Sunday, December 31, 2017

Roundlets - poem - Eric Maroney

South winter light dappled
On the pallor of your skin
Yet blushing you the
Daughter of the highlands
A cheek of crimson flush
A mixed maiden
Half-girl half-wife
And fully luminous
The haloed girl of the north
You a body of garland and scent
Round and wild with hips tumbling
To the root of your mossy crag
Of a verdant tumbling land
You half-girl your hair damp
Roundlets rosy like drizzled berries
Dripping from a seasoned bog
Here but all from far away
Like a distant covered land

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Death of Grass by John Christopher

The Death of Grass, a 1956 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by John Christopher, suffers from a number of fatal flaws. 

Christopher moves the novel at a swift place, which helps the novel in some places, while hindering it in others.  This book is supposed to illustrate how quickly people are stripped of their civilized veneer  as society collapses.  Fair enough given the genre. But Christopher really puts this concept into overdrive, and characters we hardly know are murdering and pillaging without sufficient preparation. Something feels missing.

The concept of the valley with the river is captivating, however.  And although the acute reader will figure out the end, it winds up being the thread that keeps the book moving forward with some urgency.  We all want to find safety in the valley with a swift river.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by David J. Silbey

A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by David J. Silbey, is the history of a little known conflict, an outgrowth of the Spanish-American War.  Our nation, takings its first steps as a world power, easily defeated the Spanish in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.  But the Philippines had a native, organized army, which actually fought most of the war against the Spanish.  It was the hope of this government that American intervention would lead to immediate independence.

This was not the case.  The United States instead fought a conventional campaign against the Filipino army. These set piece battles caused high casualty rates on the Filipino side.  Then war then shifted to an insurgency/guerrilla campaign, and although the Filipinos were more successful at this stage, eventually America won the war and occupied the island. Silbey’s conclusions about the war and American presence in the Philippines will no doubt ruffle some feathers.  He views the American occupation as beneficial to the Philippines and its people.  No doubt, many would argue this point.   

Despite this, Sibley shines a fascinating light on American intervention abroad  in the early days of our nation as a world power. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Separation, by Katie Kitamura

Katie Kitamura’s novel A Separation certainly has merit.  The first person narrator is strong, sensitive, and observant.  We get the sense of a woman rooted to her world, and understanding both her pains and joys.   The author is adept at creating the fully formed voice of a person, a woman, both at odds and at home with her world.  This makes for pleasurable reading.

If some of her plot points fall a bit short, Kitamura more than makes up for it in her novel use of language, and fully fleshed characters.

Monday, December 11, 2017

From the Rear View Mirror: The Run of his Life: The People v O.J. Simpson

Jerry Toobin’s The Run of his Life: The People v O.J. Simpson makes for fascinating reading in the twenty years since the double murder and trial.  In 1996, it was easy for white America to discount the racial angle of the trial as a unique pathology of Los Angeles, and the LAPD.  The Rodney King beating tape appeared to be the locally anomalous behavior of a systemically racist police force.

The Simpson story can no longer be viewed as such an outlier.  The fact that Simpson was indeed guilty of the crime, but got away with it – is the exception that proves the rule.  African-Americans are charged with crimes and incarcerated far out of proportion to white Americans, as the proliferation of digitally captured police violations and crimes in the last few years illustrates.

But Simpson was a black man with the money and influence to play the race card effectively.  Combine this with a mostly African-American jury, numerous missteps by the police and prosecutors, and Toobin’s book details an all too inevitable result: Simpson would get away with murder.

It is hard not to see the Simpson case as the beginning of so much American social and racial pathology that has come to flower in the last two decades.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Science & Poetry: The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

In The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, Richard Holmes explores how science, which emerged in a strictly Enlightenment/Rationalist era, came of age during the Romantic era.  

For science in the Romantic Age, poetry and science, art and rational thinking merged.  The great scientists of this time socialized and worked with poets like Shelly and Byron, producing science that was both rigorous in its methodology, but often poetic in its expression.  

This marriage eventually ended in divorce .  By the Victorian Era, science and poetry departed company.  For Holmes, this is detrimental.  This quote sums up his view:

The old, rigid debates and boundaries — science versus religion, science versus the arts, science versus traditional ethics — are no longer enough. We should be impatient with them. We need a wider, more generous, more imaginative perspective. Above all, perhaps, we need the three things that a scientific culture can sustain: the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe.

Generally, this book is interesting and informative.  The structure of the work can be confusing.  Holmes introduces characters, then other characters, then loops around again to previously discussed material.  This mars the flow of the book, placing it somewhere been a demanding text and a popularizing work.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Literary Zombies: Colson Whitehead's Zone One

Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One, a post-apocalyptic zombie work written by this, a literary fiction writer, suffers from the same flaw as the one other work I have read by this writer (The Intuitionist): it starts off fundamentally slow.  Painfully slow. 
Of course, this is the kiss of death for a narrative. It takes Whitehead nearly 70-100 pages to really get a head of steam on this work.  The urge to toss the book aside is strong (and I did so once, only to come back).  His propensity for tangents, his excessive wordiness, buries the narrative flow.

How can Whitehead get away with this fatal trait?  Part is his reputation.  If it were any other writer with a propensity to stumble just right out of the gates, the literary power types would move on; but Whitehead is different, and this is overlooked.

But to be fair, the novel does have many virtues.  Whitehead’s deadpan delivery oddly suits the world he has created.  His protagonist, Mark Spitz, survives not because he is special – but by virtue of his mediocrity.  He is a man who tip toed through the world before the disaster, not making a big splash, while not failing either, and this middling existence contributes to his survival.  He is a man with low expectations, and this new world delivers.  In the end, it is the character's odd sort balance with a shattered world that rescues this novel.