August 21, 2019

Book review: “Lords and Ladies” by Terry Pratchett

Granny Weatherwax hears a noise outside her witch’s cottage: There was something in the garden. It wasn’t much of a garden.  There were the Herbs, and the soft fruit bushes, a bit of lawn, and, of course, the beehives.  And it was open to the woods.  The local wildlife knew better than to invade a witch’s garden. Granny opened the door carefully. The moon was setting.  Pale silver light turned the world into monochrome. There was a unicorn on the lawn.  The stink of it hit her. Not that kind of book Terry Pratchett’s 1992 novel Lords and Ladies is about fairies, sprites and elves — but it’s not that kind of book. This is not a book about cute fairies, sprites and elves.  There is nothing sweet nor sentimental nor charming nor adorable about these fairies, sprites and elves. Consider the ones in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. All’s well that ends well, as someone said once, so you’re likely to remember them as playful and a bit naughty but basically harmless. Think about it, though.  They operate completely without morals.  They use humans for their entertainment (including one human baby who’s the pet of Oberon, the King of the […]
August 19, 2019

Book review: “Playback” by Raymond Chandler

Two-thirds of the way through Raymond Chandler’s novel Playback, Philip Marlowe is having a conversation with Henry Clarendon IV, an aged, wealthy man who spends his days sitting in a hotel lobby, watching the other guests and anyone else who happens by. He gives Marlowe some helpful information for the case — or is it cases? — he’s working on, and a bit more. “Do you believe in God, young man?” Marlowe says, if he’s talking about an omniscient, omnipotent God, well, no. “But you should, Mr. Marlowe.  It is a great comfort. We all come to it in the end because we have to die and become dust.  Perhaps for the individual that is all, perhaps not. There are grave difficulties about the afterlife.  I don’t think I should really enjoy a heaven in which I shared lodgings with a Congo pygmy or a Chinese coolie or a Levantine rug peddler or even a Hollywood producer.” Clarendon goes on, talking about his difficulty with envisioning a God in a long white beard and a heaven that sounds pretty dull. “On the other hand how can I imagine a hell in which a baby that died before baptism occupies the […]
August 15, 2019

Book review: “The Souls of Black Folks” by W. E. B. Du Bois

Published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folks by W. E. B. Du Bois is an important book of American literature, a significant work in the development of the field of sociology and a foundational text for the study of race relations in the United States. Yet, for me, the heart of the book is far from the objective, analytical, theoretical world of social science. For me, the heart of the book is Du Bois’s cry from the soul that is Chapter 11.  Its title is “Of the Passing of the First-Born,” and it is his account of the death of his 18-month-old son, Burghardt Gomer Du Bois. He was away when he got the telegram that Burghardt had been born and raced home to see the newborn: “What is this tiny formless thing, this newborn wail from an unknown world, — all head and voice?  I handle it curiously, and watch perplexed its winking, breathing, and sneezing.  I did not love it then; it seemed a ludicrous thing to love; but her I loved, my girl-mother…Through her I came to love the wee thing, as it grew and waxed strong; as its little soul unfolded itself in twitter and […]
August 13, 2019

Poem: “The perfect act outside of Brady’s Tavern”

The perfect act outside of Brady’s Tavern By Patrick T. Reardon Stop, short the physical. Yes, you know the noxic feel in the deep and up throat and out, and the thick wet stink up your nose, even though it is his feel, his nose, fellow feeling as you watch. See in ghost dark and shadow light of this alley the arc of acid flow, all orange from the Viceroy butter chicken, balletic, an architecture of color, contrast, tone, texture. Build a sanctuary beneath it. Hold here a coronation. Mark the forehead with chrism under the liquid vault. Is this not divine clockmade? Can you deny the beauty here? And then a flash. Cigarette lit. Aroma of fire and flora fiber under the unseen night cosmos. Patrick T. Reardon 8.13.19 This poem was originally published 7.16.19 in Eclectica.
August 12, 2019

Book review: “Small Gods” by Terry Pratchett

Two dead men. Long ago, the first tried to kill the second with a horrible torture but was killed by an act of a god. The second lived a long, fruitful and productive live and, then, in the normal course of things, died. Now, the second finds the first at the edge of the black desert that must be crossed to Judgement.  For decades, the first has been at this spot, curled up inside himself, as he had been in life, unable to move. Now, the second sees him, takes pity and picks him up to carry (once again, as he had in life) through the desert, no longer alone. A god, like an idea If that sounds like a religious parable, well, yeah. Although not exactly what a Discworld reader expects from Terry Pratchett who tells this story in his 1992 novel Small Gods. Here is the core of all great religions:  We are in this together, and we need to help each other out. Pratchett, a writer of wit, kick and clear-eyed insight, is not your usual devotional author.  And, really, Small Gods isn’t so much devotional (since it rips organized religion up and down) as it is […]
August 7, 2019

Book review: “La Brava” by Elmore Leonard

On the last page of Elmore Leonard’s 1983 novel La Brava, his title character, Joe La Brava, is told by former screen siren Jean Shaw, “It’s not the movies, Joe.” There are ironies upon ironies in that statement that the reader, by that point, is aware of….and Jean is aware of….and Joe is aware of.  Joe, being one of Leonard’s usual pretty-nice-guy heroes, i.e., not averse to twisting the law but dead set against breaking his own code, says, “Swell,” and that about sums it up. “Then [I]  gave them a nice smile: maybe a little weary but still a nice one.  Why not?’ A major literary award La Brava is the only one of Leonard’s 45 novels to win a major literary award, the Edgar for Best Mystery Novel of 1983. Make no mistake, Leonard’s career was honored in many ways, including the 1992 Grand Master Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Mystery Writers of America, the 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for outstanding achievement in American literature; and the 2012 National Book Award Medal for his distinguished contribution to American letters. All of his books and short stories demonstrate high wit and literary skill as well as […]
August 6, 2019

Book review: “Edward Hopper: Portraits of America” by Wieland Schmied

On one of the final pages of his 1995 study Edward Hopper: Portraits of America, Wieland Schmied emphasizes the starkness, bleakness and harshness of light in Hopper’s paintings, especially those featuring human figures. He contrasts Hopper with Rembrandt and Vermeer, and writes: Rembrandt enfolds his figures in a protective darkness as if in a mantle.  His dusky chiaroscuro mercifully hides the things he does not wish to show.  Rembrandt’s pictures seem to say: what takes place in a person’s heart must always remain obscure. Hopper in a sense removed Rembrandt’s people from their comforting shadows and subjects them to the light of Vermeer.  Unlike Rembrandt’s figures, however, Vermeer’s were created for the light — born into a brighter, more rational world, they were more forthright and self-disciplined, and less vulnerable.  Hopper’s figures, in turn, are as vulnerable as Rembrandt’s, but they have been expelled from Rembrandt’s paradise, the paradise of the past, to be forever subjected to the harsh light of the present. “The human situation” It’s not odd to think of Rembrandt’s or Vermeer’s characters walking into one of Hopper’s paintings which, like a stone goddess, seem to be solidly, profoundly timeless. Humans are the subject of any Hopper […]