Fri, 23 Jan 2009

All The Pretty Horses

— SjG @ 11:00 pm

Cormac McCarthy, Vintage Books, 1993.

This is one of those books that I’d had recommended by numerous people numerous times. The description of the story didn’t strike any chord with me. Then Peter read an excerpt at a Meander, and I was intrigued. I resolved to read it. And time passed.

Well, then I read it.

All The Pretty Horses‘ plot is not exceptional. In terms of structure, it’s a love story, a western, a coming-of-age story. The text lacks quotation marks, which can be challenging. And there is a fair amount of vocabulary in Spanish. So much for the mechanics.

The writing is paradoxical throughout. It’s simultaneously simple vernacular and spectacular, soaring literary magic. Nearly every paragraph contains a revelatory sentence that exposes an underlying truth about people or about the world that we barely even suspected — and yet, once revealed, we know to be absolutely correct. The descriptions of a sunset may evoke a place that we have never seen, and yet we immediately know it. A phrase in a conversation will be one we’ve never heard before, but will be intimately familiar. The story unfolds slowly, but also in a strange breathless rush.

It’s a fantastic book.

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Fri, 2 Jan 2009

The Miracle Mongers and their Methods: a Complete Exposé

— SjG @ 1:37 pm

Harry Houdini, 1920, read as an etext published at

Houdini reveals to us his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of certain magic tricks, who performed them, where they did it, and what variations they used. He also tells us how they actually did it. You’d think it would make more compelling reading than it does, but it’s actually fairly dry.

Still, it was interesting to learn the secrets behind some of the tricks I’ve seen, such as firewalking.

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Tue, 30 Dec 2008

Ann Veronica: a Modern Love

— SjG @ 4:15 pm

by H. G. Wells, 1909, read as an ebook from

This is an interesting piece, that captures the changing social structures of London at the turn of the last century. Wells’ protagonist, the eponymous Ann Veronica, is bright, ambitious, naive, and, in many ways, a typical rebellious teenager.

Through Ann Veronica’s experiences, we’re exposed to enthusiastic utopianists of several flavors, including Socialists, Feminists, and advocates of Free Love (not coincidentally, also interests of Wells). But Wells happily points out that many of these radicals are painfully human. They have petty egos, their personal agendas drive their idealism, and many are simply using their causes as an excuse for distraction from a tedious or unpleasant situation. In fact, the depiction of the idealists (and the more cynical traditionalists) is more interesting than the plot, which falls back on a traditional happy ending of sorts.

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Sun, 30 Nov 2008

Viriconium Nights

— SjG @ 9:26 pm

By M. John Harrison, Ace Books, 1984

As Peter documents, this has a certain amount of overlap with the short stories included in 2005’s Viriconium, but there are some interesting differences; for example, Viriconium Nights’ story “The Lamia and Lord Cromis” and Viriconium‘s “The Lamia & Lord Cromis” are related yet different stories. It’s an interesting exercise reading both of them and seeing how the vision changed — or contemplating that perhaps the vision didn’t change at all. With so much in Viriconium, similar places or events may really be parallels in place or the cycles of history, or contrariwise, the differences may be entirely illusory.

What else can I say except that this is more Viriconium, which is a weak, pathetic summation of something very complex and subtle!

(Just catching up here… It’s been nine months since I read this).

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Mon, 1 Sep 2008

Baltasar and Blimunda

— SjG @ 3:56 pm

A translation of Memorial do Convento, written by José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero, Harcourt Brace & Co, 1987.

I don’t really understand why Saramago’s work is so compelling. And I can’t give a pithy summary as to what this book was about. I could, perhaps, follow the example of countless others and say this book is a love story set in the still-mostly-medieval Portugal of the 18th century, but this would be inaccurate. Yes, there’s the romance between the titular characters, but one that we see as distant outsiders. We know more about the quarrying, transporting, and history of the portico-stone of the Basilica at Mofra or of the peccadillos of the Portuguese royal family than we really do of Balthasar and Blimunda’s love.

If anything, this book is less a romance than a musing on the fundamental inequities of life, a rambling explication of the abuse of power, or a celebration of the lives of simple country folk. Yet these descriptions too do poor service to the book; they leave out the fire, the lyricism, the anger and passion. It’s a powerful monument to the downtrodden and forgotten; a sneer at the Church; an idyll; a history; a tall-tale of music, second-sight, and alchemy.

And, like The Cave (the only other Saramago I’ve read), the language is challenging, funny, brilliant, and the book is hard to stop thinking about.

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