4. Warlock by Oakley Hall: A western with an introduction by Thomas Pynchon. Hall is one of those “writer’s writers”, I think. He never was popular but he worked in popular genres. (I’ll also track down his Ambrose Bierce detective novels when Stateside.) This reminded me some of Deadwood, but it probed more into the American habit of making heroes of violent men.

5. I Was Looking For A Street by Charles Willeford: Willeford’s memoir of being a freight riding runaway during the Depression. Parts are heart-breaking, but other parts show a compassion for humanity in all our absurdity.

6. Freaks’ Amour by Tom De Haven: Another disturbing and violent book. It read like Sid & Nancy meets Tod Brownings’ Freaks or Philip K. Dick meets punk rock. Take your pick. Mutant entertainers try to survive in a world that despises them. The book’s a weird relic of the 1970s and the Cold War, but oddly relevant. The most likable character is a drug-dealer who sells mutant goldfish eggs.

7. The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George Higgins: I blathered about this one before.

8. Flanders by Patricia Anthony: A magic realist novel set in the trenches of World War One? Maybe. The Last Temptation of Christ meets Goodbye To All That? An American sniper in World War One slowly begins to crack due to combat stress and the homicidal tendencies of his fellow soldiers. While in No Man’s Land he begins to see visions of the dead and those about to die.

9. The Double Shadow by Frederick Turner: A lost classic of the New Wave? It’s a shame Turner didn’t write more SF. He might have won a name for himself as a peer of M. John Harrison, Samuel R. Delany, and Gene Wolfe. (Though he did go on to a career as a poet and teacher.) On a terraformed Mars the scions of two royal families engage in a status war fought with aesthetics and style. Even if the book was meant as a critique of an emergent culture of narcissism, it still works as an SF novel. Definitely worth tracking down.

10. Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison: The Spacewoman in question is a communications officer / ambassador / diplomat in a future utopian society.  There’s little in the way of plot and “thrills”, but a lot of wonder as she recounts her experiences from a life time of alien contact.

Sometimes One Even Does It By Oneself

“During their leisure time you will see them promenading on the streets and boulevards. One of them takes his friend, male or female, by the hand and they set out on a stroll, going back and forth with purposefulness as if they had a goal in mind, but their only intention is talk and relaxation. Sometimes one even does it by oneself. They say it is useful for reflection, for revealing hidden thoughts, and for discovering new ways of doing things; and I tried it and it was true.”

- Disorienting Encounters: Travels of a Moroccan Scholar in France in 1845 – 1846. The Voyage of Muhammad As-Saffar

Friday Caption Contest

All demonic children love the taste of pork and beans!

Thursday Update

It’s day two of cold grayness and pissing rain. Hell of a time to find out my shoes aren’t waterproof. On the positive side the cold will hopefully kill off the mosquitoes.

Stuff? It’s cold. It’s gray. School hasn’t turned on the heat. I’m typing this while wearing fingerless gloves. The windows in the hallway leak so puddles form on the floor. I wonder if they’ll ice over in the winter time.

My coteacher and I have largely stemmed the tide of rebellion and only have one class that makes teaching horrible. They wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for three or four turds. They’re the shitheels of the school and pretty much everyone will be happy when they’re gone. On the other side of the coin, four of the best students from one of my other classes are all transferring to another school at the end of the week. (Their parents are playing the game where they have their kids switch elementary schools in the last month of 6th grade so they, the kids, don’t have the shitty school on their “permanent records”.) So it goes.

Other stuff? My wife and I went away last weekend to Gyeongju. Yeah. It’s historic. Yeah, tombs and the Silla dynasty and all that shit. Whatever. It’s a cheap quick bus ride and we wanted to eat at one of our favorite restaurants. (They have the best pajun. It’s like an omelet made love to a scallion pancake.) We then stayed in a motel room that had a bath tub larger than our bathroom. So, hurray for laziness and warm water. The internet connection was shit though.

Other, other stuff? Shit. What do you want from me? Here you go. Pick and choose whatever interests you:

I read Tete-Michel Kpomassie’s An African In Greenland. It’s a fascinating read. As a kid in Togo he was attacked by a snake and while convalescing he read a book about the Inuit in Greenland and so going to Greenland became an obsession with him. Eventually he worked his way out of Africa and across Europe until finally he arrived in Greenland and traveled there. It’s great. Kpomassie is a charming author. He also reminded me a bit of Wilfred Thesiger who wrote Arabian Sands. Two very different individuals who both became obsessed with a place (in Thesiger’s case the Arabian Empty Quarter) and traveled there. Definitely give it a try. Now I’m reading The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson. As you can see I’m pretty much hooked on the whole NYRB catalog.

Earlier this week we played a game in class and during the game some of my students wanted me to help them cheat. Of course I did the exact opposite and went out of my way to hinder them, which made two of them so mad they needed to look up the word conscience just so they could say I didn’t have one. That was fun.

Apropos of nothing I wonder if it’s possible to measure the correlation between one’s developing an interest in classical literature (the Greeks and Romans) and one’s ultimate conversion to the conservative Catholicism of the Chesteron/Lewis type (that is, equal parts cleverness, bluster, and a prissy elitist humbuggedness).

Did I mention it was cold? Yeah. OK.

What about my goatee? Did you realize for the whole month of November this blog has been written by my Evil Spock twin Justout? Did you notice the difference? He types with two totally different fingers! For what it’s worth I like my crop of facial hair (it gives my face something to do) even if it’s a major no-no here in Korea, because it’s associated with drunkeness and being dirty (which is funny because the men on their money have facial hair). I suspect that’s one of those things Korean men have indoctrinated into them while they’re in the military. One thing I started to feel is that the longer I live here in Korea the more my presence will become a middle finger displayed towards the overculture. Not sure that’s a good thing.

But maybe that’s fatigue talking, because I did that thing last night where you fall asleep right after dinner and wake up around midnight and can’t fall back asleep, so you sit up drinking coffee and eating oranges until 4AM when you finally fall asleep and have terrible dreams for the next three hours before your alarm wakes you up. Yeah, that’s never fun.

Lunch time!

Idle

“There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.”

-Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness

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