December 23, 2006

Happy Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve Eve - one of my favorite days of the year. All of the holiday's sweetness is just peeking around the corner, just about ready to pop out but not quite. It's a sort of quiet and lovely anticipation. Admittedly, however, the week before Christmas can be absolutely insane. So I usually read one of my favorite books (which happens to also be my favorite Christmas story) to ground me in the actual season - a season whose celebration existed for centuries before the Church and certainly existed as something important long before Apple started pushing iPods at us. It's a little like asking a good friend to throw a bucket of water over me to help stop the inevitable seasonal panic. I have not managed to crack this old friend open yet, so that's what I'm doing tonight - reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

This is not what most folks would think of as a typical Christmas be honest, a lot of people read it as undergraduates and file it away under the mental heading of "vaguely remember if you should ever be talking to a sexy medievalist college professor - otherwise, go ahead and forget it"... But it really is a lovely story all about rebirth and regeneration during the coldest and darkest days of the year. It's a 14th century poem, so the Christian overlay is there, but underneath it you get lots of glorious pagan and Celtic imagery, with the challenge of the self-regenerating Green Knight and Gawain's quest to bring honor back to Arthur's court. It is also a quest during which Gawain discovers qualities in himself that will continue to challenge him througout the year. And besides, the imagery is just so rich and...well, illuminating.

It's a classic allegory for the return of the sun after the solstice. It also depicts a way to seeing clearly after the darkness of delusion has been lifted from your eyes. Or at least my eyes through Gawain--that's what I mean by this story being an old friend. I learn something new about the text and about myself every time, and that's something I never want to stop doing.

Happy Christmas everyone! I hope your holidays are lovely and warm and a little illuminating too.

December 14, 2006

Triumph and a Nap

It's official! I have my Master's in Comparative Literature. Well, nearly official anyway - Monday is the obligatory "get crazy amounts of paperwork signed, copied and through the department so I can get the diploma up on the wall" day. But I passed the exam. And here's the thing...I actully had fun. Thanks to copious note taking and a fairly obsessive-compulsive personality, I was prepared enough that the exam felt more like a long conversation and less like the culmination of 2 and a half years work. So yay!!! Now it's time to start reading the stack (and I mean Stack) of books that have been waiting for me for the past, well, forever. And it's time to start focusing on writing full time while I can. And it's time to research instructing at Dallas area community colleges. But mostly it's time to take several longish naps. Then I might actually post another review...

November 3, 2006


Due to technical error, this posting sadly got deleted. But the comments are still there and they are swell!

November 1, 2006

On Geekdom

This does and does not have something to do with a particular book. I've been tackling fairly heavy material recently as I prep for my orals, so in the evenings I've been reading short stories and young adult books (they're great - usually really well written but less taxing on tired brain cells). Last night I finished 'Over Sea, Under Stone' by Susan Cooper. It's the first in her Dark is Rising series. At the recommendation of a bookseller friend, I'd already read the second book in the series, also entitled 'The Dark is Rising' appropriately enough, and I was impressed. Really nice use of description and characterization, plus it incorporates Arthurian legend in a really clever way - and I'm a Huge one for Arthuriana.

Anyway, 'The Dark is Rising' was so good that I decided to check out the first book in the series, 'Over Sea, Under Stone'. It was, alas, a bit of a let-down. The characters are kids who unfortunately waver between frustrating and insipid and the writting isn't as confident or concise. Her growth as a writer between the first and second books is pretty immense. However, the book did have a highpoint for me. In the Epilogue, the predictably triumphant kids are at a museum gala where their great discovery has become the newest and most honored aquisition. It's a grail and in keeping with the Arthurian theme Cooper will pick up throughout the series. But here's the cool part - various scholars discuss the grail in fairly detailed language that goes over the kids' heads...but Cooper uses the names and critical arguements of real Arthurian scholars, including the grandaddy of them all, Roger Sherman Loomis. And that tickled me to no end and rescued the book for me.

And that is why I'm a Geek.

October 31, 2006


Today is Halloween and given that I'm looking for any excuse to take a break from the big ol' stack of articles I need to be reading, I thought I would write a little something on one of my absolute favorite books - Dracula by Bram Stoker. I've been reading this book since I was 13 as a primary way to calm down...Nevermind what that says about me...

There isn't much in the way of new things to be said about Dracula - it's still being read, both critically and recreationally, today though it was written over a century ago (it's popularity has no doubt been pushed along quite a bit by the veritable flock of film adaptations). But it's a classic for a reason. So instead of beating a dead horse, I'd like to say that it is a masterpiece of genre fiction and illustrates exactly why I think genre literature is so interesting - it provides a ready made allegorical form in which anything can be discussed.

Take Dracula as the example. Everyone knows what the basic story is by now, but in case you don't here it is in a nutshell:
1. A young London solicitor named Jonathan goes to Transylvania to broker a real estate deal with mysterious and reclusive Count.
2. Strange and scary things happen to him in the Count's castle (including several pretty sexy scenes with Dracula's vampire brides)
3. While our young hero is trapped in Transylvania, Dracula goes to London and starts preying on several middle to upper class young women.
4. Eventually he turns the sweet, young, rich Lucy into a vampire, stealing her away from her aristocratic fiance who then has to drive a stake through her heart and behead her. It's very sad.
5. Dracula then seduces Mina, Jonathan's young wife but flees back to Transylvania when Dr. Van Helsing, Jonathan and a band of noble young men destroy and consecrate his lair with Holy Water etc.
6. Jonathan, Dr. Van Helsing and a band of noble young men take Mina back to Transylvania in hot pursuit, hoping to kill him and free her from the curse of vampirism.
7. And on the Very off-chance that someone hasn't yet read it, I'm not going to say how it ends, but wow - if you don't know, get yourself to a library and Check It Out. Please. Thank you.

So, there we have a pretty typical horror story - big nasty monster stalks and chases victims with many a hair raising-adventure along the way. Keep in mind that in much the way Tolkien created the prototype for the modern fantasy novel with The Lord of the Rings, Bram Stoker is the grandfather of the horror genre as we know it and certainly the first author to really flesh out the vampire in fiction (fans of LeFanu or Polidori please don't jump all over me - I definitely acknowledge their influences, but Dracula was the first full length novel that explicitly featured the vampire as a threat and the first to treat the sexuality of the theme at such length). But I digress.

Underneath the very tightly wound suspense and horror of the initial story, Stoker weaves together themes on Victorian sexual anxiety, xenophobic fear of immigration due to colonialism and threats to the aristocratic social order to name only a few. Yet this dialogue, which explores the social psychology at work in Victorian England operates cunningly under the innocuous disguise of a thrilling story. Brilliant.

And this is why I think genre literature is worth taking a bit more seriously. Certainly not all thrilling stories operate on this dual level, but some do - perhaps more than you would think and it's worth considering that not all of the pertinent social commentary gets made in high-brow higher brow "literary" fiction.

For a great critical edition of Dracula, which has lovely annotations on everything lurking beneath the surface of the text check out:
Bram Stoker: The Essential Dracula ed. Leonard Wolf
ISBN 0743498038

October 29, 2006

Here we go...

So here we go after a couple of tests...
I've really resisted creating a blog for ages mostly because...well, for some reason, leaps in technology scare me a little bit. Yes, I'm a really big Luddite. And besides, I really didn't feel like I had much to say.
That said, I've been prepping for my oral exams for the past three months, which means mostly that I'm reading a lot right now - even more than usual - and I'm reading a lot of books which I might not otherwise pick up. I've wished that there was a place where I could write something up on the reading I do, both for the Master's degree and for my own enjoyment. And presto - something to say.
So while I might wander off target every so often with my posts, this blog's main focus is on books, book reviews and recommendations, thoughts on books both brand new and out of print and a general appreciation for the grand tradition of the printed word - a tradition which will probably start changing as the publishing industry catches up with technology.