Sunday, December 30, 2012
Love. Children. Earning a living. Friends. Drinking. Pushed too far, to do too much. Silent years....
- Elizabeth Smart, journal entry on February 13, 1976
(quoted in Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and their Famous Literary Partnerships)
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?
I am Sick as Fucking Hell (it's a technical medical term) with chronic acute sinusitis (which one, you lucky dog? They're both cute, those Sinusitis girls) which has plagued me all my life and ONLY NOW have I found a doctor even remotely sympathetic to the idea that no really, I need long-term antibiotics when this happens and I'm not some kind of Augmentin junkie (that word always throws me off because it makes me think of Le Guin's "Augmentor".....anyway) -- so I've been reading and rereading comfort books. I've been sick since about the end of October (FUCK), so I reread the Holmes canon. All the Holmes canon, even Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four, which I really truly don't like. I always put off "His Final Problem" until after I've reread all my favourites and then immediately have to fix it with "The Adventure of the Empty House" afterwards, because I am a sap. (It always amazes me Watson doesn't just fucking sucker punch Holmes at the end of "The Dying Detective," but ANYWAY.) I reread Hound of the Baskervilles twice because that was my first Holmes ever and it's my perpetual favourite.
Then I was all out of Holmes. And I was still sick and couldn't focus on anything longer than a shortish novella that didn't have dropped clues all over it and wasn't neatly explained at the end. My eyes were returning to the little morocco case with the seven per cent solution and the syringes (EVERY detail points to Holmes knocking himself out with morphine, can you imagine him on crack?). I was jonesing.
"I think of slaying Holmes... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things."
-- Arthur Conan Doyle to his mother, 1891
"You won't! You can't! You mustn't!"
-- Arthur Conan Doyle's mother
So I went looking for methadone. Years and years ago when you wanted this sort of thing you had to hunt around in shadowy corners and sometimes even suffer hectographitis of the digits or "Xerox lung," but in these digital times you can just order authorized sequels and pastiches downloaded right onto your registered corneas, uh, I mean e-reader. So far have piled up: The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr, The West End Horror (already read Seven Per Cent Solution a while back) by Nicholas Meyer, Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye, A Slight Trick of the Mind (with grave misgivings) and The House of Silk (with slightly less grave misgivings. Call them coffin misgivings? No?).
Sadly I found Meyer really arch and unreadable -- that's probably a bad side effect of either the sinusitis or the Augmentin, because the day I don't love culture vulture literary references is the day I'm really fucking sick. Also bought Dirda's On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, which was 90% about books other than Holmes, and also really glossed over the imperialism and, yes, racism as completely as the latest shiny "steampunk century" website. That was dreadfully disappointing.
Dust and Shadow was really surprisingly good -- there was a great working-class original female character who wasn't a dreadful Mary Sue, Watson's narrative voice was just right, and although it was a Holmes v Ripper book, it wasn't horrendously graphic. (Number of Holmes v Ripper pastiche novels I now own: five. Number of Holmes v Ripper pastiche novels I owned last week: zero. I amused myself by wittily -- so I thought -- tagging them "Alien v Predator" on LibraryThing, only to get solemnly lectured by someone on Twitter, but then again Twitter seems to drop peoples' IQ numbers right along with that 140-character limit.) I would highly recommend it.
I just couldn't face Trick of the Mind, with droopy older Holmes apparently going all Late-Roth-and-Updike about his past affairs (what?), and oh, my God, House of Silk was bad, just bad. He fluffed Watson's voice, everyone else sounded like fake-Watson as well, the author committed phonetic fake Cockney upon the defenseless characters and reader and never stood in the dock for it, and if Dirda skated right over all the 19th-century prejudices, Anthony Horowitz was apologizing for them every other page. Holmes had never thought of the danger he sent the Irregulars into! Watson had never thought of the people they put away as anything more than just criminals! It was done in the most heavy-handed anachronistic way. I don't think there's anything wrong at all with pointing out the glaring social injustices of other eras -- in fact I think it's necessary -- but when it's done so poorly, the intended criticism is itself undercut and the author just looks hypocritical and patronizing.
Now I'm eyeing Caleb Carr. I really didn't like The Alienist and I tried The Angel of Darkness but just couldn't get through it, so I am not hopeful. What I really want is for Lyndsay Faye to write another Holmes novel, but apparently she's spun off her own series about a former Irish bartender who's now a Yank private dick in the 19th century "in the manner of The Alienist" (groan), so no joy there.
Or I could just reread Hound of the Baskervilles again -- its kick never dulls.
And so, reader, farewell to Sherlock Holmes! I thank you for your past constancy, and can but hope that some return has been made in the shape of that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingdom of romance.
-- Arthur Conan Doyle, Preface to The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
Monday, July 9, 2012
Saturday, July 7, 2012
"It's annoying just listening to you. Why are you always so cheerful?"
"And why should I be depressed, for heaven's sake!" said his host.
"Why be depressed? Because things are depressing."
"You don't eat enough, that's all. Why don't you try to have a good dinner. Depression's only been invented recently: nobody used to be depressed before."
"Oh stop boasting. Are you saying you've never been depressed?"
"Never! I don't know what it is and I don't have the time for it. You wake up in the morning and the chef is already there and you have to order dinner. Then there's tea, then the farm manager, then you go fishing, and then it's dinnertime. You hardly have time for a snooze after dinner and the chef is back, you have to order supper. How do you find the time for depression?"
...."Believe me....that sometimes I'd like to have something to worry about just for a change, but I don't even have anyone who annoys me. I'm depressed, that's all."
- Gogol, Dead Souls (tr. Donald Rayfield)
Friday, July 6, 2012
No: I intend no introspection. I mark Henry James's sentence: Observe perpetually. Observe the oncome of age. Observe greed. Observe my own despondency. By that means it becomes serviceable. Or so I hope. I insist upon spending this time to the best advantage. I will go down with my colours flying. This I see verges on introspection; but doesn't quite fall in.
- Virginia Woolf, last full entry in her diary, Saturday 8 March 1941
Footnote: "Cf. 'Henry James' in Desmond MacCarthy's Portraits (1931), p. 155: 'He had been describing to me the spiral of depression which a recent nervous illness had compelled him....to descend...."But it has been good....for my genius." Then he added, "Never cease to watch whatever happens to you."'"
(cf. also Paul Scott, in the Raj Quartet: "And no experience, however disagreeable, is ever wasted.")
Sunday, June 24, 2012
"Phenomenal" indeed. The song was inspired by "one of the most haunted places in America," Laura Gibson said in an interview, the Hot Lake Hotel (once the "Mayo Clinic of the West"), where the official video was shot. (West Coast ghost stories are the best ghost stories.)
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
(He also quotes Woolf entirely out of context and makes her sound stupid. Bah.)