Archives for posts with tag: Book Reviews

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THE PEQUOD SAILS UPON THE SEA OF MATRIMONY

Poem by Fred Voss

As he has every night for 4 months Frank is reading MOBY DICK

(a novel he has read 5 times)

to Jane before they go to sleep.

Having reached chapter 72 he reads details of how a whale is stabbed and speared

again and again at close range by laughing pipe-smoking sailors until the whale

spouts blood

and rolls over and the sailors carve up its blubber and cut off

its head

and gather whale vomit.

Frank smiles and says, “Melville’s detailing of the tools and skills of whaling

is just like what I do with the machine shop

in my poems,”

as Jane sighs and bites her fingernails.

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“Frank, please stop,” Jane says. “I can’t take anymore. I can’t even swim.

We’ve got to get off the Pequod. I want romance.

I want you to read to me from MY BOOK now.”

Frank winces

and reaches for Jane’s pretty little book ELIZABEH AND PHILIP

in which he has reached chapter 2 and reads

of their royal wedding on November 20, 1947

wedding presents

rings and jewelers

wedding gown with rose-and-corn-ear-patterned lace pink carnation floral decorations

chauffeurs and royal coaches and The King’s Valet

and what the Huntley and Palmers wedding cake was made of and how much it weighed

are detailed and analyzed to Jane’s smiling anglophile delight.

Frank and Jane look at the photographs of Elizabeth and Philip standing at the

Westminster Abbey altar waving out the windows of the Cinderella carriage

smiling from the Palace balcony.

“Oh wasn’t Elizabeth beautiful! Royal weddings are so romantic!” Jane gushes

as Frank writhes and slaps shut the pretty little book

unable to take any more and eager for tomorrow night

when he can get back to the fun and pleasure of reading MOBY DICK

with tattooed-all-over shrunken-head-carrying cannibal Queequeg

and a giant Albino whale

who methodically saws off Captain Ahab’s leg and drowns sailors with a slap of its tail

and finally rams and sinks the Pequod itself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

leaving Ishmael afloat on Queequeg’s coffin

like an orphan ready to be rescued

by the ship Rachel looking for its lost sailors.

Now what royal wedding,

dear readers,

could be more romantic

than all that?

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On Writing by Stephen King is my very favorite book about the craft of writing.

Filled with insider stories and practical advice, this engaging memoir should have a permanent spot on every writer’s desk!

I was going to write “highly” recommended, but figured I’d better avoid an adverb (see quotation below) — instead,  I’ll say “5 Stars!”

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” STEPHEN KING, On Writing

Available at Amazon.com — where the book has garnered over 800  five-star reviews!

Here are a few more quotes from the book:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” 

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” 

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.” 

“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” 

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” 

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 

“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” 

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I’ve read The Writing Life by Annie Dillard several times — and sometimes just pick it up and read a few sections. The book is Dillard’s memoir about her life as a writer and includes her musings about the craft.

Here is my favorite passage (I actually woke up today thinking about this quote): “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.” 

Find the book at Amazon.com.

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Some years back, I wrote a children’s novel that featured a girl named Anna, a dog named Otto, and lots of wordplay — as evidenced by the main characters’ names, spelled the same backward and forward. In the book, Anna, an amnesiac, sets out with Otto to learn her identity — and along the way meets a range of unusual characters and encounters a variety of wacky situations.

For a time, I shopped Anna & Otto to publishers in New York and received positive response (but no offers). One editor compared the novel’s emphasis on language to the wordplay found in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster — a book (shame on me) that I had never read.

That day, I visited my local Border’s (RIP) and purchased a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel first published in 1961. I went home and read the book in one giant gulp — a huge smile on my face the whole time.

Excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth: “In this box are all the words I know…Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is to use them well and in the right places.” 

The book’s jacket copy advises, “Readers of all ages will find much wit and wisdom in Norton Juster’s beguiling, offbeat fantasy about a boy named Milo…[who] meets some of the most logically illogical characters ever met on this side or that side of reality, including King Azaz the Unabridged, unhappy ruler of Dictionopolis.”

The New York Times gave The Phantom Tollbooth a rave, noting: “Most books advertised for ‘readers of all ages’ fail to keep their promise. But Norton Juster’s amazing fantasy has something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of Alice in Wonderland and the pointed whimsy of The Wizard of Oz.” 

Now whenever I see a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth in one of my used-book haunts, I snap it up — and pass it  on to someone I know would love this marvel of a book. (I’ll admit that I don’t often find The Phantom Tollbooth at thrift stores — people hang onto their copies of this brilliant novel.) Highly recommended! A Must Read! 

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Illustration: The cover illustration is by Jules Feiffer, whose witty, spot-on drawings fill the 256-page book (Knopf hardcover edition). At left is Feiffer’s drawing of the Terrible Trivium, “…demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.” 

ImageNamed “the best literary work of all time” by the World Library, DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) tells the story of a man who envisions himself as a chivalrous knight and begins to view his life as a noble adventure. Published in the author’s native Spain in 1605 to immediate acclaim, a second part appeared a decade later.

Here is an excerpt:

“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”

“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”

“Obviously,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures.” 

NOTE ON THE ABOVE ILLUSTRATION: In 1955, a publication in France (Les Lettres Françaises) commissioned Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) to create a painting for the cover of an edition celebrating the 350th anniversary of Don Quixote. In his brilliantly simple (or simply brilliant) illustration, Picasso captured the novel’s main characters and themes — Don Quixote, his horse Rocinante, his squire Sancho Panza, Sancho’s donkey Dapple, the windmills cited in the above excerpt, as well as the blazing sun of La Mancha.

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We celebrate these masters from Spain — Miguel de Cervantes (from Alcalá de Henares) and Pablo Picasso (from Málaga). They continue to inspire, as evidenced by a recent entry in The Cecilia Prize, a contest established to honor Cecilia Gimenez, an amateur artist from Borja, Spain, whose restoration of a beloved fresco (Ecce Homo) has sparked controversy and conversation around the world. The entry, Ecce Quixote (shown at left), is by Gustavo Berocan of Brazil (Twitter @gugudadanews).

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This post is for people who really love books, especially WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and a drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim: I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” MAURICE SENDAK

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And to celebrate the free spirit of Maurice Sendak, we include in this post another entry in The Cecilia Prize, a contest that honors the creativity of the average everyday “restorer” — named in honor of Cecilia Gimenez, the  amateur art restorer who has gained international fame for her unsolicited restoration of “Ecce Homo,” a fresco on the wall of her church in Borja, Spain. This entry, “Ecce Sendak,” is by Twitter @dairoberts.

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I recently visited the website of Adam Jahiel, and enjoyed reviewing the breathtaking photos from his book The Last Cowboy.

During the past two decades, Jahiel shot the photographs as he spent months at a time living among the men who live on the range. In a recent Huffington Post article, Jahiel remarked, “It is a culture that has dwindled and almost disappeared through the years right in front of my camera.”

The Last Cowboy — 158 pages in hardcover or softcover — is available at blurb.com.

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Tonight (or should I say this morning) I’ve been looking at images from Natural Fashion, a book of photographs by Hans Silvester — and can say without reservation that these are some of the most beautiful, surprising photographs I’ve ever seen.

Here is the description from the Amazon page: 

In this stunning collection of photographs, Hans Silvester celebrates the unique art of the Surma and Mursi tribes of the Omo Valleyon the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. These nomadic people have no architecture or crafts with which to express their innate artistic sense. Instead, they use their bodies as canvases, painting their skin with pigments made from powdered volcanic rock and adorning themselves with materials obtained from the world around them—such as flowers, leaves, grasses, shells and animal horns. The adolescents of the tribes are especially adept at this art, and Silvester’s superb photographs show many youths who, imbued with an exquisite sense of color and form, have painted their beautiful bodies with colorful dots, stripes and circles, and encased themselves in elaborate arrangements of vegetation and found objects. This art is endlessly inventive, magical and, above all, fun. In his brief text, Sylvester worries that as civilization encroaches on this largely unexplored region, these people will lose their delightful tradition. 160 color photographs.

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All the Internet chatter about Cecilia Gimenez and her botched restoration of a beloved 19th century fresco of Christ’s face, made me think of a related topic — art forgery. I’ve read that many expert art restorers have sidelines as forgers, and I guess the same skill set does come into play. Readers of Patricia Highsmith‘s Ripley books (I’m a huge fan) will remember that sociopathic killer Tom Ripley ends up partially supporting his lavish lifestyle through an art forgery scheme, which plays a major part in Ripley Under Ground (1970).

I love all the books in the series, but as an art lover found Ripley Under Ground particularly engrossing. Patricia Highsmith is an amazing writer — from the first word, the stories just flow, flow, flow. I’ve tried to read her work slowly and carefully to figure out how she achieves her effects, but always get so caught up in the story and characters that I forget I was trying to analyze her craft.

Another interesting discussion of art forgery occurs in the Orson Welles documentary F Is for Fake (1975), which features Elmyr de Hory recounting his exploits as an art forger. The movie pops up on YouTube from time to time and it’s well worth watching.

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I have always been a Kurt Vonnegut fan — he was one of the first writers I really, truly, completely loved. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the first thing I did was run out and buy a new copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, then go home and read it from cover to cover without moving from my spot.

For whatever reason — and there were many — this was my response to the horror. I wanted to see how a great artist had dealt with horror (in his case, his presence at the firebombing of Dresden during WWII) and how he had been able to express what had happened.

And then, a miracle. I learned that Kurt Vonnegut would be in Chicago (where I then lived) to give a lecture at the public library (he was in town to accept a literary award) just a few weeks later.

Yes, I was in the same room with Kurt Vonnegut — and he was as wonderful, witty, and warm as you’d imagine. Of course, people in the audience asked what he felt about what had happened on September 11th. I don’t remember exactly what he said. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the time — and could only think of what he’d written in Slaughterhouse-Five:So it goes.”

Thank you, Kurt. Thank you. Thank you. For me, “So it goes” is not a call to complacence, it is a call to live noble lives, despite it all. We will try to follow your fine example. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.