felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So on to happier posts.

I've been editing a lot lately. My novel should be finished by a week Tuesday. For real. I'm already looking into modes of submission for major publishers.

I've also been reading a lot lately, in my long commutes to and from English placement tests (I'm full-time at work lately. I've got a lot I want to review here, but we'll start with the novel I just finished, Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, the only recent young adult fiction I've read besides Harry Potter.

And in fact it's rather similar to The Philosopher's Stone.

Review continues, with minor spoilers but nothing major. )

I'm always so critical in my reviews. I will say this, though. Among the many things he pillaged from Rowling, he got much of the sheer addictiveness and pleasure. I read it faster than Philosopher's Stone, and it's almost four times as long.

And yes, I will be seeing the movie when it comes out in February, even though it's Chris Columbus and I can already see strange changes in a short trailer (Trailer here).
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So we were without water here for 24 hours, after my parents' laundry room and the sun room flooded. Giant snow drifts kept us trapped indoors for 48 hours. So yeah, I've had better holidays.

It's given me a lot of time to read, though. I finished Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins.

Book review follows )

I'm now reading a history book, Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries by Ramsay MacMullen. So far it's the best thing I've read since Beedle the Bard, which I read on the plane.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I finished Gentlemen of the Road yesterday. It was a brilliant novel. At first the pacing seemed odd -- too breathless -- until I discovered that (true to its 19th-century style) it was originally published in weekly instalments in a newspaper. Probably, also, it's that Chabon is used to writing 500-page novels, not 200-page ones.

It really does have all the hallmarks of a Victorian adventure story. It's meticulous in its portrayal of dress and historical details, but fully modern in its morals (modern in this case being 21st century, not 19th). There's a vaguely anachronistic mood hanging over it that's hard to pin down to any one thing, but just seems to be the characters' conception of the universe.

Also, I note that all the drawings are just slightly inaccurate. Knowing Chabon, this is probably intentional. He did write those missing-the-point footnotes to Kavalier and Clay, that miss the point exactly how actual footnotes would have.

Now I've on to much heavier fare -- Pink Blood, an examination by a Canadian journalist of a hundred homophobic/transphobic homicides in Canada over a ten-year period, and more than 300 violent acts over the same period.

Before I move on to the utter uselessness of the Canadian justice system when dealing with hate crimes, I'd like to point out that even Janoff -- for all his brilliance -- still uses that poorly-translated tagline of Michel Foucault's, the supposed, "The sodomite was a temporary aberration; the homosexual was a species."

Actually, Foucault said, "The sodomite was a relapsed heretic [relaps]" -- that is, someone who reverts to their original state, rather than adopts a temporary new one. So Queer Theory's been marching under a motto that's more apocrypha than canon.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Alas, Lucy Maud Montgomery has been usurped. The former best chapter title in the English language -- "Matthew insists on puffed sleeves" -- has been trounced by the title of the ninth chapter in Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road:

"On the Anxieties Arising from the Impermissibility, However Unreasonable, of an Elephant's Rounding Out a Prayer Quorum."
No one tell Prince Edward Island. They'll be devastated.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
You know, most of the time, when critics say that an author is primarily interested in exploring "Jewish history, identity, and culture" in a book, it's generally safe to assume that it will either be a) a moving, tragic narrative of survival, generally around the holocaust, or b) a slow-paced story of a woman trying to reconcile who own largely secular beliefs with those of an orthodox parent or grandparent.

Not that either of those is a bad thing. Many authors have worked literary miracles with these materials.

However, when people say that Michael Chabon is interested in exploring "Jewish history, identity, and culture in his works," they mean that he's going to have an apprentice magician try to smuggle the remains of the Golem out of Nazi-occupied Prague.

Or that he's going to have two characters clearly based on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invent a rival for Superman in the golden age of comic books.

Or he's going to have a Jewish-American spy and a Nazi spy track each other across the icy wastes of Antarctica for a final death match.

On that note, I'm reading Gentlemen of the Road right now. I'm only about a third of the way in, but I'm loving it. It's the story of two mercenaries in the 10th century AD -- the middle of the Middle Ages -- who get wrapped up in a prince's revolution to retake his kingdom. The kingdom is Khazaria, a real-but-now-nearly-forgotten Jewish kingdom that occupied what's now Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and southwest Russia. The protagonists are a Frankish doctor fleeing anti-Semitic violence in what's now France, and an Abyssinian man from one of the lost tribes of Israel.

It's written like a fantasy novel, and is so skillfully crafted that you can forget that it doesn't rely on magic or dragons to keep you interested. It's also quite hilarious. Chabon is fond of little historical flourishes of all kinds, and Gentlemen of the Road has those marvellous sketches illustrating specific scenes with quotes that you find in 19th-century adventure novels.

I think I'm really going to like this book. I needed something fun after my last few readings.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So I finally finished Moby-Dick, and I have to say it was 120 pages of the best novel 19th-Century America produced. Too bad it was 620 pages long.

Some thoughts:


  • He's really good at creating characters and painting scenes. He's terrible at dialogue, editing, and plotting. The initial scenes of the inn, the church, and Ishmael's first night with Queequeeg are quirky, bizarre, and wonderful -- and the final battle is cool.

  • Unfortunately, between these is 500 pages of dross. This novel could have been greatly improved if they'd encountered Moby-Dick just as they pulled away from the harbour.

  • I'm sure there is someone out there who's said, "What I want is a novel that reads like a highly inaccurate cetology manual, and which spares no detail however excruciating." People are strange creatures, and for every desire conceivable there is at least person who's experienced it. I, however, am not that person.

  • The guy who wrote the introduction noted that while writing the second half of the book, Herman Melville had been reintroduced to Shakespeare. This is likely the inspiration of the atrocious soliloquys that plague the second half. Reading Shakespearean speeches written by Melville is a little like watching Pauly Shore do Hamlet.

  • The book is terribly edited. I mean, at one point, Ahab has both feet. He's frequently running. The ship's architecture changes. And why the hell didn't the editor catch the fact that Ishmael is frequently narrating Ahab's internal monologues? If Ishamel's meant to be an unreliable narrator, it's very clumsily handled.

  • The book manages to both be vague and yet heavyhanded -- all that allegorical imagery gives the impression that you're being browbeaten with some hamfisted point of view, but it's impossible to say what that point of view actually is. Reading Moby-Dick is a little like being beaten by an angry mob who've rallied behind an illegible or blank banner, so you can't even tell why they're beating you up.

  • On that note, Moby-Dick is not so much a whale as a floating Rorshach inkblot. He's been described by literary critics as everything from God to Satan to Nature to Fate to America to Democracy to Racism to Non-white Races to Monarchy to whatever-else-is-being-written-about-him-at-this-moment. The novel is confused enough to support this and any other point.

  • Somewhere out there, there has to be Ishmael/Queequeeg slash, and it is a safe bet that it is better than the novel.


In short, I recommend anything past the first 100 pages only to my enemies. I now move on Place d'Armes, by Scott Symons.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Come; let us squeeze hands all around; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm forever!

------ Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Chapter 94
The "sperm" here is the spermaceti oil of the Sperm Whale. I'd say the mind-in-the-gutter interpretation was unintentional, but having read "Billy Budd" -- Melville's short story about homosexuality -- and since the guy speaking here describes himself as married to another man, I know Melville wasn't quite that naive.

On that note I am finally reading Moby Dick, whose second half I skimmed for my exam, but didn't read carefully.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
"Hurrah for gold cup of sperm, my boys!"
...
"So, so, so, then;--softly, softly! That's it--that's it! long and strong."
...
"There's a hogshead of sperm ahead, Mr. Stubb, and that's what ye came for. (Pull, my boys!) Sperm, sperm's the play! This at least is duty; duty and profit hand in hand!"

--- from "The First Lowering," Chapter 48 of Moby Dick
I bet very few of you knew that Moby Dick was America's first great work of gay porn, did you? ^_^

Actually, given the intense homoeroticism between Ishmael and Queequeg, and given that Melville actually did write a short story entirely about homosexuality on the high seas ("Billy Budd"), and given that ships in those days were seen as floating San Franciscos, to the point that many sailors' bars around the world doubled as gay bars -- given all that, I'm not so sure it's unintentional.

Now I'm reading Chapter 54, entitled, "The Town-Ho's Story." I kid you not.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
It's been a quiet week. I've been even more in my shell than usual lately -- just feeling introverted. I'm sorry for having disappeared entirely from cyberspace in that time. I'm feeling flu-ish today, and the weather outside is balmy -- -15 Celsius downtown, going down to -38 Celsius (no windchill) in some of the suburbs.

I've been reading Moby Dick very slowly, and getting back to work on my writing. I'm revamping it structurally -- many of the parts of the novel still work, but have to be rearranged. Overall, I'm still happy with it, but I just feel it needs to be punched up a little -- more has to happen -- and I still have a problem with the lopsided feel of it (mostly in the present, told through flashbacks, with a let-down climax in the end).

I'm also still trying to negotiate the right balance between supernatural and mundane elements. I don't actually want it to become a fantasy novel, but I think that in some of the supernatural aspects is the key to illustrate my ideas.

book meme )
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Final count of the re-write: 122,024 words and 231 pages.

I feel like I've been cranky and irritable with everyone and everything the last 24 hours that didn't directly have something to do with my novel. My world today has been solipsist, and I was seriously tempted to call in sick to work rather than split my writing day in two. I got even more frustrated when I got home and didn't feel any creative for some hours afterward.

I hope to quickly edit this version, then have it printed by this time next week.

Meanwhile, I'm reading Moby Dick. I'm not that far into it, yet, and the rest of Melville's stuff has hardly been page-turning material -- Bartleby the Scrivener could have done with a few car-chases, maybe a battle with a dragon -- but I'm enjoying it so far.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
  1. I gave my Gatsby presentation. I was the last presenter, so everyone was nearly asleep. I tried to keep it entertaining. Nick gave a good presentation of Fahrenheit 451. [livejournal.com profile] scottevil, if you want to see Emily at her giggliest, try getting her into a discussion on the sadomasochistic, uniform-fetish, homoerotic art of Attila Lukacs. But she gave a good presentation in spite of nervousness. I really respect her as a presenter, and though I don't always agree with her point of view, she's extremely well-researched and fair.

    I felt sorry for the two presenters stuck with Wuthering Heights. If it's half as dull as it sounds, every student reading it should be awarded a special medal.

  2. In other news, for those of you who haven't noticed, LiveJournal is not always notifying users about replies to their comments. They're upgrading, and parts of their system are going down. This means that if you've posted a reply to a post or comment of mine in the last 2 days, there's about a 50/50 chance I actually know about it. Let me know if I've missed anything vital.

  3. My writing continues well, but supernatural elements continue to intrude. I hadn't really been going for dark-fantasy-set-in-the-modern-day style, just something Robinson-Davies-esque, where the supernatural is just a flourish added to otherwise standard fiction. But it really seems to be heading towards fantasy.
    felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
    So, I went to the Homo Hop last night -- first dance I've gotten to in years. I was hanging out with a lot of great people, and it was a lot of fun in spite of most of the music. Whatever happened to music genres other than hip hop? I'm old enough to remember them.

    I ran into quite a few people I knew, including a guy who was "straight" last time I saw him ^_^

    My writing's slowed down a tad. I've only been able to manage 4-5 pages a day because of all my reading. I had to interrupt Headhunter to re-read The Great Gatsby -- which is a great book, but interrupting a marvellous book for a great book is still a little depressing. I have to give a glorified book report on The Great Gatsby on Tuesday.

    When I last left it, Headhunter had begun to shift from dark comedy to actual horror. Not tentacled-monster-hiding-in-the-closet horror but purely human and creepily realistic stuff. I'm still not halfway through.

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