I hope they go in this direction…
We’ll debate about books under-noticed or too much noticed, and celebrate writers we’ve returned to again and again. We’ll recommend and we’ll theorize.
However I hope they’re not going down the road of the New York Review of Books, which seems to have less to do with books than the people writing the essays.
By the way, we hope you realize that “Site of the Week” really means “Site of Whenever We Get Around to It.” (It was much easier to type that sentence than redo the graphic!)
Young Bill Young and I are trying to get back to some normal posting schedule. Unfortunately, we have this thing called a “job” that gets in the way sometimes.
Happy reading, everyone!
Online magazine Vice calls Harold Bloom “the preeminent literary critic in the world.” It’s hard to argue with that. This writer, critic, professor, and staunch champion of classic literature is one-of-a-kind. My friend Lloyd loves him, and talked to me, in particular, about one of Bloom’s most popular works: The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.
My only other exposure to Bloom, until recently, was his work Jesus and Yahweh : The Names Divine. Although the subject of that work was investigating what we really know about Jesus, the author spent some time expressing his love for the Old Testament, the Jewish Tanakh. (This was also my first exposure to the idea that Bathsheba could be the author of the Torah, the first five books of the bible. A bit more on this controversial idea here.)
Knowing he placed the Old Testament up there with Shakespeare (or is that other way around?), I was not surprised to see Bloom’s latest work staring at me from the library stacks. (Although I was excited.) The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible is the author’s celebration of “the sublime summit of literature in English.” Bloom also includes Shakespeare in this “sublime summit” for both the works of the Bard’s major phase and the KJB emerged during the same time period, 1604-1611.
Bloom reads passages from the KJB alongside those of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, as well as the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles, to illustrate how the KJB translators improved or diminished the text.
During the journey, we discover how Songs of Solomon inspired poetry and Shakespeare, how God’s voice changed from mocking to “threatening rhapsody” in Job; and we meet the strangest, but perhaps the most literary, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Tyndale is the master translator in this picture, and his Bible and other works influenced the KJB translation:
The inexplicable wonder is that a rather undistinguished group of writers… brought forth a magnificence almost to rival Shakespeare’s. Without Tyndale as fountainhead, it could not have been done, but Tyndale’s powerfully rugged prose is very unlike the orchestration of the sentences of the KJB.”
Yes, orchestration. There is beauty here. Millions of people read the King James Bible for its religious dogma and spiritual inspiration, but Bloom says we should look at it a different way as well: as a masterpiece of English literature.
Let me start by saying Larsson gives up any pretense of presenting a mystery in Hornet’s Nest. The first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, had a strong mystery plot, which also served to introduce us to the oddity that is protagonist Lisbeth Salander. The second work, The Girl Who Played With Fire, had a mystery that opened more doors to help the reader understand why Lisbeth is the way she is. With Hornet’s Nest, Larsson kicks those doors down.
While the book lacks a mystery, it’s still a thriller. Like the previous books, it takes a while for Larsson to set the pieces in motion; but once he does, you’re off on a wild ride. Larsson introduces the other players who have conspired to make Lisbeth’s life hell on earth. The thrill comes from seeing how Lisbeth and the advocates around her apply their ingenuity, determination, and bravery to see justice win over corruption. Those advocates also include, of course, star journalist Mikael Blomkvist (or as an angry Lisbeth refers to him, Mikael F***ing Blomkvist).
It’s a pleasure to see Lisbeth prevail, and a pleasure to see our strange girl patch up her relationship with Blomkvist. The stage seemed to be set for the next seven books in Larsson’s planned 10-part series: Lisbeth and Mikael forming an odd couple that would solve mysteries and bring down misogynist thugs and corrupt politicians and businessmen. Two misfits against the evil in the world.
Alas, we may never get to see another book, just when the doors have been kicked open. Swedish law may prevent anyone putting pen to paper to try to see Larsson’s grand work completed. We will also never meet Lisbeth’s twin. Nor will we delve more into the problem of violence against women, perhaps the true theme of these works. But we still have these three books which make a very satisfying package. (Or am I wrong about this being the end?)
What is it about Lisbeth? These books are monsters, breaking sales records all over the world. Yes, they start slow but they soon become can’t-put-’em-down books. Our heroine lacks any sense of social graces. She’s rude, vindictive and unable to relate to most of the world. Does she have Asperger’s Syndrome? Perhaps. Yet, we understand why Lisbeth could be the way she is, because she has lost all trust in the world due to the extraordinary abuse she suffered.
Tiny in stature, she is an intellectual giant with a photographic memory and superhuman computer skills. Readers are amazed at her ability to snatch victory from overwhelming defeat. We root for Lisbeth, because we believe every human being has the right to be in control of her life and to live free. Perhaps that’s the simple reason I love the Girl.
• And here’s what I had to say about the first book a year ago. (Has it really been that long ago?)
Have your read Larssen? What did you think of the books?
Why do you love the Girl?
This post is about an article sent to me by Young Bill, out of Library Journal, a publication for librarians, resplendent with reviews and library news. Every Reader a Reviewer: The Online Book Conversation by Barbara Hoffert.
Book reviewers used to be the learned literary voice speaking to us from the Book Review pages of magazines and newspapers. They were what librarians like to call “subject specialists” in their particular reviewing field. Many were very good, and every librarian still reads reviews from magazines like; Library Journal, Choice, and Publishers Weekly in order to pick titles for their collections. However, reading some literary reviews made you think the reviewer had swallowed the thesaurus whole. Absolutely stunning reviews about the literary worth of a book that a librarian would know would never check out because it was insanely boring.
So just like the revolution in music, the industry now recognizing the power of wildly popular musicians on YouTube. Book reviewing on sites like Good Reads, or personal blogs is the power of the people getting to pick. To me it started with “DorothyL“, the very popular listserv of mystery readers coming together to talk mysteries; share in a like minded community and pass aroung the good titles among themselves. It gave voice to reader opinions.
I think that’s what most of us book review bloggers do, we give opinions, we share our likes and dislikes, we read and want everyone to read. I like to share events and talk about books. I don’t think I’m in the same category as the reviewer for the New York Times Book Review. I think my job is to make reading accessible and enjoyable. I’m just as comfortable reading Amanda McCabe’s Scandalous Brides, or Patricia Briggs’ Bone Crossed as I am reading Michael Lewis’ The Big Short or Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I like to read, it’s that simple.
For my own personal reading, I prefer the book bloggers, usually I’m picking people who have similar taste in books. I want to see what they have to say, what they pick up next. If I need to know what book is the best authority on a given topic, then I go to the experts in the field. To me all the book buzz on the internet is just like the Metropolitan Library System book sale and the line snaking around the building to get in, “Who knew all these people were reading? I guess reading isn’t dead after all.”
We’re going to say the week starts with Monday, because I didn’t get the Site of the Week up until Sunday evening… Looking for just the right book site, Bookgasm is it.
If you need convincing go to their About page, it pretty much says it all,
Hey, have you read the new Nora Roberts?
Are you a member of Oprah’s Book Club?
Do you enjoy stories about the struggles of the disenfranchised in our society?
If you answered “no” to all those questions, we’d like to welcome you to BOOKGASM, the site dedicated to READING MATERIAL TO GET EXCITED ABOUT.
That includes all kinds of genre fiction, from horror and sci-fi to mystery and suspense. It also includes graphic novels, trashy paperbacks, cheap magazines and other things that much of America pretends to be ashamed of, for no good reason.
That’s just the kind of literature I love. Reading should make you want to stay up through the next chapter, it should make you turn off the tv, you shouldn’t have to explain it to anyone but you should want to tell everyone what you just read, it is a bookgasm sort of thing. The addiction that needs no intervention. So have a Bookgasm.
Even though the dropdown menu sticks on me, I think the selection of different genres that are reviewed should make anyone sit up straight.
P.S. They won Spinetingler Award for Special Services to the Industry & Community. (basically best blogs, forums)
Spinetingler is another necessary stop for finding reading pleasure.
Young Bill Young here. So many thoughts are spinning in my head, and it’s all because of this little book by Pitchfork editor Mark Richardson, part of the 33 1/3 book series on groundbreaking music albums. After reading this little tome, what can I say? I could write about the joys of reading about a favorite rock album (Zaireeka) or a favorite rock band (The Flaming Lips). I could write about the impact this album (if you can call it an album) has on the ongoing conversation about how music is experienced in our highly technological world. I could write about the seeds of creativity, and how Oklahoma’s own Flaming Lips charted a new path under adverse circumstances. I could write about music as art; music as a catalyst for change and discovery; music as event versus music as solitary entertainment. All of these issues and more are covered in Richardson’s amazing take on this unusual masterpiece of sound.
If you’re not familiar with Zaireeka, let’s start with Richardson’s own words:
“The Flaming Lips‘ 1997 album Zaireeka is one of the most peculiar albums ever recorded, consisting of four CDs meant to be played simultaneously on four CD players.”
You get the picture of how challenging it could be to even experience Zaireeka as it is intended. Not only do you have to find three friends with portable stereos, you also have to sync up each of the eight tracks individually. Richardson continues:
“Zaireeka is the anti-headphone and the anti-mp3. It purposely makes the two biggest developments in end-user music in the last 30 years irrelevant. Zaireeka is not mobile. It is not personal. It is not solitary, cannot be easily controlled, and cannot easily be consumed in small doses. So another way to think of Zaireeka is as a one-off piece of technology that comes in a highly inconvenient dead-end format, which is a rather extraordinary kind of thing for a rock band to make.”
Richardson pays homage to the works’s format by breaking his book up into four sections, with each section having eight “tracks.” The first section explores the idea of Zaireeka, and how its format requires a communal experience (with at least four people) — an idea in direct conflict with the personal soundtracks of the mp3 player generation.
The second section explores the nature of the band known as the Flaming Lips, how the departure of guitarist Ronald Jones provided a spark for musical exploration, leading to the Parking Lot Experiments (where the band provided up to 40 cassette tapes to be played simultaneously in car stereos) and, eventually, Zaireeka. In addition to losing Jones, the other musicians—leader Wayne Coyne, multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, and bassist Michael Ivins—were approaching the end of their Warner Brothers contract. The possibility of being dropped by the label in an album or two only added a fearless quality to the band’s experimentation.
Section three reviews the music, and how it is never the same–the sounds of individual stereos/boomboxes differ, the acoustics of different spaces differ, and synchronization can be a bitch! Beyond the intricacies of format, Richardson finds that Zaireeka represents the best music of the Lips up to that time, first-tier psych rock:
“(The opening song) feels like a foot kicking through a door, opening up another world beyond it. And the ensuing sequence of songs builds that world out beautifully.”
Section four is what follows the release of the album: the critical reception, the band’s boombox experiements at concerts, the Zaireeka listening parties held by Lips fans across the country, and the path to The Soft Bulletin, the subsequent album that would attract a host of new fans to the Lips.
What sticks with me most about this book, though, is Richardson’s own reaction to Zaireeka. Section Four, Track Eight is “One Listener’s Story.” Richardson, a self-identified Gen-Xer, writes about the personal impact of two seminal 1997 artistic works— Zaireeka and David Lynch’s movie Lost Highway. Here are two quotes from the book:
“The experience of listening to Zaireeka was overwhelming, but more than the actual event, it got my mind going. I started to reflect on the artistic possibilities of confusion, and somewhere around that time I came to value experiences that existed outside of understood categories.”
“A movie like Lost Highway seeps into your subconscious, and to appreciate it you have to trust yourself to make sense of pieces that don’t necessarily seem to fit together. Seeing it in 1997, the year I heard Zaireeka, I began to sense that a universe of abstraction previously unavailable to me was starting to make sense.”
And such is the power of art. It is important to note that Coyne’s name for the album is a combination of two words: Zaire (chosen as a symbol of anarchy after he heard a radio report on political instability in that African nation), and Eureka (I have found it!). Amidst the confusion, stress, and disaffection that too often makes up our modern world, there is always great beauty and meaning to be discovered. And that’s why we need art.
Who wants to have a Zaireeka party?
Crosstimbers magazine is an amazing find. Published by the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, it includes; poetry, reviews, art, non-fiction and fiction articles and mostly by Oklahoma authors and illustrators.
( my scan of the magazine cover isn’t all that great, but please don’t judge this magazine by its cover)
For example, this issue has poetry by Sandra Soli, Robert Ferrier, Carol Hamilton, Chris Ellery, Audrey Streetman, Ann Brown and Robert Cooperman. There’s an article on Mary Welborn, “Art with a Mission : the New Botanicals.” She has an exhibit at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, from Feb.25th to April 22.
The exhibit is on display at the McDermott Learning Center from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day during the spring. The Wildflower Center is located at 4801 La Crosse Avenue in Austin, just off Loop 1 South (MoPac Boulevard). For information, call 292-4200. or www.wildflower.org
This month’s Crosstimbers also includes a thought provoking article by Tonnia L. Anderson, “On Remembering the Familiar: The Cultural Politics of Depression Era Photographs of Blacks.” Reviews of books like, Weigland’s Books on Trial and Klein’s Grappling with Demon Rum“. There’s an article on Nathan Brown, one of the Oklahoma Center for the Book finalists in poetry. And even an article on Train travel in America by Layne Thrift and J. C. Casey.
But if you want to read all this for yourself, USAO is very kind to post the current issue on the internet. Current issues are located on the Crosstimbers website. This is one great deal.