Monday, December 25, 2006

There is no doubt

that having submitted the last of my fall semester grades about forty minutes ago has considerably lightened my spirits. Posting will be sporadic until I'm back on the 30th, but there may be a post now and again since I'm bringing my computer for a change--home comforts! In between spasms of concentrated grading I spent the weekend indulging in an impractically lavish holiday rereading binge.

I always undergo a kind of panic at the thought of the library closing for the holiday, so I found myself around 4 on Friday afternoon raiding the stacks for the things that had been lurking at the back of my mind but whose siren call I had resisted all week. So first I reread the seasonally highly appropriate Hogfather (the first Terry Pratchett novel I ever read, I believe, and one of my favorites--I was reminded of it by a bizarrely mean-spirited profile of Pratchett that Frank Wilson linked to last week), very enjoyable; then I plunged into the mesmerizing world of Susan Howatch's Church of England novels.

There is something about these books I absolutely love: they are totally different from Trollope's (though it is true I also ritually reread those Barchester ones over the holiday season when I was in graduate school--the nice thing is that the Church of England is so much like my familiar world of academia and yet so different, so that I will vividly think to myself now & again in life "oh, that person is exactly Archdeacon Grantly" and so forth...). Anyway, no time to write now about Howatch, my thoughts will have to wait for another day (in short, uniquely interesting approach to idea/problem of Christian fiction in which [a] psychological and spiritual crisis are interestingly foregrounded, also I like it that they are preoccupied with demonic possesson! and [b] ideas about God and knowledge are thoughtfully worked out in terms of narration, knowability etc.--I have been preoccupied this whole semester with forms of narration, these books do amazing things by setting different first-person narrators into a kind of elaborate pattern)--I raced through Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers (the weakest, I think, of the cycle, though still very enjoyable ), Ultimate Prizes, Scandalous Risks and the first half of Mystical Paths, the second half of which (plus the last volume in the series, Absolute Truths, possibly the best of the bunch--the narrator of the first and last volumes in the series is really by far the most sympathetic of all the narrators) will tide me over for another day or two.

(BTW I saw reason and am not bringing Thomas Pynchon's new novel for my light reading at the MLA; I've got something else good, though....)

On which note, I must now run and catch a train. All best wishes for the holidays!


  1. You mean one can take Susan Howatch seriously? I have never gotten beyond the covers, but I'll have to look out for her now.

  2. I am glad for not being the only one who rushes to the library on the last day before closing...just because it's closing.

  3. Quick holiday query:

    When you go to your relatives... especially your extended family for the holidays, do you get a sneaking suspicion that every one is, for lack of a better word, "bullshitting"? Exaggerating stories, making things up, lying about this, redressing this fact, highlighing that, dismissing this, just going through a tangle of filters that mutilates anything from the truth... I know, for example, my mother, will completely change your personality, slip into this brooklyn accent she hasn't had in over 30 years, and start to yammer on about things she has a vague sense but doesn't know to well... like economics. I heard her cite Canada as having one of the highest GDP/GNP's... and instead humoring it... I lashed out, contradicting her, making a bit of an embarassing scene.

    As a person, do you have a pet peeve about precision... not just about language choice... but just getting your facts straight, and if you don't know, despite the urge to keep the story going, you'll stop or ask someone for help if you don't feel you really have all the pieces together...

  4. I do take Susan Howatch very seriously--the older historical saga novels are not to my taste, but the Starbridge ones and then also the newer trilogy (The Wonder Worker [UK title A Woman of Integrity], The High Flyer, The Heartbreaker) are all really excellent, well worth reading.

    One of Howatch's great themes is the way in which even people who were present at the same scene will remember it differently and describe it in ways that are honest but virtually incompatible on the face of things. Luckily I find myself in fairly close alignment with my family members on most matters of importance! And yes, it is important to get the facts straight, but in matters of human life there are always so many different shades of interpretation, don't you think?

  5. Well yes... but for example... I'll be listening, say, to a family member tell a story, involving at some point myself, which at least I think, would be my cue to act as an objective corrective to any misstatement or exaggeration they might accidentally or purposely insert into their narrative - saying I thought this, or felt this, believed this, or seemed this, are all things that I should be far more of an authority than, say, my Aunt who barely speaks to me except on special occasions. Her interpretations are going to be extremely limited because of her lack of famiiarity with the way I think and behave, and when it comes to quoting reasons behind why I may have acted in a certain way in one circumstance, her interpretations should be a tentative venture at best, if nto at venture undertaken at all, seeing as her bases for interpretation are almost nonexistent. I'm just... very anal when people talk about me... I think it's my decision whether the story should be told or not, if I say no, then no more discussion should occur... simply because if the best source on it.. decides not to speak... it would be foolish for anyone to even to continue listening knowing what they're hearing could be a total misconstrual.

  6. Question:

    I know you're a Sci-Fi Buff and I'm curious to know if you you're into Anime at all? One particular Anime, a Manga series known as Guyver, was a particular favorite of mine growing up, and they just remade it, I think back in 2004, the same story-line and characters, but updated animations/designs. The Guyver, which is the focus of the series, is a alien BioBooster Armor classified as a symbiotic techno-organic/biomechanoidal device that exponentially enhances the capabilities of its host. A number of the Guyver units were placed on Earth millenia ago to help humans at the time fight off hoardes of marauding Zoanoids, sent here to takeover the world, by a group known known as the Council of Zoalords, made up of psychic/psychionic beings. The fighting is pretty blood/gorey, but the most thrilling part is when the Guyvers open up their chest pieces to activate a "finishing" weapon they have known as the MegaSmasher - apparently, according to Guyver canon, the most powerful weapon in existence, basically a huge blue beam which gets fired out of twin-particle canons where the person's pecs should be. In the series, it nearly blows off half of Mount Fuji.

  7. thanks, you make Howatch's themes sound just my thing. I'll look for the titles you mention. I'm now reading Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time and one of the things I find most appealing is the narrator's questioning and revisioning of his own view of events.