My review of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Lois the Witch and Other Stories is now live at Innsmouth Free Press as part of their Women in Horror Week. Like most Victorian writers Gaskell wrote her share of ghost stories and those in the collection are a nice grim assortment. Not only that but I suggest that Gaskell’s ghost stories serve as proto-noir and precursors to the works of Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, and Dorothy Hughes.
I also make a joke about bonnets and four-in-hand neckties.
Go check it out.
This is the YA novel for the cynical teen in your life, that teen that has a burgeoning sense of the absurd and the blackly comic. Beyond this book lies Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, and Italo Calvino. Buzzati’s never had a large English language following, and I wonder if there’s something in this book that the American mindset rejects as too cynical on the surface. Granted having taken part in Mussolini’s navy probably doesn’t help.
Above are the covers, half of them Italian. Most of the English versions feature the landscape and a fortress, while the Italian editions all reference the soldier in some wry fashion. The English language copy I read is the rightmost one. It looks like someone applied different photoshop filters to Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist.
I’ll say flat out I love The Tartar Steppe. It is a great book, though I expect it’s one people either love or hate. I’m not going to talk much about the plot. You can speculate upon that from the covers. I do wish more of Buzzati’s work was available in English, especially his short fantasy fiction, (yes, I’ve seen The Bears March on Sicily book), but that’s my wish with a lot of authors. Only with Buzzati there’s something more to my fascination, since he’s an Italian from the same generation as my grandfather, and they appeared to have shared an affinity for the absurd.
“Fools! Fools! I thought. Love it! Love the loss as well as the gain. Go home and dig it. Nobody was killed. We saw victory and defeat, and they were both wonderful.”
- Barry Hannah, “Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet”
So I get these awful headaches. I don’t know what causes them. They basically creep up on me and floor me for a day or two. This weekend has been one of those instances. I slept twenty hours on Saturday and hardly moved from the bed today. My doctor (God bless him and his luchador mask) told me not to take any caffeine or alcohol when I get them, so I’ve tried to stick to that.
But, jeez, what a drag.
Anyway, enough of my whining, here’s Lewis Carroll from his pamphlet Feeding the Mind:
“To ascertain the healthiness of the mental appetite of a human animal, place in its hands a short, well-written, but not exciting treatise on some popular subject—a mental bun, in fact. If it is read with eager interest and perfect attention, and if the reader can answer questions on the subject afterwards, the mind is in first-rate working order. If it be politely laid down again, or perhaps lounged over for a few minutes, and then, ‘I can’t read this stupid book! Would you hand me the second volume of “The Mysterious Murder”?’ you may be equally sure that there is something wrong in the mental digestion.”
It’s worth a read.
I’m putting these here so I remember them.
John Coulthart has a great post on past attempts to produce covers for M. John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence. Am I fan of Harrison? Of course I’m a fan. Coulthart then has a follow-up post on what he’d like to see in new covers. Speaking of Viriconium, over at M. John Harrison’s blog there’s a new piece of fiction set in that city.
This essay by Ursula K. LeGuin over at Book View Cafe. I can’t agree with it enough. How about these quotes:
Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.
The value judgment concealed in distinguishing one novel as literature and another as genre vanishes with the distinction.
Every readable novel can give true pleasure. Every novel read by choice is read because it gives true pleasure.
And finally, a poem by Meng Jiao (a Tang Dynasty poet):
The thread in the hand of a kind mother
Is the coat on the wanderer’s back.
Before he left she stitched it close
In secret fear that he would be slow to return.
Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all the sunshine of spring?
“He had read endless books, he had digested them, pondered over them. Day by day, year after year, he had turned over all the problems of human beings. Yet there were all sorts of simple things he didn’t know how to do: he couldn’t even walk into an inn and sit down at a table.”
- Georges Simenon, The Strangers in the House
Finished this book this afternoon. I think Simenon’s terrific but he’s one of those authors I can’t read a lot of in one go. Great stuff and he’s writing on all cylinders here, but if I spend too long with his style it becomes so transparent it’s like seeing how the magician does his tricks.
Character-arc spoilers: The novel’s about a drunken recluse. At the end he’s still a drunk, but no longer a recluse. This is something of a happy ending.
“Monks, prisoners, conscripts, have the support of rule: they live as they are ordered to. The exile has nothing but himself to depend on. If he chooses to lie on the ground and yell, he may be a nuisance but he is not an offender. If he he tries to be a model exile, he makes a rope of sand. His conformity is of no account, and is based on guesswork, anyway. Accident may tell him he has guessed wrong, experiment on experiment may lead him to guess right. But that, too, is by accident. He plays a kind of Hunt the Thimble without knowing what a thimble looks like.”
- “The Climate of Exile” by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.
- Antonio Machado
“Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence.”