Saturday, October 28, 2006

We all had to start somewhere...

I just finished reading Mark Helprin's first novel, Refiner's Fire. As some of you might know, he is one of my favorite authors. (If you asked me my 5 favorite books, Winter's Tale would always be on that list.) His writing is some of the richest and most artistically beautiful that I've ever read.

Having said this, I have yet to read everything he's written. So I picked up a copy of Refiner's Fire and one of Freddy and Fredericka and prepared myself for some escape. (In case you haven't guessed, these are the only two of his novels I haven't read.)

Refiner's Fire starts out with an amazing story of a ship full of illegal immigrants off the coast of Palestine in 1947, where a child is born and orphaned during a battle. Once we start to follow the foundling and his charmed life, however, the story starts to falter. The boy, Marshall Pearl, is brought to America and adopted by a rich couple and raised in the Hudson River Valley. At this point, the character becomes a comic book superhero who, apparently, has no character flaws and always gets the girls.

The entire middle of the book took me several months to get through because I kept putting it down. I really didn't intend to finish it. But something compelled me to pick it up again and again. I think that through Marshall Pearl's story -- one that takes him through Jamaica fighting Rastafarians, to Harvard, to the desert southwest, through the slaughterhouses of the midwest, through a sea-crossing voyage on a British merchant navy ship, to the peaks of the Swiss Alps -- what kept me going was Helprin's amazing writing. He uses the poetry of the English language to paint such amazing scenes and descriptions that the weak characters, the Dickensian coincidences, and lack of compelling plot were almost minor annoyances.

However, the book ends rather dramatically with Marshall Pearl fighting in the Israeli army in the Yom Kippur War. Once I hit the last few chapters, I couldn't put it down.

Again, the reason I couldn't let this book go was because of the writing. And knowing this is Helprin's first novel, I really must applaud this incredible book. It's still definitely a must-read, especially for Helprin fans.

Now... on to Freddy and Fredericka...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A few small musings

  • I've always wondered why serious writers shy away from writing about sex, as a rule. I know there are exceptions, but one just doesn't see much of it. It seems to me, and to Emily Maguire, that such an important part of our lives shouldn't be neglected in literature.
  • And John Humphrys argues that proper grammar and punctuation should be preserved in the interests of communication and clarity:

Language is more than a tool for expressing ourselves. It acts as a mirror to our world, reflecting back to us the way we live. It reflects our attitudes about the way we see things and how we are seen by others: in public life; in politics and commerce; in advertising and marketing; in broadcasting and journalism. Yet the prevailing wisdom about language seems to be that "anything goes".

Word by word, we are at risk of dragging our language down to the lowest common denominator and we do so at the cost of its most precious qualities: subtlety and precision. If we're happy to let our common public language be used in this way, communication will be reduced to a narrow range of basic meanings.


Wired Magazine asked writers to write stories in six words. Distilled prose at its best...

(Bonus: More entries at Metafilter.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wasting time

I have the week off and I get to waste a little time. It should be a rule for days off.

So I found out What Horrible Edward Gorey Death I Will Die in one of those funny quizzes:

What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?

You will be smothered under a rug. You're a little anti-social, and may want to start gaining new social skills by making prank phone calls.
Take this quiz!


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Smothered under a rug? Mom always warned me I'd come to this sort of end.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Stuff that has been sitting in my temp files

I haven't taken the time to post lately, but it seems I have had time to collect assorted musings and links, so here we go: