Friday, April 26, 2019

Story of O, Pauline Réage (aka Anne Desclos)

Published in 1954, shortly thereafter banned, later hailed as a classic, this was one of the most depraved stories I’ve ever read. O, because of her love for Rene, becomes his and his private club members' willing sex slave. Used to satisfy every conceivable fetish and catering to every sexual appetite under the Parisian sun - from anal sex to chains and whips – she is beaten, debased, humiliated, and defiled. Every orifice is violated. Eventually her derriere is branded like chattel and her labia is pierced and tagged. Tragically, the initial reason she submitted to these horrific indulgences was for no other reason than to please her lover Rene. Rene passes her off to his step-brother Sir Stephen because he wants O to serve someone she doesn’t love and who doesn’t love her. Sad, shocking, and written by a female writer, no less, who kept her identity under wraps for forty years after the novel’s publication.

This novel has been described as erotic by some. I didn’t find it the least bit erotic, however. Instead, I found it utterly tragic. Still, the prose style is phenomenal. Extremely well written. And for that reason and that reason alone, I give it four out of five stars. I don’t recommend it, though. Too heart-wrenching and disturbing. Rated NC-17

Friday, April 19, 2019

Old Greek Stories, by James Baldwin (1895)

This isn’t the James Baldwin of the early to late 20th century, raised in Harlem, New York, social critic and author of several books and plays, three of which I’ve read: The Fire Next Time, Giovanni’s Room, and Another Country. Instead, this James Baldwin was born in 1841 in Indiana and became a school superintendent at age 24. This James Baldwin died a year and a half after the Harlem James Baldwin was born. This James Baldwin, the school superintendent, wrote and edited so many school text books that, at one point, over half of the school books in use in the U.S. had been either edited or written by him. He wrote primarily for younger students, roughly 50 books, including, of course, this one.

While Old Greek Stories is well written, since it’s geared toward the young adult reader, its telling lacks the more sophisticated style and diction found in the works of Edith Hamilton and Bulfinch. Assuming kids read anymore (though I suspect video games have replaced that pastime), I highly recommend this book for that age group. Five out of five stars. PG

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Glance Behind the Curtain

Writing well requires practice. For me, lots. Practice, that is. I don’t mean the mechanics of typing words on a computer document or putting the nib of a pen to paper. I’m talking about the craft of composing one’s thoughts into sentences and paragraphs that utilize words effectively.

Think about it. Most everything we do involves our five senses and, apart from traffic signs, few words. Good writers struggle to convert or transpose these sensations into an arrangement of words that allow the reader to genuinely experience these moments. When Ignatius turns on the faucet in the dead of Winter and the shower head splits the freezing current into forty-seven tiny needles blasting his chest and causing his body to recoil, we can, hopefully, feel that ice cold water against our own skin, putting us there in that moment.

A good writer is always searching for new ways to describe the ordinary, such as the appearance of the stars in a night sky as pulverized glass. A barefoot child running along the Serengeti as the grass tickles his ankles like a cat’s whiskers. A single engine plane rushing low overhead and roaring like the angry exhaust of a revved motorcycle.    

That’s initially why I began this blog back in November of 2011. My intention was to prod myself to write, to play with words. Similes make me smile. I remember relishing the exercise of describing my journey to retrieve a book from the public library during a Summer thunderstorm in Texas. As you can see, I laid it on a bit thick. “The rain smacked my windshield like pellets. Lightning flared like a heliarc. I finally pulled into the unpaved parking lot, shut off the engine and listened to the terrific kettle drum solo on the roof of my Taurus.”

I figured establishing a modest blog would force me to periodically note the lapse of time, recognize I hadn’t posted anything in weeks, and then sit down and churn out an amusing review that revealed more about me than about the book in question. Instead, the opposite happened. I concurrently immersed myself in a fresh composition, a manuscript for an epic saga, began reading more than I had in ages, and wrote more reviews than I saw fit for posting. I invested my remaining free time in things I regarded as either too personal or irrelevant to a blog I’d subtitled ‘A Blog about Books, Writing, and Anything Else Word-Centric.’

In retrospect, I should’ve opted for the term ‘ego-centric,’ since my pride appears the motivating factor for most of what I post. At the time, I was trying to distance myself from the bloggers who wrote about common everyday occurrences in bland, ordinary ways. Instead, I wanted to write about what I regarded as important and say it in a way hopefully worth reading.

But then a series of things happened in my life, phenomenal things, some of which were related to books I’d read insofar as they changed my life or my outlook. I’d also lost weight, got fit, and switched jobs. All the while, I elected to blog about some of these things while refraining from mentioning others.

Meanwhile I was emailing a friend about things I didn’t consider fit for my blog, amusing encounters I’d had with strangers, acquaintances, and clients on my job. One began “I don’t know what time it was, but the sun was in my eyes. When I said ‘hello’ to her, she smiled wide and giggled, and it was then that I knew she wanted me.” Or this entry from two months ago:

Walked into the office of one of my clients as one of the guys at his computer was telling a fellow employee, ‘I don’t care if you want to wear a dress and heels and take a shit on the floor, you’re still a guy and not a woman.’ To which I, deadpan, rejoindered, ‘Hey! I did apologize for that,’ causing the office to erupt in laughter.    

I’ll never know what impact if any my blog has on anyone. My blog gets lots of hits, but this says nothing about whether these hits represent readers. If someone is searching for a book I’ve reviewed, a link to my blog appears in their search results. They might click on this result, read the first line of my post, ask themselves, “What the hell is this?” conclude, “This isn’t what I wanted,” and close the tab without reading any further. Which is fine. I’ve come to view my blog as more of a diary at this point, chronicling my edited, sometimes ever so slightly embellished, life, regardless whether anyone cares.

This only makes sense, since I write primarily because I enjoy the process. This also explains why I use this medium to reveal my more contemptuous views about society, why I spurn mediocrity, abhor television, mock atheists, and ridicule popular but poorly written novels. I’ve reached a certain age in which I care little about public opinion. I’d much rather tell the truth and risk scorn than ingratiate myself for approval.

Ultimately, I write because I can’t help myself. What I write about isn’t as important to me as the words used to convey it. Hopefully, my eclectic approach, my love for the English language and its malleable properties, entertains and resonates. This blog is my canvas, my practice pad, my vehicle for improvement. That’s my mission, anyway. My impetus. Fuel. Dharma. It’s about time I discuss my extracurricular activities beyond what my current writing projects entail or the books I’ve read.

After recently reviewing some of my old blog posts and catching myself thinking, “Oh! I’d forgotten about that book” or “that event” or “that period in my life” or “that metaphor,” I decided to be a bit more forthcoming about the happenings in my life – my sudden and somewhat endearing fascination with gentleman’s hat apparel, as well as my recent immersion into the Japanese language.

If you visit this blog for the scandal, I can always plead the fifth. If you’ve come for the literary insight, you’ll most likely leave empty-handed. But if you’ve stopped by for an older esquire’s laudable, betimes amusing, efforts to expand, improve, and enrich his life via literature and self-indulgence, please make yourself at home. I’ve left the kettle on. 

A Fish Dinner in Memison, by E.R. Eddison (1941)

Imagine watching sports primarily for the athleticism. The power, finesse, and agility of a few choice athletes doing all kinds of impre...