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Marking done. In loathsome embrace of pop culture theory. Tentacles flailing, victim SAN scores dropping rapidly. News at 11.

In more interesting news, there's another Murakami out, yay! And a perfectly lovely review of it on the New York Times, although it's a wretched registration-required site. I've never read anything by the reviewer, Walter Kirn, but after his opening paragraph I want to:

Should the aliens ever descend in their sleek ships and train their great scanners on our population centers, capturing our deeds and dreams for transmission back to cosmic headquarters, let’s hope they show us the patient tenderness of Haruki Murakami, the Japanese novelist, who himself is not wholly of this world. In a dozen books on our existence here — not in Japan or any special nation but as children of gravity, as earthlings — Murakami has done as good a job as any contemporary writer of pleading humanity’s poignant case before the court of whoever may be out there. Have mercy, oh interstellar lords. We’re lonesome and small and we know not what we do, only that we’re obliged by God or nature to bathe, dress, eat and keep on doing it.

Yup, that's my life. How 'bout yours?

Bunny Threat Level: moving slowly into the amber.


Monday, 27 March 2006 03:10 pm
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Lurgi Strikes Back! The rising tides of nausea all weekend were apparently the overture (slow, melancholic, minor, with occasional unpleasant crescendos) to a dose of 'flu. I'm all headachy, chesty and generally miserable, having spent an unpleasant night drowning on the contents of my own lungs. Sigh. These encyclopedia entries are doomed, dooomed, I say! Although I am starting to wring something resembling sense from the Animation one, mostly by brandishing a three-legged stool and shouting "Back, you leechies!" to all the extraneous examples.

I did, however, manage to take advantage of the usual faintly surreal 'flu-space to finish reading Haruki Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I borrowed from the dreaded stv about three seconds after they got back to Cape Town, and hadn't read until now, what, eight months later? Naughty me. It's a very weird book, and the first couple of attempts to read it left me alternately baffled and bored. This time I fared better: usual slow Murakami pace, usual deadpan Murakami non-reactive hero, usual incursions of dreamlike surreality, usual weird, slow-motion grasping after elusive, illusionary meaning. Very cool, even if the book's extended metaphor is prostitution. I both enjoyed and marvelled at the novel, but I think I was happier with Hard-Boiled Wonderland's unicorns.

In fact, it's been a good week for books. I finished Douglas Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma, a copy of which I unexpectedly scored courtesy of one of the English department's Great Literary Luminaries, who cleared out a whole lot of books and invited the dept. to help itself. I now have three Douglas Coupland novels pre-owned by Andre Brink. I really enjoyed Girlfriend in a Coma, it's an amazingly trippy but very real exploration of life's inner meaninglessness, with added post-apocalypse, spirit guides and random ostriches and volcano eruptions. Coupland has such a sure touch with character and observation, he actually gets away with surprising amounts of sheer, unexplained weirdness.

Also on this week's menu: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Good grief. This crazy woman has, effectively, and with no sign of shame or remorse, re-written Bram Stoker's Dracula as one whale of a conspiracy theory, albeit in a 20th-century setting, and slightly upside down. Same multiple voices and points of identification; same strangely fragmentary narrative made up of letters, diary entries and oral accounts; same painstaking investigative process using the language and framework of science (or at least history, here) while unquestioningly accepting the reality of the supernatural. Where Stoker's hero meets the dreaded Count in the first chapter, however, and spends the rest of the book plotting his destruction, here the moment of confrontation with Ancient Evil is delayed interminably, until a rather pale and anticlimactic last chapter. I think these days we're all too postmodern about our Eeevil to actually be permitted more than a glimpse of it, lest we attempt to deconstruct. Like Stoker's novel, The Historian is a pretty gripping, schlocky and poppy sort of offering, although the scholarship also seems fairly genuine - lots of Vlad the Impaler and early Wallachian trade routes. Also lots of Romance, TM. Thoroughly enjoyable read - I devoured it in 24 hours - if somewhat inclining me to scratch my head and wonder why anyone would go to all that trouble to update a myth when the nineteenth-century original still works perfectly fine, thank you.

Shall stop the random book reviewing, lest witterers flee in droves. I had my over-literary English knuckles rapped last night, while braaing with jo&stv; I plead in mitigation that I was drowning the nausea in excess gin.
Jo (accusingly, after particularly verbose and slightly drunken outburst of pretention on my part): "Too much flighty language!"
Me: "I'm an English professional, what do you expect?"
Jo: "... Mercy!"

None, actually. None at all.


Thursday, 21 July 2005 11:47 pm
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Whew. A somewhat well-wined and, as usual, chatty and not too literary evening with the Tea Readers, the book club to which I and wolverine_nun belong. Tonight I hosted, which entails cooking supper (so not an issue) and, more worryingly, picking the books from which we chose this month's reads.

'Tis a curiously and terrifyingly exposed position, selecting books on behalf of a 7-person, all-female book club, some of whose members I don't know very well. In some ways it's great: I end up with books I would never otherwise look at, for example the new Isabel Allende "biography" of Zorro; but it's a dicey balancing act, trying to choose things I'd like to read that I vaguely suspect the book club members would either like to read, or haven't read already. Tricky, and, in fact, horribly self-revealing. In the event, a fairly successful selection; I snuck in both a Neil Gaiman (Smoke and Mirrors, which for some bizarre reason I don't own) and a Tom Holt, to a fair amount of enthusiasm, and had two other rejected (Chocolat and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) only because other club members already own them and can lend them. This is, after all, the book club that introduced me to the joyous reading experience that is Murukami, so I probably worry too much about alienating them. And, once everyone's finished reading them, I get to keep the books. Score.

It's alarming, though. They're making me read weird stuff that (gasp!) isn't science fiction or fantasy!. Too much more of this, and I may actually come to resemble something vaguely akin to a literature professional.
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...and, having fielded five phone calls, one visit (with presents), one SMS, two blog comments and four e-mails before noon, I am feeling Loved, TM. Thanks for the good wishes, all. I realise, in fact, that probably the most important reason to have a cellphone again is so that people can contact me while I'm online on the dial-up, which I am way, way too often. Conversely, the weird cell reception blank spot in our house is worst in my study, for some reason, so the first 30 seconds of any call are confused and intermittant while I dash onto the patio.

As a general spread-the-love, I feel impelled to pass on a site recently recommended to me by Dylan (strictly for D&D players, alas, many 1st ed/3rd ed injokes). The Order of the Stick.

And, a quick correction. When counting up my book stash in yesterday's meme, I omitted an entire bookshelf (it's in the guestroom, camoflaged among the Evil Landlord's personal L-space). I also have about 150 books in my kiddies' collection. Total a lot closer to 2800, overall, and I think I've underestimated the ones in my office. Also, the most recent book I've read is, in fact, Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart, which I read last night in the bath. (Why, yes, I do read ridiculously fast and have ridiculously long baths). Almost unbearably fragile and delicately-written novel, necessitating the use of words such as poignant, melancholy, fractured and alienated in quantifying it. Also, the more I read Murakami, the less I am able to believe that I am actually capable of writing anything worthwhile at all. Damned depressing man.

Tonight, off to Hussar for Steak, TM; the small/expensive celebration, in sharp contradistinction to tomorrow's Large Raucous Party. Note to attendees tonight: there shall be no singing! None, I say!

My First Meme

Wednesday, 22 June 2005 06:16 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I got memed! I have Arrived, blog-wise. I was pinged by evil scroobious, naturally, who is a veteran of my literature seminars, so I suppose it's inevitable. I warn you, though, I shall cheat, and in some cases treat a whole series as a book. Rules, so boring.

The Number Of Books I Own. Good lord, now I'm going to have to count them. *pauses to fortify self with tea and toast*. Actually, probably a good idea to count them, anyway, for purposes of insurance, in case the Evil Landlord and I ever decide to burn the house down...

Okay. Fantasy/sf collection: just under a thousand. Fairy-tales and criticism: 200 or so. Plus the stuff in my office on campus, another 300 or so. Medieval history: almost 100. Detective fiction: 250ish. Mainstream novels, i.e. not sf/fantasy, around 500. Oh, and the PG Wodehouse in the living room: another 50ish. What's that? In total, I must own around 2500 books. Pshaw. Paltry. (If I count cookbooks, actually, that's another 100 or so).

The Last Books I Bought. Lemony Snicket, number 8, The Hostile Hospital, which, incidentally, is probably the best so far. Advance payment on the new Harry Potter. A. S. Byatt, The Little Black Book of Stories. Wait, I've just put in an Amazon order, so I suppose absolutely the most recent books I have bought (but not the last by a very long way) are The Sun, the Moon and the Stars (Steven Brust), The Family Trade and Singularity Sky (Charles Stross), and Distraction (Bruce Sterling).

The Last Book I Read: redundant question, on this blog, which mostly seems to be cultural criticism. As you know if you've been reading, it was Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, Haruki Murakami. Or, if you want to count graphic novels as books, the first four in the Fables series. (I don't count all the Dick Francis. That's not reading, it's distraction).

Five Books That Mean A Lot: like scroobious, I meep plaintively, "Only five?", but, unlike her, proceed to cheat.
  • JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings; simple and obvious, but true. I read this first in the car travelling down from Zim to a holiday on the Wild Coast. I was 12. It completely overwhelmed and possessed me, despite the fact that I actually didn't understand a lot of it. I have re-read it an average of annually ever since, including sharp frequency spikes in my first year at UCT, when I was miserably and horrendously homesick and re-read it three times, following the action on photocopies of the maps. (Probably the first time I actually worked out what was happening in a tactical sense). I also re-read it four times over the three years during which the movies came out. This book, she says with calm understatement, means a lot to me.
  • James Thurber, The Thirteen Clocks. Not for nothing are my cats called Todal and Golux. I deeply rejoice that I possess a first edition, which used to belong to my grandfather, who introduced me not only to Thurber, but to Tolkien and to sf in general. Look what he started. Any other Thurber fairy tales are also much-loved, especially The White Deer, but Clocks is my favourite.
  • A. S. Byatt, Possession. And, in fact, the fairy tales in The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye and Elementals (the story "Cold" has huge resonance for me). Her writing is an endless delight because it's so layered, complex and evocative of other texts. Also, Possession both articulated and validated my very profound enjoyment of romance structures; it can't be that guilty a pleasure if a Booker prizewinner also does it.
  • Sheri S. Tepper. Everything by Sheri S. Tepper. (This is where I cheat). I can't actually select one favourite above all the others. Her novels are important to me because they express feminism and ecology wossnames which are really important to me. She also has a highly acute awareness of story/narrative/structure. In fact, she pushes most of my buttons. Clever lady.
  • Charles Dickens, Bleak House. I adore Dickens generally, and re-read them all frequently, but for some reason Bleak House has always been my favourite. I can't even say why.
Five is a ridiculous number. Left out of the above are a bunch of really important writers and books, including Jane Austen, Dorothy Parker, Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, and all of Terry Pratchett. I reject that five. I spit upon it!

Looking back over that list, it's interesting that I've managed to bring three of them into my PhD, and one into my Masters thesis. Cause-and-effect wise, it's not that they're important to me because I've worked critically with them; it's that I've chosen to work critically with them because they're important to me. I possibly have the world's coolest job.

One Book I Wish I Could Burn: scroobious pipped me on the Stephen Donaldson one, so I shall have to think of something else. Probably George Eliot's Middlemarch, a book for which I have a largely inexplicable, deeply passionate loathing. Or Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being, although that antipathy is simply about circumstances of reading. Actually, thinking about it, I wouldn't actually want to burn either of the above; let's say a suspended torching, effective as soon as anyone tries to make me read either one again. I'm not generally big with the book-burning. I suspect that, given another year or two, I may be advocating it for JK Rowling and all her works, however...

You’ve been pinged. So I have. Now pinging... oooh (surveys blogdom with eye of connoisseur). d@vid, you're pinged. Stv (comovedy), so are you, because I don't know much about your reading taste other than Murakami ;>. Thak, you're pinged; stick it in a comment, if you don't want nameless hordes* rushing over to your blog.

* this is clearly a hopeless exaggeration. Dammit, scroobious, you've infected me with footnotes!

faint but pursuing

Wednesday, 15 June 2005 10:34 pm
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Gosh-darned 'flu still lingering - currently giving me blocked ears that go "pop" every now and then, rather disconcerting. And still with the snuffling. But my brain generally seems to be emerging from the grip of the grippe, so to speak: I had enough coherence today to actually do some work, and spent a happy few hours noodling around with the paper on Tolkien and fan culture. Going well, apart from the fact that in moments of excitement the pile of books on fan culture will fall down behind my desk, necessitating swearing and scrabbling to retrieve the necessary tomes. Memo to self, must clear desk. Must also get a new screen pronto, this one had a ten-minute fit of fade-to-black this afternoon, producing a visual effect not unlike a black-and-white movie lit and photographed by a severely Impressionist director in a state of angst.

I have finally got around to tackling the huge pile of books I have borrowed from all four corners of Cape Town: yesterday, read Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Is it just me, or are all his main characters the same person? Weird sort of flat non-reactiveness to things, made all the more noticeable because the things that happen to Murakami characters are truly, truly odd. I have a sort of feeling that H-B Wonderland would have made more sense if I hadn't been 'flu-ridden, although, this being Murakami, maybe not. Strange sort of Escher-esque mental spaces, inside and outside each other at the same time. Odd book, and haunting me a tad. I think it was the unicorns.

On a not necessarily lighter note, although much more comprehensible one, I have now acquired books 5 to 7 of the Lemony Snicket series, once more crippling my long-suffering credit card. I didn't plan to, honest; I was in Exclusive in Cavendish for the excellent cause of meeting Stace and [ profile] starmadeshadow, the purposes being to celebrate the former's birthday. Reason number umpty-whatever for not having kids: a night out with the grrlfriends becomes a High Treat, TM, necessitating organisation days in advance, and the connivance of the husband as baby-sitter. However, very nice dinner. Stace should have birthdays, or at least nights out, more often. I am full of chocolate cake and veal in lemon sauce, and shall trundle bedwards with a Lemony Snicket. It's not a bad life, really.


Monday, 7 March 2005 10:21 pm
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Yow. Last night was not a good night. Went to bed around 11pm, woke up at 2am, could not get back to sleep again. Lay awake until 5.30, at which point I summoned the gumption to crawl out of bed and dose myself silly on muscle relaxants. Woke up with a hell of a jump at 9am, feeling obscurely guilty and very, very zoned. Managed to do DT today, but not much else.

Life's little ironies. My copy of Radiohead's OK Computer will not play in my computer CD ROM drive. I can't work out if this is an accidental irony or a deliberate statement on the part of the band.

Wolverine_nun, lovely lady, found me a copy of Murakami's Norwegian Wood. Shall read it when I've caught up on sleep.
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Well. That was ... lateral. Have just finished Kafka on the Shore, and have to confess myself a somewhat bewildered Murakami fan. He nearly lost me around the disembowelling cats bit, which I still think was a bit gratuitous, but I got over it. I can't actually work out how much of the off-the-wall surreality is Murakami, and how much of it is simply inscrutable orientalism - I am eternally fascinated by the extent to which Eastern assumptions about narrative are madly, madly different to Western. Have been trying to find the right word to describe his storytelling. Occlusive? oblique? also adumbrated, implicit, abstruse, recondite and elisive. Anyway. Colour me scouring Cape Town for more of his writing.

Positive vibes on the book-revision front. Nicest Ex-Supervisor in the World came round yesterday to collect the revised Carter chapter in order to check it for hopeless incoherence. She seems to think that the airy wave of the hand with which I am dismissing semiotic narrative criticism and all its horrible ilk, is legit. Am currently struggling with how to implement the changes required in the Thurber discussion, since currently reading through the chapter is causing me to wail "but I do that already!" at intervals,in response to the examiner and editor suggestions. Woe. But the acquisitions editor approves the Ursula Vernon cover, yay!

Cape Town continues hot. Sigh.

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