Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How Women Got Their Curves

Despite the salacious title, or maybe because of it, Barash and Lipton’s How Women Got Their Curves and other Just-So Stories is an interesting survey of the evolutionary biology of women’s bodies.  The book is an excellent way for beginners to the subject to understand how an empirical science emerges from the matrix of theories and preconceptions.  Much of this subject is still in the realm of pure speculation.  A form of informed logic is used to hash out issues like the concealed ovulation and menopause.  This is how a science begins.  From these thought experiments, called Just-So stories by the authors, empirical research can go forth, and firmer data, we hope, can be provided.

The book also performs one of the time honored missions of science.  It knocks yet another supposition of human supremacy from its perch.  Our bodies have been and are subject to natural selection just like every other animal.  If we have not explored ourselves from this standpoint, it is because of our inability to place ourselves under the same scrutiny as every thing else.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Age of Wonder

Alongside Tzili, The Age of Wonder is Appelfeld’s most fully realized novel.  Somehow he writes about the impending Holocaust without mentioning Germany or Nazism.  The first part of the novel, narrated by an unknown boy, chronicles the slow and steady decline of a Jewish intellectual family.  By the time they are sucked into the vortex, there is very little of them left to pluck.

In the second half, we meet Bruno, the narrator of the first part.  It is years after the Holocaust and he lives in Jerusalem.  He returnes to his home town, and in a series of very evocative encounters, finds that nearly everything of that former world is gone, and what is left is only a sad and shallow reminder of loss.

The Age of Wonder is Appelfeld’s most successful novel; it is both bold and restrained at once, a taut testimony of  a family’s decline and the death of a people.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Poem

when the call comes
do not hear it
turn your ears to wind
to stop up murmurs
of the whispering you
think are god
close your eyes
for dawn is not the image of god
but a semblance of fear
projected on your eyeball

we walk and walk and
yearn for god and
the world it swoons with
exertion, and the words
that charter our spirits
turn to god, to leaf
in full summer bloom
everything comes back
only waiting will end us

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Well, Sometimes it is Harder Than You Think

Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness actually does the opposite of what the title states. 

Boorstein wants to illustrate the main precepts of Buddhist practice and understanding, but she also wants to show what an actual spiritual or religious life look like on the ground.  A spiritual path does not solve your problems; you will not be a completely different person after you embrace a spiritual path than before.  Buddhist practice will slow down those natural tendencies that you have.  It will give you the ability to retard your natural reactions to situations, especially those that cause pain or stress, and examine them in a differently.  

In this way, a spiritual or religious path is actually harder than we think.  We still grapple with our old selves.  We still strive to defeat our terrible impulses.  But we do so with a mirror held up to them, and the tools to try and defeat them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Million Writers Award

Jason Stanford, who runs the Million Writer Award, is putting out an anthology of stories from the contest.  Books can now be ordered via Spot Light Publishing.

Oh yes, my story "The Incorrupt Body of Carlo Busso" is in the collection.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Deep Within the Ravine

Deep Within the Ravine by Philip Schutlz is an early collection of poems that feature much of what will come later.  The poems are formally very much poems.  There is the detail toward language, location, and specificity.  But there is also a sense of the vernacular in this collection.  Schultz’s poems very much talk to the reader, often in a conversational tone.

Schultz’s poems keep us guessing.  We are never quite sure which Schultz we will get when we start reading a new poem.  Usually, it is a mixture of all his qualities, energies, talents.  Deep Within the Ravine reveals all of these. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Conversion - Aharon Appelfeld

Aharon Appelfeld’s novels are excruciating to read, and The Conversion is no different.  Once again Appelfeld returns to the theme of Christianity, this time in the context of a spate of conversions of prominent members of a provisional Austrian city between the wars.  Karl converts after his parents die to further his career, and the inevitable occurs: he is no longer accepted by the Jewish community, and the motives of his conversion are viewed as suspect by Christians.

So, Karl wanders between worlds, feeling increasingly alienating, drifting down the scales of Austrian society until he finds himself at the inevitable point of his own destruction.  In my opinion, this happens a bit abruptly, and the end therefore has the feeling that Appelfeld could have done more work, but found no other solutions for the narrative problems he had created.  In the end, he had to do it as he did, no matter how unsatisfying.