Tag: Literature

Author vs Imagined Author – Bertrand Russell Anecdote

I remember meeting for the first time one of the leading literary men in America, a man whom I had supposed from his books to be filled with melancholy. But it so happened that at that moment the most crucial baseball results were coming through on the radio; he forgot me, literature, and all the other sorrows of our sublunary life, and yelled with joy as his favorites achieved victory. Ever since this incident, I have been able to read his books without feeling depressed by the misfortunes of his characters.

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness.

“Part of the attraction of The Lord of the Rings is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed.” — J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien was a master of Worldbuilding, working on his Middle-Earth world from about WW1 until his death. The Lord of the Rings is full of lovingly crafted and referred-to details, many of which are left unexplained, whose stories first got public with the posthumous publications of the earlier stories.

  • One thing Tolkien knew from his studies as a linguist and English teacher is that some of the old myths recreate the Cryptic Background Reference effect entirely by accident, when the relevant poems or stories are lost — the medieval Finns probably had an explanation of what a Sampo (from The Kalevala) is, for example, but it didn’t survive the Middle Ages.
  • Then there are some things which never got elaborated on, even posthumously, like in The Hobbit when Bilbo makes reference to “the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert.” Nothing remotely similar is ever even spoken of again.
  • “Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things.”
  • Half of fun of reading Tolkien is this. Go read The Silmarillion and go back and read The Lord of the Rings. Now revel in all the references most people didn’t get the first time around. That part of the song Aragorn sings in The Fellowship of the Ring about Beren and Lúthien? Now you know the whole story. Bilbo’s song about Eärendil that Aragorn seemed to find so cheeky to sing in Rivendell? It was about Elrond’s father (and mother) who he hasn’t seen in five thousand years and probably dredged up some bad memories about the ransacking of his home when he was a child by the sons of Fëanor. The list goes on.
  • The Second Prophecy of Mandos, which describes what the end of the world will be like, is referenced (though not by name) in virtually all of the canonical stories of Middle-earth. However, the prophecy itself does not appear in canon — only in Tolkien’s earlier drafts for The Silmarillion.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CrypticBackgroundReference

The 25 Greatest Science Fiction Tropes

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/the-25-greatest-science-fiction-tropes-ranked/

25. Cryosleep
24. Generation Ships
23. Psychics
22. Ancient Astronauts
21. Space Pirates
20. Uploaded Consciousness
19. Benevolent Aliens
18. Killer Aliens
17. Alien Artifacts
16. Nanotechnology
15. Wormholes
14. Parallel Worlds
13. Interspecies Romance
12. AI Uprisings
11. Clones
10. Body Modifications
9. Robots
8. Faster-Than-Light Travel
7. Big Dumb Objects
6. Mutants
5. Dystopian Governments
4. After the Apocalypse
3. First Contact
2. Time Travel
1. Sentient Spaceships

Happy Bloomsday

Bloomsday is a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, observed annually in Dublin and elsewhere on 16 June, the day his 1922 novel Ulysses takes place in 1904, the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and named after its protagonist Leopold Bloom.

Wikipedia

James Joyce Anecdote

https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1979/10/07/112126187.html?pageNumber=102
(page 105 in the microfiche)
Letter to Book Review, NYTIMES, October 7 1979

To the editor:
The review of “Portraits of the Artist in Exile” (Aug. 26) stirred memories of James Joyce in Trieste. My father was the American Consul charged with protecting British interests. He came to like and respect Joyce without the slightest inkling of what he was up to besides teaching at the Berlitz school and tutoring.

My father went so far as to suggest to my mother that they invite Joyce and Nora Barnacle to dinner. This led to words, and my mother’s Victorian upbringing prevailed.

The remote possiblity of social amenities between the two families vanished in 1915 when British subjects began to face internment, a prospect Joyce did not relish. He turned to his friends for help to get him to Switzerland. My father did the paperwork and with others made it plain to the Austrian authorities that Joyce would be a troublemaker to British officialdom. This indeed proved to be the case. Tom Stoppard makes it clear in “Travesties.” Joyce had nothing to give his friends but unsold copies of “The Dubliners.” The copy he gave my father is inscribed
To
Ralph Busser
James Joyce
18 Feby 1915

Joyce left for Zurich in June and within two years we were in the war. As our train from Vienna rolled into the station at Zurich one lone figure stood on the platform. It was Joyce come to meet us. As he took hold of the handle of an aged suitcase it broke, but he nimbly tucked it under his arm and led us out. With another simple gesture he had expressed his gratitude.

I never saw him again.
Ralph Busser Jr.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Ikea Effect and Difficult Reading – Shakespeare and Game of Thrones

WILSON: Right. Exactly. There’s just a certain type of reader who loves these sprawling, sociological narratives that have massive casts of characters. That have these interweaving stories, and they’re just epic in scope. They go on and on and they expand outward. George R. R. Martin is clearly one of those people.

I often have to remind my students. I say, “You know, Shakespeare’s supposed to be hard.” Right? It’s supposed to be difficult to understand what’s going on in these texts, but I think we can forget how extremely difficult these texts are—Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, “A Song of Ice and Fire”—for first time readers to come to these texts and just try to understand what is going on here. But then I also think that there’s a connection between the labor that we have to do to understand what’s going on in these texts and the love that we have for these texts. In the book, I theorize this as an example of the Ikea effect.

Some researchers did this amazing experiment where they had people put together some Ikea furniture, and then they had a professional carpenter put together the same furniture, and then they asked people, which of these pieces of furniture do you want? The one that you built or the one that the carpenter built? And most people chose the one that they built. And so the Ikea effect means, for example, we don’t work so hard to raise our children because we love them so much. Instead, we love our children so much because we’ve had to work so hard to raise them.

And when we return to the literature, I think just the immense amount of labor that is required to understand what is going on here and to enjoy these texts spills over into just the intense passion that fans of Shakespeare, fans of Martin, show for these texts. You have these amazing fan cultures that grow up around Shakespeare’s history plays, so there’s @HollowCrownFans on Twitter…

Shakespeare and “Game of Thrones”
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 159

Based on his knowledge of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, Harvard’s Dr. Jeffrey R. Wilson knew just how HBO’s Game of Thrones would play out. Jon Snow, the illegitimate son, was a Richard III type, who would win the crown (and our hearts, in a love-to-hate-him kind of way). But Daenerys Targaryen, as a kind of Henry VII, would defeat him in battle and win it back, restoring peace and order. Turns out he was wrong about all of that.

But as Wilson kept watching, he began to appreciate the other ways Game of Thrones is similar to Shakespeare—like the way that both Shakespeare and George R.R. Martin’s stories translate the history of the Wars of the Roses into other popular genres.

Wilson’s new book, Shakespeare and Game of Thrones, explores some of the ways that Shakespeare influenced Game of Thrones… as well as some of the ways that Game of Thrones has begun to influence Shakespeare. Wilson is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Black History Month – 10 Books by African Americans

Just some books I liked and think you will too. Selections mine, blurbs via Amazon. 

Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul
James McBride
Kill ’Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown embodied the contradictions of American life: He was an unsettling symbol of the tensions between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. After receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth, James McBride goes in search of the “real” James Brown. McBride’s travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown’s never-before-revealed history, illuminating not only our understanding of the immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated Godfather of Soul, but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s enduring legacy.

How I Learned What I Learned
August Wilson
From Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson comes a one-man show that chronicles his life as a Black artist in the Hill District in Pittsburgh. From stories about his first jobs to his first loves and his experiences with racism, Wilson recounts his life from his roots to the completion of The American Century Cycle. How I Learned What I Learned gives an inside look into one of the most celebrated playwriting voices of the twentieth century.

The Big Sea: An Autobiography
Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes, born in 1902, came of age early in the 1920s. In The Big Sea he recounts those memorable years in the two great playgrounds of the decade–Harlem and Paris. In Paris he was a cook and waiter in nightclubs. He knew the musicians and dancers, the drunks and dope fiends. In Harlem he was a rising young poet–at the center of the “Harlem Renaissance.”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Rock This!
Chris Rock
From today’s hottest stand-up comic–heir to Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and known for his Emmy Award-winning HBO Specials and The Chris Rock Show–comes this edgy, no-holds-barred humor book about race, relationships, and politics.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Z.Z. Packer
Her impressive range and talent are abundantly evident: Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images, as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong. We meet a Brownie troop of black girls who are confronted with a troop of white girls; a young man who goes with his father to the Million Man March and must decide where his allegiance lies; an international group of drifters in Japan, who are starving, unable to find work; a girl in a Baltimore ghetto who has dreams of the larger world she has seen only on the screens in the television store nearby, where the Lithuanian shopkeeper holds out hope for attaining his own American Dream.

Waiting to Exhale
Terry McMillan
When the men in their lives prove less than reliable, Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin find new strength through a rare and enlightening friendship as they struggle to regain stability and an identity they don’t have to share with anyone. Because for the first time in a long time, their dreams are finally OFF hold….

I, Tina: My Life Story
Tina Turner
A reissue of the one of the most fascinating and dramatic true stories in show business history—the massive bestseller I, Tina, in which the legendary Tina Turner tells all about her life and career: from her humble beginnings in Nut Bush, TN; to her turbulent and volatile marriage to Ike Turner; and, finally, to her triumphant return and massive success.

Colored People: A Memoir
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In a coming-of-age story as enchantingly vivid and ribald as anything Mark Twain or Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., recounts his childhood in the mill town of Piedmont, West Virginia, in the 1950s and 1960s and ushers readers into a gossip, of lye-and-mashed-potato “processes,” and of slyly stubborn resistance to the indignities of segregation.

Pym: A Novel
Mat Johnson
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes has just made a startling discovery: the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that confirms the reality of Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Determined to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes, Jaynes convenes an all-black crew of six to follow Pym’s trail to the South Pole, armed with little but the firsthand account from which Poe derived his seafaring tale, a bag of bones, and a stash of Little Debbie snack cakes. Thus begins an epic journey by an unlikely band of adventurers under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries.

 

Quotes from Stuff Read in 2020

The Buddhists had a helpful analogy here. Picture the mind like a waterfall, they said: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall. Again, elegant theory—but, easier said than done.

The final step—“non-identification”—meant seeing that just because I was feeling angry or jealous or fearful, that did not render me a permanently angry or jealous person. These were just passing states of mind.
Harris, Dan. 10% Happier  

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Apology for Idlers, Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson  

You can’t turn your back on your nature. I admitted to Ravelstein that reading those Keynes documents and writing the piece had been something like a holiday. Rejoining humankind, taking a humanity bath. There are times when I need to ride in the subway at rush hour or sit in a crowded movie house – that’s what I mean by a humanity bath. As cattle must have salt to lick, I sometimes crave physical contact.
Bellow, Saul. Ravelstein

Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich