Sunday Salon: Release the Kracken! The TBR Dare is Back! and maybe some other ramblings….

Rudolph _picmonkeyed (1)

Part of the holiday decorating at our house.

The TBR Triple Dog Dare came back for a final round this week.  You can sign up for it in a comment here.  We have 22 people signed up so far, which I think is pretty good.  Since leaving my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. almost two years ago, I’ve not built up nearly the readership I used to have, but that’s okay.  I semi-retired from blogging in 2014 and now consider myself blogging on  a consultant basis.

So 22 sign-ups in a week is very good.

The Dare starts on January 1, so you still have time to sign-up.  All you have to do is read only books from your TBR stack until April 1, 2016.  Exceptions are allowed and explained on the sign-up page here.

I did quite a bit of reading this week, since I had the week off.  Nothing earth-shaking, but several books I enjoyed.  I even managed to post reviews of most of them.  I have two to write up, maybe later today: Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw which I enjoyed, but will admit to some skimming towards the end.  I thought it would be a great way to learn all about Dante and The Divine Comedy without having to actually read Dante.  It would have been better if I had read or was reading Dante which I may do now that I know more about him.

The other book still to be reviewed is Ernest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast.  I’ll have to digest it a little before writing, I think.  I read this week that A Movable Feast has been back on the best-seller list in the wake of the Paris attacks.  The thing is, A Movable Feast is not really about Paris.  It’s about all of the people, mostly American authors, whom Hemingway knew while living in Paris.  There really aren’t any French people in the book except for waiters and a couple of car mechanics.  A Movable Feast has almost nothing to say about Paris itself.  Hemingway spent his time in Europe moving from one English speaking colony to another, never really interacting with the place he was in.  He was a tourist among tourists.

Which is probably how most Americans experience Paris.

C.J., who spent a good chunk of his high school years living in Madrid where his father was designing an airport for Franco, his father worked for Bechtel, says that is typical of ex-pats.  They all either spent their days interacting with other ex-pats never really getting to know anyone Spanish, or they spent their days interacting with the Spanish never really getting to know any other ex-pats.  No one ever did both. Most of his family got to know lots of ex-pats. One of his brothers got to know lots of Spanish people.  Guess which family member still speaks fluent Spanish.

I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on A Movable Feast for the post except to say this–while I found most of the book’s writing annoying to condescending, there were still two passages that broke my heart a little, which is the power of Earnest Hemingway’s work.

Damn if he can’t write when he gets going.

We meant to do more day trips than we did this week.  It rained, thank you, on the day we had planned on going to the city so we stayed home and read in the rain.  We did make it up to Grass Valley for their Cornish Christmas street fair which was cold but lots of fun.  Back in the 19th century when the tin mines in Cornwall closed, large numbers of former tin miners moved to Grass Valley, California en masse where they took jobs in the gold mines.  Hence the Cornish Christmas.  The event runs every Friday night  through the holidays, so we may even go again.  We’re hoping to retire to Grass Valley someday soon.

Thanksgiving was spent with C.J.’s family dining out as usual at the El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma.  A delicious meal was had by all.  One plus of dining out for Thanksgiving for me is that I can have a good steak instead of turkey.  Turkey.  Really?  Is there a blander main course anywhere in the world?  So why not liven it up with mashed potatoes and green beans?  And cranberries?  What dark pit of horror did those things come from?

I’m from the midwest, so for me Thanksgiving has always been about the company, not the food.

So, today for finishing the shopping, doing the bills, some reading, walking the dogs, ignoring the stack of papers I still haven’t graded…

…and adding your name to The TBR Triple Dog Dare list.

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Shane by Jack Schaefer

Does Shane die at the end?  This question was the subject of passionate debate in the faculty room last week.  The school year is almost over.  What can I say?

At the end of the movie, Shane rides off into the sunrise his head hanging down.  Though he defeated the bad guys and saved the town, he was shot once during the final, climactic gun battle.

“Shane!  Come back!”

Okay, maybe it’s a guy thing, but the question needed an answer.  Is Shane alive at the end or not?

I’ve long been a fan of the movie and have wanted to read the Jack Schaefer novel it’s based on, so I decided to check them both out from my local library.  For some reason, the faculty is willing to let me be the final arbiter on this question, probably because at 46 I’m the oldest.  Fair enough. I’m certainly up to the task.

Shane is a classic hero-rides-into-town western.  The novel is set in a remote valley once the sole property of a single cattle rancher, now turning into farmland.  The rancher wants all the farmers off of his land; the farmers don’t want to leave.  Shane, a gunfighter with a past he won’t discuss, rides up to one of the farms, befriends the farmer, his wife and young son, and defends them all against the rancher and the hired guns he brings in to drive them away.  Shane wants to leave his gun fighting past behind him and settle down.  It’s also clear that he won’t be able to because Shane the gunfighter is just who the farmers need to defeat the rancher.

It’s clear in the book that Shane is alive at the end.  In fact, one of the minor characters states that “No bullet could ever kill that man.”  By the end of the novel Shane has become an immortal god-like hero.  There’s just no way he can die.  He can ride off and never be heard from again because his time has passed, but he can’t die.  He lives on at the heart of the American mythos.  Even men who’ve never heard of him aim to be like him.  Strong. Independent.  Admired by women and children and other men.  Able to hold his own in a fight but also able to avoid fighting for its own sake.  There’s no way he can die.

The George Stevens directed movie starring Alan Ladd is very faithful to the book.  The few changes he makes improve the story.  The fight between Shane and Starret is just one hit to the head in the book but it becomes a brutal fight scene in the movie that serves to point out how terrible fighting is.  The love triangle between Shane, Starret and Miriam, barely noticeable in the book, is down played in the movie, but other than that there are no major differences.  The movie even comes close to approximating the first person narration of the book which is told from the point of view of Starret’s young son.

But Shane is just as alive in the end.  Some faculty argued that as he rides off his head is down and the arm not holding the reins is hanging limp at his side.  He’s in silhouette at the end making him look even more mythical but also making it impossible to see his face.  He’s not really a person at the end of the movie anyway, he’s an archetype.  And he’s alive.  There was no blood, not even the minimal blood typical of movies made in 1953. Shane hardly reacted to being shot at all, and anyone familiar with horseback riding will see that his posture is typical of someone riding a horse.  If he were dead, he surely would have fallen off of his horse as it climbed over the mountains.  And I doubt that any horse would choose to go up a rocky mountain path when it could just go home to its feed, unless a conscious rider directed it to.

So, Shane lives.  No doubt in my mind.  That is my final answer.

This post first ran on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., back in the late spring of 2010.  For the record, I turned 52 this year and am still the oldest member of the department and probably still the biggest authority on the American western.

Posted in American Fiction, Book Review, Classic, Fiction, Novel, Western | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Strike of a Sex by George N. Miller

A stranger walks into town.  The town in George N. Miller’s 1890 novel The Strike of a Sex is suffering an unusual form of labor unrest–all of the women have gone on strike.  The narrator is justifiable mystified by this as he meets the men of the town who explain why the women are on strike and what the its effects are.  The town is a mess, of course.  With no one to cook, clean or even replace lost buttons, the lives of the men have deteriorated greatly during the two-month-long strike.  What are the demands of the women, the narrator asks. Do they want the vote?  The men gave them the vote after just a few days.  In fact, they’ve met all of the women’s demands save one.  At the end of the novel, the women parade through town to make their case, and the men vote to decide if they will meet their final demand.

They just don’t write ’em like that anymore.

The Strike of a Sex was written in the 1890’s during a time of struggle  over the rights of women.  It’s part of the New Woman movement which produced many novels that debated the rights of women and the institution of marriage.  George Miller was at one time a member of the Oenida Community, a Utopian group that believed in communal living and complex marriage.  Their membership reached over 300 at the height of the group’s 30 year lifespan.  A decade after the group broke up, George Miller wrote a series of books dealing with the same question the Wife of Bath asks in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: What do women want?

George Miller keeps the answer to this question for the final pages of his book.  The men of his fictional town are already taking their final vote before the narrator discovers what the final demand of the town’s women is.  The Wife of Bath believes that all women want sovereignty, to be in charge of their marriage so that they can then give this control to their husbands.  In her day, the late 14th century, this was a fairly forward thinking idea.  George Miller’s idea of what women want is both more and less radical than the Wife of Bath’s.  What the striking women of his novel want, in the end, is to control reproduction, to have children only when they want to have children.  This is still a major issue in America over 100 years later.

While The Strike of a Sex by George N. Miller was successful in its day, Yale has a copy from its fourth printing, it has since been forgotten.  It is not as good as other contemporary utopian/dystopian  novels such as Charlotte Gilman Perkins’s Herland or even H. Rider Haggard’s She, but it does serve to remind us that as far as we have come since 1890, we haven’t come as far as we like to think. Ultimately, what is most radical about The Strike of a Sex isn’t what the women in the book want, but that they are all united in that desire.  That was no more true in Mr. Miller’s day than it is in our own.  And that is probably a major reason why whether or not women should have complete control over their own reproduction is still so controversial.

Full Disclosure:  The photographs of the Oneida Mansion and its members come from the Oneida Community website.

This review first ran on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., back in the summer of 2010.  That summer I was part of an NEH program for teachers at Yale University studying Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  One of the main reasons I applied for the program was to have access to Yale’s library where I was sure I would find all sorts of books like this one that I had heard of or read about in graduate school but never had the chance to  read.  In the end, I probably spent a little more time reading them than I did Chaucer, but that was fine.  Our professor even encouraged it.  

I remember enjoying The Strike of a Sex, though it was a very odd little book.  A quick read, very preachy, but entertaining none-the-less.  I can’t say that I would encourage you to go out and look for it, but should a copy land in your lap, you might find it kind of fun.

Posted in American Fiction, Book Review, Classic, Fiction, Novel, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon

yellow dogInspector Maigret is not bothered (dot com.)

Someone accuses him of dragging  his feet with the investigation, someone else says the police have arrested the wrong man, another refuses to answer questions…

Inspector Maigret simply shrugs his shoulders and moves on like nothing matters anyway.  He’ll solve the crime soon enough. #MaigretIsNotBotheredDotCom.

It’s a great state of mind for a noir detective to be in, one that makes for fun reading, too.

The Yellow Dog, translated from the French by Linda Asher, is set in the working sea-side town of Concarneau which has seen better days.  I think all of France has seen better days in Simenon’s Maigret novels.  The action begins when a wine merchant is shot, probably accidentally as the killer must have been aiming at someone else when the merchant stepped in the way.  Soon several of the towns most important citizens are threatened, one nearly poisoned, another shot at.

Maigret finds two witnesses/suspects who were present at several incidents: an aging waitress and a yellow dog.  Both are connected to a former resident of  Concarneau who has been seen in France after serving time in an American prison.

At 134 pages, The Yellow Dog,  is the perfect diversion for a rainy afternoon.  Simenon delivers, like he always does, a tight, satisfying plot with few diversions.  A puzzle of a crime solved by a master detective who simply cannot be bothered.

Posted in Book Review, Classic, English Literature, Fiction, French, French Literature, Noir, Novel, Series, Translation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Duel by Heinrich Von Kleist

duel kleistThis is the first of Melville House’s “Duel” series to feature a serious duel.  The others were life or death situations, but they were part of an overall comic or satirical structure that made fun of dueling or at least critiqued it.

In Heinrich Von Kleist’s novel, translated by Annie Janusch, the duel is taken seriously by all involved, author included.

Set in the late fourteenth century, The Duel concerns a noblewoman whose husband has been murdered under circumstances that cast her in a very bad light.  Her honor in ruins, she has no one to defend her against the charges brought by her brother-in-law who has an airtight alibi for the night of the murder.  She begs for sanctuary from an old friend, a knight who at one time was in love with the noblewoman.  He agrees to take her in and defends her the only way he can, by challenging her accuser to trial by combat, a duel to the death.  Let God reveal the truth.

The reader knows that the noblewoman is innocent as does just about everyone else involved.  However, her knight is wounded in the duel so badly that he is unable to continue the fight.  So it appears that God has ruled in favor of the brother-in-law.

Except there’s a twist.

The knight quickly recovers and asks to carry on with the duel the following day.  The brother-in-law becomes infected from the slight wounds he received and begins to die.

Just what was God thinking?

Heinrich Von Kleist wrote The Duel in 1810, just one year before his own suicide.  I’m not expert enough on Germany in the early 19th century to say, but I expect the puzzle presented by this duel’s outcome was one that would have interested readers in a sincere way.  None of the characters are unbelievers.  The noblewoman and the knight both believe themselves to be guilty due to the results of the duel.  They are as confused by the message God has sent them as faithful readers must have been.  Everybody believes God has rendered his verdict through the duel, but just what was that verdict.

It’s just the sort of conundrum Medieval scholars would have loved: what if the loser of a duel survives but the winner dies?  Who then has God revealed to be guilty.

It was a fun read, one that I enjoyed and one that I hope to read again some day.


Posted in Book Review, Classic, European Literature, Fiction, German Literature, Novella, Translation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment