Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Beautiful sentences

I saw a post the other day on “50 of the most beautiful sentences in literature.” 

I liked many of these but this is a long way from any list I’d put together. For example, one choice on the list was: “She was lost in her longing to understand.” From Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, Love in the Time of Cholera. The problem with this, for me, is that it’s obvious. There’s nothing profound. It seems almost cliché.

Another weak one, to me, was: “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” From Nicole Krauss, The History of Love. This seems maudlin to me, and cliché. I don’t like it at all.

On the other hand, some that I did like were: “In our village, folks say God crumbles up the old moon into stars.” From Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This is lovely. It resonates to me. It evokes a sense of history and place. It wouldn’t make my list of 50 favorites but it’s good.

I also liked “Isn’t it pretty to think so, by Ernest Hemingway, from The Sun Also Rises. But my favorite on this list was: “Let the Wild Rumpus Start,” By Maurice Sendak from Where the Wild Things Are. This was Josh’s favorite book when he was a kid and I loved, loved, loved reading it to him. This one would certainly make my list.

So what would be some of my other personal favorites? Well, many of them would come from Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, which is my favorite book of all time. Here are a few:

“Figures dark beneath their loads pass down the far bank of the river, rendered immortal by the streak of sunset upon their shoulders.” 

“We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.” 

“Left alone, I am overtaken by the northern void—no wind, no cloud, no track, no bird, only the crystal crescents between peaks, the ringing monuments of rock that, freed from the talons of ice and snow, thrust an implacable being into the blue.”

“In the gaunt, brown face in the mirror—unseen since late September—the blue eyes in a monkish skull seem eerily clear, but this is the face of a man I do not know.” 

“At dusk, white egrets flapped across the sunken clouds, now black with rain; on earth, the dark had come.”

“In the early light, the rock shadows on the snow are sharp; in the tension between light and dark is the power of the universe.”

“The mountains have no ‘meaning,’ they are meaning; the mountains are.”

“My foot slips on a narrow ledge; in that split second, as needles of fear pierce heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time.”

“In his first summers, forsaking all his toys, my son would stand rapt for nearly an hour in his sandbox in the orchard, as doves and redwings came and went on the warm wind, the leaves dancing, the clouds flying…”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lana has Surgery, and a Review

I haven’t been around the blogs much for a couple of days. Lana had surgery Wednesday to repair a hernia. She was supposed to go in around 11:00 but it was 12:00 or so before they took her to the operating room. She got out of there in 45 minutes but remained in recovery for a couple more hours, partially because of the hospital being overcrowded. Anyway, the important thing is she came through the surgery well and is feeling much better already. She was feeling pretty sick and nauseated from the hernia. Very glad to see her feeling better. It is hard to watch her feel constantly ill.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of reading done in hospital waiting rooms. Yesterday I read well over 100 pages in the book Footfall, by Niven and Pournelle. This is an alien invasion tale and I’m enjoying it very much. I also finished a book that I did not much enjoy. It was the first in a men’s adventure series called Hawk, by a writer named Dan Streib, who died back in 1996 of a heart attack. This particular volume was entitled “The Deadly Crusader.”

According to SpyGuys and Gals, Streib wrote all fourteen books in this series over a two year period, 1980 and 1981. This is what I call a Men’s Adventure novel and it has the trappings of its era. I often enjoy this type of book, but have to judge this particular incarnation as sub-par in most respects. I thought the work had a relatively promising premise and a decent start, but it lost me pretty early and I ended up just scanning the last two-thirds of the book. I can’t recommend it at all and won’t be reading any more of the series myself. In addition, I’ll have second thoughts about picking up other books with Streib’s name or pseudonyms on them. According to Amazon, Streib  also wrote romance novels as Lee Davis Willoughby, and other adventure tales under the names J. Faragut Jones and Jonathan Schofield.

The plot of the story has some interesting elements. Michael Hawk, who is an investigative reporter, has just been released from a Soviet prison and is relaxing aboard a cruise ship to Greece when he discovers a mysterious yacht anchored at one of the islands. He decides to find out the story behind it. Predictably, all hell breaks loose. However, the character of Hawk is not particularly well drawn. He seems to alternate between periods of mastery and incompetence.

Finally, and critically for me, the writing is just godawful in many places. There’s no other way to say it. I imagine a lot of this came from pumping out 14 Hawk books in two years, plus whatever else he was writing. There are plenty of decent lines so I’m sure it’s a matter of rushing and not anything to do specifically with his writing skills. Anyway, here’s a little sample, from page 109, of “The Deadly Crusader.” I've taken out the paragraph breaks but the words are quoted exactly.

"A rifle slug clanged metallically into the boat's exposed gas tank, leaving a hole to squirt out the explosive fluid and send it running directly toward the hot, protesting engine. Hawk stared at it, then compressed the coiled muscles in his legs for the jump. The gas tank exploded with a roar that splintered the already battered craft. A flying hunk of wood cracked Hawk on the base of the skull and he felt unconsciousness trying to relieve the pain. He wanted to scream at his own brain."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How the World has Changed: Part 1:

The human world has changed tremendously since I was young. Since on my last birthday I turned 57 and am now officially an old-fogey, I thought I might share with you some of the changes I’ve witnessed. Frankly, quite a lot of this is somewhat bewildering to me. Though that is too be expected from an ancient such as myself when faced with the modern age.

First: Gun racks.

In the 1970s in Arkansas, and I imagine across the south, gun racks were all the rage. It would look something like the picture below, except it usually held only two guns and was meant for your…truck.

That’s right. In the 1970s in Arkansas many members of the male population carried rifles and/or shotguns hung up in the back of their trucks. I even had a gun rack, though I didn’t have a truck to put it in. Eventually I gave the rack to a nephew, I think.

In the parking lot outside the high school you would often see a dozen trucks with racked guns in the back. There was often some admiring of weapons going on by non-racked folks. This was especially true during hunting season. A lot of kids would go hunting either right before school or right after. Even though I had a car and no rack, there were plenty of times I’d put my shotgun or rifle in the back seat while at school so I could head out to hunt after.

No one shot anyone else. No one reached for a gun to settle any kind of argument. No one even accidentally discharged a firearm on school property. I wonder what happened. I don’t believe it is any one thing. Some factors that I think were involved in the changes are listed below. 

1. Everyone of us who had a gun for hunting had been taught by fathers or brothers or someone how to handle them, how to make sure they weren’t loaded, how to keep them in working order.

2. We had also been taught that if honor required a fight, you did it with your fists. You weren’t a pussy. You didn’t reach for a weapon to make you a big man.

3. We weren’t cowards like the assholes today who use guns to settle every dispute or who just decide to use a gun to take some folks along with them when they decide to die. We weren’t so afraid of every little thing that we had to bluster and blow constantly about how tough we were. And we didn’t just make up enemies, or let the media make them up for us.

4. We lived in a community where you did fear losing the respect of your peers and your family and the folks in your town. You knew, for example,  that if you did something stupid or wrong, it would get back to your family. Now that can be a double edged sword, for sure. But we not only cared what our parents thought of us, we wanted to please them and tried to do the best we could to make them proud.

I’m sure there are many other reasons for why the way people act around guns has changed over the last forty years. These are just some of my thoughts. What are yours?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Facebook Killed the Blogging Star

 I’m trying to decide whether to call the days of the blog over or not. Blogging seems to have been hanging around on life support for quite a while now, but not really capable of breathing on its own. I remember the heyday of blogging. In my experience that was back around 2010/2011. I’d easily visit fifty blogs a day and would have liked to have visited more. I’d post most every day, and would quickly get 20 or 30 comments, which would grow over the next day or so.  My blog links took up the whole side panel of my blog. There was a vibrant community with everyone linking back and forth to other blogs of interest. That just isn’t really happening anymore.

As facebook became more popular, I saw the blogs decline. Why spend a good chunk of time constructing a thoughtful and well researched blog when you could type in a quick status update and get a dozen immediate ‘likes’ on FB? It’s not like a lot of people were really reading the blogs carefully anyway. Then came Twitter and it got worse.  I never joined Twitter. You can’t convince me that important things can be said at such short length.

I remember reading somewhere years ago that: “A bumper sticker is not a philosophy.” That may be the most profound single line of wisdom I’ve ever seen. A blog wasn’t a philosophy either but it allowed people to expand and expound on thoughts. Through that kind of process, philosophies are born. But it would appear those days are pretty much over. What say you?

Monday, October 05, 2015

CONtraflow #5 in the Bag

CONtraflow 5 is over and a great time was had. I was there every day, with my biggest day being Saturday where I had three panels back to back. I also spent quite a bit of time in the Dealer's Room, at the book tables. The Library had a table there where they were selling works to support the library. I picked up a bunch of stuff that I'll have to talk about and show the covers of another time.

The author guest of honor was Robert J. Sawyer. He was busy, of course, with many folks looking to talk to him, but I managed to get a book signed by him. I also renewed acquaintances with a bunch of old friends and made quite a few new ones. I attended a lot of good panels as well, on such things as Cyberpunk versus Steampunk, Skepticism versus Belief, and Space Opera!

All the panels I sat on were well attended and we had a lot of good interactions with the audience. My last panel on Saturday was on Dreaming and Creativity. I had about 12 folks and they were enthusiastic. Everyone was interested and asking questions, but everyone was also respectful of all the others. When the "sign guard" came to give us the "Five More Minutes" sign, one of the folks at the table went "Noooo." They didn't want it to end. That really made my day.

Afterward, another person told me it should have been two hours, and someone else said it was their favorite panel of the weekend. All of that made me feel wonderful.

I'm back at work on this Monday morning, and feeling both a bit tired after the long weekend but also energized. Lots of ideas flowing. Now I just have to put together some time to work on them. 

I didn't make it around to blogs over the weekend. Wasn't home much except to sleep. But I'll start visiting again this week. I do give two tests so I'll still be a bit slow in the blogging arena until that is done.