Started on the third book of the Nocilla Trilogy last night but, while the other two were disconnected short chapters, the first part of this one is what appears to be a really really really long run-on sentence, one of those stylistic traits I most hate reading, as I just can't stand the lack of any kind of periods or white space or breaks or pauses, as it always feels like a cheat because it's never really just one sentence it's a bunch of sentences that occasionally have a conjunction between them rather than a period and it's so tiring to read and it makes me think of a summer during college when I was working the circulation desk at the library and there was very little to do and they didn't care if I read on the job so I would just go back to the stacks in the literature section and pull out a book, read it at the desk, and put it back, one after another until the day was over, thus I went through a lot of books that summer, including all the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the only one of his I started and did not finish is the one that is written in really really really really really long sentences (I think that's The General in His Labyrinth or there's another one I always confuse it with, it's been a long time) and instead of actually reading that book I found myself just turning pages looking for periods pages and pages and I still really just don't like that style of writing so I may not end up finishing this last nocilla book though I did page through it and was intrigued to discover there's a short section that looks like a photo comic and a longer section that ends the book which is a drawn comic, though I'm not sure if it's by the author or someone else as there's no one else clearly credited for the art so I must assume it's the author, though the drawing is good enough that I question that, as his bio mentions nothing about art rather that he was a scientist before becoming a novelist.
On my walk this morning, as I passed over the creek, I peered over the stone wall down to the water below, as I often do in case the ducks have returned, and I was surprised and delighted to see a blue heron! I've seen one fly overhead multiple times over the years and used to occasionally see one standing in a small pond next a road we'd drive by, but I've never seen one on the ground that close to me. As usual I got some not great photos. The heron knew I was there and was clearly very cautious as it barely moved a muscle the whole time I watched it.
As I wait for library books to show up, I dove into my B.S. Johnson Omnibus (apparently now out of print), which is three of his novels collected together in their original format/typesetting (which at least in the one I read was important). Albert Angelo is his second novel from 1964. I did not at first like it particularly much, a first person stream of consciousness style that reminded me of his later The Unfortunates but seemed less successful. The protagonist felt at least partially autobiographical (which is also the case in the latter novel) but was not to me likeable. He's a substitute teacher who wishes to be an architect. He spends a lot of time complaining about the school and the students, but late in the novel things start to get more interesting when he assigns the students a paper of telling them what they really think of him. Johnson inserts these small compositions (quite a number of them), spelling/grammar mistakes and all, into the novel, and they provide an alternate view of the narrator, bringing to the fore his unreliability. Then in a very late section of the book, Johnson switches from the protagonist to a metafictional commentary by the author (perhaps just himself, it draws no distance) about the novel and its partial autobiographical nature and his goals and failures. He is very much interested in getting to the "truth" via writing and thus criticizes his own use of fictional devices. The sudden shift makes the novel more interesting, but doesn't totally save it from being... average.
Started in on the second novel Trawl (1966) which is a long rambling narration by man who is very seasick on a fishing ship out at sea. Ironically, it is, like the Nocilla book mentioned last post, composed of very long run on sentences, but unlike the latter Johnson doesn't go on endless for pages at a time. There are breaks and pauses that give the prose more of a rhythm.
Finished B.S. Johnson's Trawl yesterday, a long stream of consciousness monologue. The man is mostly narrating memories of his childhood and lovelife for some slightly obscure purpose about identifying his isolation. In the end it seems he is doing it to... feel better about getting married to his girlfriend? He is on a fishing trawler as a pleasure traveller which seems kind of crazy and mostly he just lies in bed cause he is seasick and occasionally interacts with the crew. While aspects of the memory narration were interesting enough, the present tense ship element seemed mostly pointless and the moment of the man's epiphany felt unearned (or unclear).
I started the third book in the Omnibus but ended up giving up on it about 50 pages in. This is another one of those cases were my penchant for completionism worked against me. I should have just stuck with the two of Johnson's novels I read and enjoyed, because I was intrigued by both of them more than any of these. Next time I'll just reread The Unfortunates which felt very similar to a lot of these but I found to be a lot more successful.
As our end of summer week at the beach approaches I've been gathering books to take along, since most of the week for me is just reading, though I also have writing to do. I will, as is usually the case, take too many books along, but it's better than running out (not that that is really possible with ebooks so readily available). The main novel I have is Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight and I've got more of Lois Bujold McMaster's Penric & Desdemona series to pick up from the library. There's also a book about ancient greek priestesses, Burkert's Greek Religion, a book on Caravaggio, a collection of short tales by Iharu Saikaku, a collection of Clark Ashton Smith's work, and a few comics. We've both been eying the 10 day weather forecast in hopes the week has nice weather, so far so good. Last time we were down (2 years ago) it rained/stormed the whole time which was not ideal since my favorite part of the beach is sitting on the deck reading while facing the ocean. I'm trying not to stress about the trip, though I always do when leaving the house for long periods not to mention leaving Buddy alone, especially after he's gotten so used to us being around with him almost 24 hours a day. I'll get over that once I'm actually there, somehow it is just the before that is so problematic for me (and often the travelling, but the drive to the beach is not too long and well known now).
Quite enjoyed, this week, The Life of Courage by Johann Grimmelshausen (as translated by Mike Mitchell), a 17th century picaresque about a woman (nicknamed Courage) during the Thirty Years War (the book is from 1670, the war ended ~1650, the author was around to see it first hand). It is an enjoyable narration by the protagonist as she chronicles her life from the start of the war (when she is a teen) until the end and how she survived as a thief, prostitute, business woman, and soldier. She goes through long term lovers and husbands at an amazing rate (a great number of them are soldiers who die), but always comes up with a scheme or stumbles upon a situation in which to continue surviving and for awhile at least, prosper. The story is, interestingly, not without a few small elements of the supernatural. Courage claims to have some kind of spell on her that keeps her from getting hurt, and she thus wades into the battles quite fearlessly and successfully. There is also an odd devilish charm thing towards the end that is clearly supernatural (and something I swear I've seen written up as a D&D treasure somewhere recently, because it was immediately familiar to me). But for the most part, it is of the heightened realism of such tales. It was a quick, fun read, and felt very D&D-esque in it's ways. I plan on reading Grimmelshausen Simplicissimus at some point.
We're at the beach now (well a house on the beach) for a week. It probably should feel weirder to be sleeping in a different (and oh so inferior) bed, showering in a different shower, sitting at a different table with my laptop, than it does, having not been in any other house since March, but coming here is always strange as I travel so little anyway. We've stayed at this house a number of times over the years too, so it's not completely new or different, a bit familiar, a bit changed. Since it is late in the season, though apparently busier than usual this year (so said the kid at the grocery checkout), we can get a place on the beach, a second floor with a deck looking out at the ocean. It's really the only way I could come here and really enjoy it, as my favorite part is sitting on the deck reading with the sound of the ocean in the background, occasionally looking up to watch the waves coming in, or the clouds at the horizon, or the gulls and pipers skittering about (a bit of people watching but usually the beach is mostly empty this time of year).
We went grocery shopping right after we unpacked and it was my first time in a grocery store since mid-March. Everyone was masked, thankfully not too crowded on a later Saturday afternoon, though still you have those people who can't seem to get the concept of distancing or that other people exist around them so they are in groups and block aisles with their carts and bodies oblivious of anything but themselves. But I secured the things that have most become my beach traditions, lots of mayonaise based salads primarily. The taco place, that usually closes right after we get here, was open, so takeout dinner was delicious tempora avocado tacos, a food I have never seen or heard of other than at this one place, so a once a year (at best) treat, probably all the more delicious for that rarity.
There have been years when I've gotten bored at the beach, and years when I stumbled along on incomplete projects, but mostly I just spend a week reading as much as possible. I brought a big box of books of various sorts, including a few comics to review, and I've got my fiction to work on (story number six is underway). One of my books is also more potential research for my never completed Ancient Greek D&D idea, which I have not quite given up on.
I was anxious all day yesterday (we couldn't check in until 4 so we didn't start driving until just after 2), and that is starting to subside now. My travel anxiety is very focused on the expectation of the travel and less the travel itself. I can't rationally explain it. It helps a lot in this case that we drove here, so no worries about schedules of trains or planes, or tickets or delays, probably also that I know I could be home in 2 or so hours if that were somehow necessary. And once the week starts I can mostly stop worrying about leaving the house unattended (avoid those fantasies of coming home to a burnt down house), and try to not think about Buddy wandering around the house meowing as loudly as he can wondering why no one comes to pet or feed him.
The sky is rather overcast this morning, the deck is still slick and shiny from overnight rain I guess or just a night's worth of sea spray unevaporated without the sun shining, so I'm working from inside. It's already time to get out my sweatshirt, unworn for months now, a preview of autumn.
Later in the day now, I finished my draft of a review of A Gift for a Ghost and read a whole novel, Ottessa Moshfegh's Death in Her Hands, while sitting on the deck listening to the ocean. The novel was an engrossing and quick read, a kind of metaphysical detective story about an old lonely woman who finds a mysterious note in the woods and then proceeds to basically write a murder mystery in her head to explain the note. She's an unreliable narrator (it is very clear early on) and the book's only narrator or focalizing character, so all we can know comes from what she says and what she lets slip through. Recovering an underlying explanation seems only ever partially possible - in particular, I'm a bit baffled by what happens between her and her dog, so much so, that I started doubting whether the dog even existed at all - but that doesn't detract from the books interest or themes. I feel it fits in very well with other metaphysical detective novels like Auster's City of Glass or Robbe-Grillet's The Erasers where detective is not some much solving a mystery of a murder but trying to solve the mystery of themselves. I checked out a few reviews after finishing it, and found this one from The New Yorker to be the best.
Coffee and cereal on the deck looking out at the ocean. I think what I like so much about being here is looking out at the nothingness. Obviously, there is not nothing between me and the horizon. I see sand, birds, waves, some people, clouds, often a colored sky, dunes, scrub, dogs, dolphins (if I'm lucky), the occasional ship, but also the ocean reaches the horizon and meets the sky and that's as far as I can see. No buildings or houses or trees or hills or anything. At home, there's always something nearby, either to look at or to block one's view, but there are very few places you can go where you can look out as far as you can possibly see. I'd imagine you could also do so at the edges of large flat landscapes: deserts, plains, tundra, etc. It's hard to fathom what an ancient human who had never seen or heard of the ocean or sea would think coming upon such a scene. All you know is the landscape around you and suddenly this vast body of water with no end in site. It really would seem like the end of the world. And the courage and curiosity it would take to get on a boat and... head out there into the unknown.
Not a great revelation really, but I think there's something to be said for that chance every now and then to just look as far as you can see and... see the end.
Somehow we ended up watching Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, which after awhile we both realized was a rewatch. The "browsing for a movie to watch right now" process never seems to get us to a very good place. It's hard to find something we are both excited to watch at the same time, so we end up with something we are both like "eh, maybe." Lianne often wants to rewatch things she likes, and I often want to try something I read about somewhere, but don't have the knowledge/words/enthusiasm to make her interested. Thus, we rewatched a movie we both forgot we watched and then didn't like that much anyway (I can see why we forgot it, it's not particularly memorable after the fact). In particular, Hitchcock's maguffin this time is a secret clause to a peace treaty, which just... makes little sense to me, particular since the way the bad guys are trying to find out what it is, is by kidnapping and torturing the most prominent and old of the people involved.
Today's plan, write another comic review, read more books, maybe watch something.
Finished my review and read Farah Mendlesohn's Rhetorics of Fantasy. Though to say I read it, I mean I read much of it and skipped a bunch of pages where she went on at length about books I'm not familiar in regards to analysis I didn't feel was to my interest either. But her concepts are interesting, looking at how fantasy enters a narrative and how that effects the rhetoric. She posits: portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal as her categories. Portal fantasy is from a point of view of a move from a known world to an unknown world, like The Chronicles of Narnia, which she also equates with quest fantasy because in quest fantasy while the known and unknown worlds are often the same world in a broader sense, the protagonist(s) are still experiencing the same move from known to unknown. For instance, Frodo and the hobbits move from the known world of the Shire into the unknown world of the rest of Middle-Earth. What I found most interesting in that chapter was the discussion of the way the protagonist learns about the world and how that knowledge is often accepted without question, indeed without the ability to question it. Gandalf, Aragorn, and many other characters tell Frodo a lot of history and prophecy but Frodo does not question that knowledge, it is accepted as true.
Immersive fantasy is when the fantastical is a known quantity, the protagonist exists in a world and has knowledge of it, of the fantasy aspect. Intrusion then is when the fantasy breaks into a world, an interruption, an unknown occurence, which can bleed into horror (Lovecraft being the easiest example of such) and also the gothic. And the liminal is harder to explain, and I don't really feel like explaining it. I was definitely more interested and engaged by the portal-quest and immersive chapters as they are the ones where I am most familiar with examples (including ones she referenced or discussed at length). I probably should have taken a few notes to better recall the minor things that struck my attention beyond this concept about the aquisition of knowledge and questioning/discussing it. I was happy to see her discuss Delany's Neveryona in that context as that is a frequent them in that novel and the series as a whole.
Stumbled upon The Sword & Sorcery Anthology edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacon Weisman (2012) while searching for something else in the library catalog (I think it was Joanna Russ who is in this anthology). It's a collection of the subgenre spanning Conan to Song of Fire and Ice with a lot in between. Early stories like "The Tower of the Elephant" and C.L. Moore's "The Black God's Kiss," which I must have started once and never completed, as I remembered the beginning but not the middle or end. There's a Grey Mouser story by Fritz Leiber (a chronologically early one as Fafhrd is only hinted at); I've been meaning to reread those. A bunch of authors or stories new to me, some interesting, some not so much. I've read about Karl Edward Wagner's Kane stories but the one here was my first. I enjoyed it enough I will look up some more and see how they are. The Joanna Russ story is her first Alyx one which I've read (and reread) recently. An Elric story that was... ok... I tried to reread some of those a little while back and did not get far. I just bought a Charles R. Saunders ebook the other day and there is a story of his here that I quite liked, an African inspired setting (I've gotta think Marlon James was inspired by Saunders for his Black Leopard, Red Wolf). I'm not sure I've actually read Poul Anderson before, his tale here was a viking story, good enough. A bunch of other stories that were fine, or that I couldn't even get a few pages into because of the language (looking at you Glen Cook). As the stories go on they get less conventional, going in different directions. Rachel Pollack's story felt a little more fairy tale-ish. A very short Gene Wolfe story was confusing to me at first, but on second read I realize it's a pastiche of the genre, probably a trifle to him, but well situated in the book to add to the sense of genre awareness that seems more prominent in the later work. I quite liked Caitlin R. Kiernan's "The Sea Troll's Daughter"; I'm not familiar with her, but will be looking her up (and in looking at her novels I can see it's not the type of fantasy I'm into). I've just got the last three stories to go, though I suspect I won't get through the George R.R. Martin story as in the past my attempts at reading him have failed (he seems a great lover of excessive description; I am not). All in all, worth some of my reading time, and pointing me in a few directions for future reading.
I've read that the smoke from the wild fires in California is starting to have effects here on the east coast, but I've yet to notice anything unusual here. Intermittent clouds and blue skies have made for sometimes cool but nice weather. A large grey gull likes to perch on the house next to ours, for such a large bird it makes a high pitched squeaky whistle that seems so sound. I watched it take off after a light grey and white gull, follow it down to the beach, and then seem to engage it in some kind of interaction. They walked around on the beach a bit, hard to tell if the smaller lighter bird was just trying to get away or not. Eventually it flew off and the larger gull went off to sit by itself. I've noticed how much the gulls will just stand on the beach facing the wind (not the ocean), often in rather large groups all just standing there. Are they sleeping? Why towards the wind? I'm not sure. (I looked it up later and it is perhaps because going against the win ruffles their feathers and also being in the wind makes it easier for a quick take off in case of danger.) They are excellent at gliding from the roof of a house, they can glide all the way down to the beach and the ocean and swerve around before landing without flapping their wings at all.
I've been struggling through Portrait of a Priestess by Joan Breton Connelly, which I thankfully got from the library. It's interesting work, all about the role of woman in different religious functions in ancient Greece and how much of their roles have been previously downplayed or misunderstood, but it's too academic for me, too much about making the arguments and referencing all the sources, when what I really want is the just the narrative information. It's like I want someone to read it for me and take notes. I'm not sure I'll be finishing, as it is, I've been paging through and skipping parts.
Slightly better but still kind of slow is a collection of Clark Ashton Smith's work The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies. I've not really read Smith before, but I'm finding I prefer some of his work to others. The stories that are real world with horror (instrusive fantasy), very Lovecraft, are not to my interest. I do like the one's that take place in alternate histories though, sadly there are so far not many of those in this collection, which also features a lot of Smith's poetry, which I am not expecting I will like. As such, I've been cherry picking which stories I actually finish. I think I'll look up some more specific collections of his work, or else use some lists of the various "story cycles" he wrote and just read specific stories from his collected fiction (which the library luckily has in ebook).
After all this, it was such a delight to start Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight in its new omnibus edition. Returning to an author I really love was so comforting, even though I've not read this novel before. It's a portal/quest fantasy about a teenage boy in America who ends up somehow kidnapped by Aelfe's (I think they are based on Norse elves, so not Tolkien-y at all) and ends up in a fantasy world that is a mix of Norse and Arthurian myth. He doesn't remember his time with the Aelfe's in their level of the world and he didn't age during the time, but one of them (who he falls madly in love with) somehow undoes the stoppage of time and he suddenly becomes his actual age (around 10 years older). So he is this boy stuck in a man's body, and he decides to become a knight and try to get this magic sword his Aelfe love told him about. In summary like that it sounds much more conventional and banal than it really is (of course it's Wolfe), though it is not so far as esoteric as some of his other novels I've read. Like all those, the protagonist is the narrator (writing to his brother back in America) and not a totally reliable one. He openly admits to skipping things, or forgetting things. He occasionally mentions characters or events that he hasn't narrated yet. I'm less than 200 pages in of it's 900 total, so it's hard to say too much about it, but I am quite enjoying it.
Finished up the first half of The Wizard Knight yesterday. Reading it was almost all I did. Still very enjoyable. It seems to me the protagonist is constantly side tracked and rarely actually completing anything he starts. The plot is constant series of interruptions of one goal or quest for another. By the end of the first half, he gets the sword he was searching for, but has left so many things undone (and promises unfulfilled). I might take a break before I read the second half to read a few of the other things I brought alone with me (like a couple zines).
It's our last full day here at the beach, rainy and grey so far, and I feel the desire to head home building. While it's nice to not have to think about work, and to just be somewhere else, it's also not something I want to do for a long period of time, and this has been about the right amount of time. I read a lot, I wrote the comics reviews I planned on writing. I didn't get as much writing done with my stories as I hoped, but I added on to the current one in progress. I got to do all the little things I like to do here at the beach, except I haven't gotten down to the water to watch the sand pipers run around. Maybe the rain will stop and I can get down there this afternoon.
Back home again. The drive back from the shore felt like a transition from summer to autumn. It's cool here, more than expected. We had to get out blankets and socks and by this morning I turned on the heat for the first time.
Ended up not pausing long on Wolfe's The Wizard Knight, I had too much momentum on it. By this point I've got about 100 pages to go and it keeps going places I don't expect. I'm sure that will continue right up to the very end. Like some of other Wolfe's novels he often elides important moments in the plot/action. Big events sometimes happen "off screen" or are summarized in an abbreviated format. In contrast, this novel has a lot of scenes of people talking, often just asking each other questions and negotiating over asking/answering questions ("I will give you a boon if you answer two questions truthfully"). There's very much a negotiation of knowledge at play, who knows what and when/how they know it. This gets a mirrored a bit for the reader who is often also trying to answer questions but is unable to ask them directly. I could be just imagining it, but I also feel like the style of the writing, of the protagonist's narration, is somehow based on Arthurian literature.
Have had two fox sightings in the past 3 days: once he was on the old deck in our backyard, and this morning I saw him on the other side of the block walking around. Not sure if it's one of the adults or one of the juveniles, but I suspect it's an adult, since it's been alone both times that I could see. Hopefully the others are doing ok wherever they moved to.
Finished up The Wizard Knight the other night. I really enjoyed it, will surely read it again. The plot moves really fast at the end, jamming in a lot of action and revelations. I'm not sure if Wolfe just needed to get everything into a certain space or whether there's some more literary purpose to it. It's kind of a war at the end, and Wolfe does seem mostly uninterested in going on at length about large fights and battles. Sometimes I think he likes to hide revelations about the plot/characters/history by making them happen quickly and without much fanfare. At one point at the very end, this woman seems to get possessed by the ghost/spirit of the protagonist's mother. It happens suddenly and without any real comment or explanation. They have a brief conversation and then it's not mentioned again. When things like that happen earlier in the text there is often time to revisit them with new context or awareness, but late in the novel it all just happens and then is done.
Read McMaster's Penric and the Shaman the other day, a sequel to Penric's Demon. I did not find the former as interesting or amusing as the latter. It was a quick read and felt like it was missing something. Partially there was a lot less of the Desdemona character, the demon that possesses Penric, and their interactions were part of what made the former interesting. Also the plot of this one revolved around elements of the world's religion and magic that felt underexplained or not in such a way that the stakes of the plot were evident, particularly since the plot had very little in the way of actual conflict. It seemed obvious from early on what was going to happen and there was nothing in the way of surprise. I've got the next two in the series from the library already, so I'll read them to see if this one or the first were a fluke. I started the third one Penric's Mission which so far seems more interesting.
I've been playing Kingdom of Amalur: Re-Reckoning on the PS4. It's a remake of a game I played a bit on PS3 (borrowed from Ian) but didn't get far into (I think something else I was much more excited about got released, so I gave up on the slower/uglier PS3 game). The load times are still way too slow for a modern game that isn't that great looking, but it's a fun, light, action fantasy game, and it does look a lot better in the remastered version.
This week went by quickly and I didn't get much writing done. Had to get images scanned and edited for my two comics reviews; had code releases to do for work; and probably just lost my habit/schedule more than I should have. Feeling overwhelmed again by a lot of the crap in my office. Too many books, of course. Feeling guilty about buying so many, and how often they end up being disappointments. At least I've been a lot better about getting ones from the library where possible (easier for contemporary lit or fantasy books, less so art or comics, not at all for game books). I don't know what it is I'm always looking for or expecting/hoping to find in all these books. It's not just entertainment. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to study/research for some project that doesn't exist and doesn't even have a conception. With the game books it's a lot about some future campaign I will run, but now the accumulation is such it's probably enough to last a lifetime, if all of it turned out to be content I'd actually want to use (debatable for a lot of it), and so much of it does not go with the rest, it'd have to be a whole host of separate games. I'm not even running any games right now, and I don't suspect I will for awhile since our current campaign (from one of the 5e books) is probably fairly long.
It's a lack of focus, I guess. Many thing interest my on a surface level and then not so much the more I get into it. How many books do I have that I've never read? I should take a count.
It's the season of slippery leaves, fallen and rained on over the night, and the cracking of nuts as I crush them on the pavement, and sweatshirt weather. It's autumn, I guess my favorite season. I feel like it's mood and facets are the ones that I most remember from year to year, the most familiar when they arrive however brief. It's also often my most productive season though that may have a lot to do with the various November challenges I've taken over the years. I've been thinking or just started thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year. Since I haven't been drawing comics and I have been writing, it might be good to try as a project for the month. I did it twice long ago around 1999 or 2001. I think I even finished (50,000+ words) one of the times. I figure I've got a character and a setting and I can do something with that as a lot of words and a schedule, a process and just see where it goes.