EppsNet Archive: Literature

Seeing the Thing Through

3 Sep 2013 /

Ah, poor fellow!–and Herzog momentarily joined the objective world in looking down on himself. He too could smile at Herzog and despise him. But there still remained the fact. I am Herzog. I have to be that man. There is no one else to do it. After smiling, he must return to his own Self and see the thing through.

— Saul Bellow, Herzog

The Life That Exhibits Itself

2 Sep 2013 /

“In paths untrodden,” as Walt Whitman marvelously put it. “Escaped from the life that exhibits itself . . .” Oh, that’s a plague, the life that exhibits itself, a real plague! There comes a time when every ridiculous son of Adam wishes to arise before the rest, with all his quirks and twitches and tics, all the glory of his self-adored ugliness, his grinning teeth, his sharp nose, his madly twisted reason, saying to the rest — in an overflow of narcissism which he interprets as benevolence — “I am here to witness. I am come to be your exemplar.” Poor dizzy spook!

— Saul Bellow, Herzog

Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

31 Aug 2013 /
Seamus Heaney

The way we are living,
timorous or bold,
will have been our life.

— Seamus Heaney, “Elegy”

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Boring a Lot of People For a Long Time

17 Jun 2013 /

I’ve probably been boring a lot of people for a long time. Strange to find comfort in the idea. There have always been things I felt I must tell them, even if no one listened or understood.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Happy Fathers Day

16 Jun 2013 /

I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

A Glutton for Punishment

16 Jun 2013 /

“You must really be a glutton for punishment,” he said.

“A gourmet, actually,” I said. “If it isn’t perfect, I send it back.”

— Jonathan Lethem, Gun, with Occasional Music

Goals for Today

9 May 2013 /

Stop one heart from breaking. Ease one life the aching or cool one pain. Or help one fainting robin unto his nest again.

What’s the billing code for that?


You Sat There All Your Life

5 May 2013 /

The taste of self-inflicted suffering, of an evening trashed in spite, brought curious satisfactions. Other people stopped being real enough to carry blame for how you felt. Only you and your refusal remained. And like self-pity, or like the blood that filled your mouth when a tooth was pulled — the salty ferric juices that you swallowed and allowed yourself to savor — refusal had a flavor for which a taste could be acquired. . . .

And if you sat at the dinner table long enough, whether in punishment or in refusal or simply in boredom, you never stopped sitting there. Some part of you sat there all your life.

— Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

Always Costly

27 Apr 2013 /
Photogravure of Charles Alexis Henri Clérel de...

Photogravure of Charles Alexis Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In democratic societies, there exists an urge to do something even when the goal is not precise, a sort of permanent fever that turns to innovations (which) are always costly.

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1831)

These People Who See Right Through You

18 Apr 2013 /

These people who see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you’re making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Watch Out for the Gospel of the Times

14 Apr 2013 /

everything is permitted
absolute freedom of movement
that is, without leaving the cage
2+2 doesn’t make 4:
once it made 4 but
today nothing is known in this regard

— Nicanor Parra, “Watch Out for the Gospel of the Times”


EppsNet Book Club

11 Apr 2013 /

Welcome to the EppsNet Book Club! Here’s what we’ve been reading lately . . .

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is the journal of an old man — a pastor in a small town in Iowa — writing to his young son, whom he intends to read it after his death. He doesn’t know how to get to the point, he complains about his health despite an absence of physical symptoms, he sees everything as a blessing . . .

He has no strong convictions — I think this but other people think that and they may have a point. The one strong conviction that he does have, he recants by the end of the book.

It’s not a bad book but since the author, Marilynne Robinson, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for it, I feel like I have to say that it’s not a very good book either. Imagine being cornered at a family reunion by one of your least interesting older relatives and you’ll have a good sense of what reading Gilead is like.

Rating: 3 stars

Straight Man by Richard Russo

Straight Man is an academic satire set in a small state college in Pennsylvania. William Henry Devereaux Jr. is the chairman of the English department. His colleagues, who can’t stand one another, maneuver to hold on to their jobs in the face of rumored upcoming budget cuts.

Straight Man is a fun book to read, if not quite up to the gold standard for academic satire, which is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Russo offers a nod to Amis by giving Devereaux the nickname Lucky Hank.

Russo has also won a Pulitzer Prize, not for Straight Man but for a novel he wrote a few years later called Empire Falls.

Rating: 4 stars

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections is a terrific piece of work. Enid Lambert, mother of three grown children and wife to a man losing his faculties to Parkinson’s disease, has her heart set on bringing the whole family together for one final Christmas. Franzen uses the motif of “corrections” in multiple ways, including the way that children shape their own lives as “corrections” of the lives of their parents.

Unlike the two previous authors — Robinson and Russo — Jonathan Franzen has not won a Pulitzer Prize. The Corrections won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2001, and was a finalist for the fiction Pulitzer in 2002, but lost out to Russo’s Empire Falls.

If you just read The Corrections and Straight Man, you’d have to say that Franzen is a much better writer than Russo, but it may be that Russo’s ambitions were more modest with Straight Man than with Empire Falls. If I were a real book reviewer, I would have read Empire Falls and could tell you for certain, but I’m not and I haven’t.

The Corrections is a good companion piece to Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin on the themes of aging and what happens in families when the kids become grown-ups and the parents get old.

One section of the book — the Denise section — is a notch below the rest, but everything else is so good that I can’t give anything less than the highest acclaim.

Rating: 5 stars


Poetry Madness

10 Apr 2013 /
T_S__Eliot_1923

Powell’s Books has a Poetry Madness bracket online to determine the Best Poet of All Time. Unfortunately, along with some really obvious omissions, they don’t understand the concept of seeding, so while minor poets face off in a number of first round matchups, there are inexplicable heavyweight pairings like T.S. Eliot vs. Emily Dickinson . . .


Advice From My Dad

1 Apr 2013 /
Taking a nap

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“If it’s not your tail,” he told me, “don’t wag it.”


Poems I’ve Read Recently and Liked

12 Feb 2013 /

Facing it — always facing it — that’s the way to get through. — Joseph Conrad, Typhoon


Confidence

30 Jan 2013 /

‘Confidence’ I now regard as a psychopathic state. Confidence, it’s a cry for help. I mean, you look at all that out there, and what you feel is confidence?

— Martin Amis, Money

Money

29 Jan 2013 /

Without money, you’re one day old and one inch tall. And you’re nude, too. But the beauty of it is, there’s no point in doing anything to you if you haven’t got any money. They could do things to you. But if you haven’t got the money, they can’t be fucked.

— Martin Amis, Money

Coursera Recommendations

27 Jan 2013 /

Coursera‘s been around long enough now that some classes are being offered for a second time, including a couple that I’ve taken and recommend:


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