EppsNet Archive: Literature

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 /

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


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


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:

Life is Losing

27 Jan 2013 /

We are all receding — waving or beckoning or just kissing our fingertips, we are all fading, shrinking, paling. Life is all losing, we are all losing, losing mother, father, youth, hair, looks, teeth, friends, lovers, shape, reason, life. We are losing, losing, losing. Take life away. It’s too hard, too difficult. We aren’t any good at it. Try us out on something else. But shelve life. Take life off the stands. It’s too fucking difficult and we aren’t any good at it.

— Martin Amis, Money

That reminds me — it’s probably about time to schedule an eye exam because I can’t goddamn see any more . . .

Let Me Tell You What Really Happened

24 Jan 2013 /

Let me tell you what really happened, the voice said. All those years you waited torpidly, like a sleepwalker, pulled and pushed about by others’ opinions, by external pressure, by your illusions, by the official rules you internalized. You were misled by your own frustration and passivity, believing that what you were not allowed to have was what your heart was destined to embrace.

— Ha Jin, Waiting

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

20 Jan 2013 /

This book should be read by everyone — especially anyone with grown children and/or older parents.

2012: The Year in Books

4 Jan 2013 /

These are the books I read in 2012, roughly in the order listed. The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.

Book of the Year: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

The Gentleman Has Nine Cares

4 Dec 2012 /

Master K’ung said, the gentleman has nine cares. In seeing he is careful to see clearly, in hearing he is careful to hear distinctly, in his looks he is careful to be kindly; in his manner to be respectful, in his words to be loyal, in his work to be diligent. When in doubt he is careful to ask for information; when angry he has a care for the consequences, and when he sees a chance of gain, he thinks carefully whether the pursuit of it would be consonant with the Right.

The Ways of the True Gentleman

3 Dec 2012 /

The Master said, The Ways of the true gentleman are three. I myself have met with success in none of them. For he that is really Good is never unhappy, he that is really wise is never perplexed, he that is really brave is never afraid. Tzu-kung said, That, Master, is your own Way!

Analects vol.2 Hachi-itsu.

Analects vol.2 Hachi-itsu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A People That No Longer Trusts Its Rulers is Lost Indeed

1 Dec 2012 /

Tzu-Kung asked about government. The Master said, sufficient food, sufficient weapons, and the confidence of the common people. Tzu-Kung said, Suppose you had no choice but to dispense with one of these three, which would you forgo? The Master said, Weapons. Tzu-Kung said, Suppose you were forced to dispense with one of the two that were left, which would you forgo? The Master said, Food. For from of old death has been the lot of all men; but a people that no longer trusts its rulers is lost indeed.


Broad-Shouldered and Stout of Heart

30 Nov 2012 /

Confucius (Photo credit: JayPLee)

Master Tsêng said, The true Knight of the Way must perforce be both broad-shouldered and stout of heart; his burden is heavy and he has far to go. For Goodness is the burden he has taken upon himself; and must we not grant that it is a heavy one to bear? Only with death does his journey end; then must we not grant that he has far to go?

Modern Baptists

23 Nov 2012 /

Mr. Pickens knew that once he got his preaching diploma, he would open a church for modern Baptists, Baptists who were sick to death of hell and sin being stuffed down their gullets every Sunday. There wasn’t going to be any of that old-fashioned ranting and raving in Mr. Pickens’s church. His Baptist church would be guided by reason and logic. Everyone could drink in moderation. Everyone could dance and pet as long as they were fifteen—well, maybe sixteen or seventeen. At thirty, if you still weren’t married, you could sleep with someone, and it wouldn’t be a sin—that is, as long as you loved that person. If you hit forty and were still single, you’d be eligible for adultery not being a sin, as long as no children’s feelings got hurt and it was kept very discreet. But you still had to love and respect the person; you couldn’t just do it for sex.

Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012

19 Nov 2012 /

Jack Gilbert was an American poet. He died last week. There’s a poem of his that I like called “Failing and Flying.”

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