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Me and Sylvia, on the Potomac (September 2010)

READIN

Jeremy's journal

One never stops reading, though books come to an end, just as one never stops living, even though death is a certainty.

Roberto Bolaño


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Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Gandalf

So here is the nice thing about being a kid -- you don't have to know that Gandalf is "not human" (as I said in comments below -- he seems to me to be without any kind of flaw that would make him human, reachable); so when Sylvia heard him talking with Thorin at the end of Chapter 2, saying that he had been warned about the trolls by elves he met on the road and had come back to make sure the dwarves were not in any danger, the first thing she thought was, "I bet he's just saying that, trying to take all the credit." Now internally I think, well, that doesn't make sense -- Gandalf's character is not that of a seeker after undeserved credit, plus what he's saying matches up with the plot of the rest of the book -- but I love Sylvia for giving me a different window on Gandalf's character, reminding me that I should be suspicious of his motives as much as those of anyone else in the book.

posted evening of March 31st, 2009: 7 responses
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Genesis

Excellent news today -- R. Crumb has announced the completion of his new book, which is a retelling of Genesis. I can't imagine anything better than R. Crumb's take on Genesis, unless maybe it were R. Crumb's take on Samuel -- since he has not done that yet this will surely suffice.

Speaking of the Old Testament, this Passover Haggadah is just hilarious.

Crumb has been working on this for a long time: he talks about it in this four-year-old Time interview, which has a sample page:

A couple of other sketches from the book are available at on-panel.com and at Yale University Press.

Crumb tells the NY Times, "It's lurid. Full of all kinds of crazy, weird things that will really surprise people."

posted evening of March 31st, 2009: 2 responses
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Writing a world

As I've been reading His Dark Materials over the last few months, I've been trying to figure out how to tie it together with The Chronicles of Narnia. And now that I'm reading The Lord of the Rings, well... I can see some pretty distinct similarities to the other two series here as well. This post is for thinking about what parallels exist between the three series, and how they are different.

I think in each case, the author is working on three projects simultaneously. Primarily there is the story to be told -- in the case of LOTR and HDM the story is of a few central characters engaged in a quest; in Narnia it is much looser and less directed. But this is what's in front: you get to know and sympathize with some characters, take an interest in what's happening to them. The author's second task is the construction of a world (or in the case of HDM, a number of parallel worlds) to serve as the setting for the story. All three authors take this quite seriously, and all do it well -- though I am tempted to say Lewis' world-building is not on as high a level as Pullman's or Tolkien's, getting involved in the fictional universe is a core part of the experience of reading any of these series. One key difference is that Lewis and Tolkien rely on folklore and myth to build their worlds, where Pullman is trying to express the world (primarily) of Christian myth without relying on superstition. Pullman's is a hugely more ambitions project here, and this bit of it is not always successful. (The portion of HDM that in retrospect I found the most affecting, the descent into the world of the dead, was also the portion where the least attention was paid to science and the most use made of mythology.)

Undergirding all this is an ideological project, what I'm thinking of as an ontological narrative. Lewis is interested in retelling the story of Christian theology -- I have not studied the books closely enough to be more specific than that, there is a lot of writing on the subject out there though. Pullman (whose work can be seen as an answer to Lewis) is interested in creating a world without God, reframing the story of Christian theology into a grasping for power by forces of ignorance. (He does a magnificent job of it, though I was mainly taken with the primary story in HDM, the story of Lyra and Will's quest.) I haven't read enough of Tolkien yet to understand what his ontological narrative is; and it may be that in LOTR the main thing is really the world-building project.

posted evening of March 31st, 2009: Respond
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Monday, March 30th, 2009

There and Back Again

Two things about The Hobbit, which I started reading aloud with Sylvia last night: It is a whole lot of fun to read aloud, with opportunities for doing new voices at every turn; and it seems like it will be kind of fun to be reading in parallel with The Fellowship of the Ring.

I'm just at the point in Fellowship, where the party is leaving Rivendell; in a lot of ways this seems like the real beginning of the story, with the first half of the book having been a prologue. I'm interested in Frodo, Sam, and Strider; none of the other travellers has really got my attention yet. (Besides Gandalf of course; but he distinctly does not strike me as a real character, as a human.) Pippin and Merry both have had moments but they are generally in the background so far.

posted evening of March 30th, 2009: 4 responses
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House Concert: "Woody Rediscovered"

We're having a concert! If you're in the area and free on the 24th, give me a holler -- Steve Suffet and Anne Price will be conducting "an exploration of Woody Guthrie's less known songs" here chez nous. Flier below the fold.

(I first got in touch with Steve when I was researching "The Sad Bells of Rhymney".)

posted evening of March 30th, 2009: 1 response
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Beyond Here Lies Nothin'

Bob Dylan's new record Together Through Life is coming out soon; at least for today you can download one of the tracks, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," for free from bobdylan.com. I'm listening to it right now and pretty happy with it on first impressions. The feg maniac who alerted me to its availability thought the production values were not great, and I can see that; but I'm kind of liking the rawness of the sound. It sounds like rock and roll -- I'm looking forward to hearing the record.

(Later:) ...I'm just looking at that picture of Bob and loving it. The composition is pretty masterful -- just the edges of his jacket in the negative space, and his sunburst guitar -- and he looks so joyful! So into the music he's playing.

posted evening of March 30th, 2009: Respond

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Churros

My dad passed along a link to The surreal photography of Jean-Yves Lemoigne as featured at Corcholat; there is a lot to love over there. I especially liked this one: There is plenty more at LeMoigne's homepage.

posted afternoon of March 29th, 2009: Respond
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Tuner

It is time to break down and buy a clip-on tuner for my violin. At the show last night I used Ron's tuner (plug-in, not clip-on; but that was alright since I had my pick-up attached for playing with their electric band); and it just made it a lot easier going in, to be confident my tuning is correct and the same as everyone else. I have always associated a sort of machismo value with being able to tune by ear; but here are the problems with that*: it takes a lot longer; my strings end up in tune relative to each other but there is no guarantee they are going to line up precisely with the rest of the band; and it is not always feasible in a noisy gig situation. In gigs I usually end up borrowing somebody else's tuner; things would be simpler if I had one of my own.

I was getting frustrated last night about not being a member of the band -- if my musical activities consist of sitting in with other people's gigs, I do not ever get to be an integral piece of the sound -- it's more like I'm adding in on top of their sound, and I'm playing pieces I have not practiced with them so it takes me until the middle of the song to actually feel comfortable and believe in what I'm playing. I enjoy the times I play with Bob and Janis and Greg much more; but that does not seem like something we could extrapolate to performing, the privacy of the setting is a pretty key part of the music.

* (Leaving aside the obvious problem of its ludicrosity.)

posted morning of March 29th, 2009: 2 responses
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Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Tom Bombadil

I stayed up late last night reading The Fellowship of the Ring; it is starting to really come together for me. In the first several chapters I was feeling a little annoyed at the pace -- granted this is a three-volume, 1500-page story that is being set up, so it is only reasonable that Tolkien spend some time setting it up... Around Chapter VII ("In the House of Tom Bombadil") is where the story really begins to pick up and feel interesting to me. For one thing I just love the characters Tom and his wife Goldberry -- "characters" might not be the right word here, they are just quick sketches meant to move the story along; but they are lovingly drawn and engaging.

I see a potential criticism of this book, of the early part at least, that Frodo and his friends are just moving along from one deus ex machina to the next. Compare Frodo and company getting lost in the Barrow Downs, with Bilbo and the dwarfs getting lost in Mirkwood. The two sequences are built up similarly: the characters follow illusions into the wilderness and are separated and black out, then the main character awakens and finds his companions hostage. In The Hobbit, Bilbo rescued the dwarfs by calling on an inner reserve of strength which we did not know he had, fighting off the spiders with his dagger; in Fellowship, Frodo rescues his companions by invoking the song of Tom Bombadil -- Tom comes and destroys the barrow-wight without breaking a sweat. This avoids being lame by virtue of Tom being such a fun presence -- I was happy enough to see him back in the story for a bit longer, I didn't bother about the ease with which they busted out. And of course this is taking place much earlier in the story, than the Mirkwood episode in The Hobbit.

posted morning of March 28th, 2009: 2 responses
➳ More posts about J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Road to Prosperity

There are a lot of funny reactions to the seriously warped Republican Budget pamphlet -- a couple of my favorites play on the diagram that shows a couple of republican policies leading magically to happy white families, after passing through a magical region labeled "Republica Road to Recovery" (and not even going along the road, just idly crossing it):

Oh and also: Apostropher is where I first caught wind of this; he has a link to a hilarious thread at Fark; and in his comments Waldo rewrites "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", surely worth doing.

posted evening of March 27th, 2009: Respond
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