Saturday, December 19, 2015

aaah....a real bookstore

Just didn't want to miss a chance to say that wandering through a real bookstore is an afternoon delight....

I mean the kind of bookstore that doesn't have a clothing section and 8 checkout registers and employees with job titles like "barrista"....

I really don't mind at all when I have to get down on one knee and sort of turn my head upside down to read the titles of the American history books that are stacked wrong side up on the bottom shelf behind the rickety shelving that's labeled "Poetry" and "Classical Arts" with little hand-lettered labels that were taped on but are starting to peel off in all directions....

I love the chance to actually handle the "special" books in the locked case behind the owner's cluttered desk, the ones that are, let's be honest, overpriced, but every once in a while I buy one because the temptation to own a musty 1866 copy of sermons delivered by notable churchmen after the assassination of President Lincoln is just too much to ignore....

See, Barnes & Noble is never going to carry that one....and I don't think it would be all that easy to download it to my Kindle.

Awright,  you got me, I have a Kindle, I've used it, I kind of feel OK reading books on that puppy, I know it's the 21st century and all....

But, here's the clincher for me:  no matter how close I hold that Kindle to my nose, it's never going to smell like that book of sermons calling on the Almighty to bless his servant, Old Abe....

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book review: St. Ives, Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England

Book review: St. Ives, Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907
438 pages

This is a re-do of my earlier post on Stevenson's St. Ives, because I now confess that I stopped reading at p. 390. So, don't worry about spoilers….

I've always maintained a coldly mechanical willingness to stop reading a book whenever the time comes….in St. Ives, the time comes at Chapter XXXI.

Stevenson died after writing XXX chapters of St. Ives, and a respected contemporary, Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, wrote the remaining VI chapters from Stevenson's notes.

Stevenson's oeuvre is fastidiously lush, precise, sophisticated, with deeply contextual character development and dialogue that leaves me breathless with anticipation for more. There's an abstractly beautiful love interest. Did I mention that I'm a fan of 19th century prose?

Quiller-Couch doubtless had his merits as a 19th century writer. He ain't no Stevenson.

Q-C's contribution to St. Ives lacks the prepossessing heartiness of Stevenson's dialogue and storyline.

Q-C can't quite gin up the panache and persiflage that RLS animates on nearly every page.

Q-C makes a too sincere but unavailing effort to match the rural patois that Stevenson offers for the reader's delight.

Q-C bungles the parlous adventures of the eponymous protagonist, injecting a wretched slapstick element that leads an RLS fan to transition uncomfortably into pursed-lips mode. 

Stevenson's prosaic mastery is, sadly, missing in the last VI chapters of St. Ives, and, therefore, ignorance shall be my penalty for closing this truncated masterpiece before I reached the end.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The art of Robert Louis Stevenson

"Many waters cannot quench love."

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (1850-1894)
Scottish novelist, poet, all-purpose writer

Stevenson is famous for Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

He's not so famous for his last (uncompleted) novel, St Ives: Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England (1897). It was finished from Stevenson's notes by Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, a talented British writer.

St. Ives is unmistakable 19th century prose, through and through—Stevenson's oeuvre is fastidiously lush, precise, sophisticated, with deeply contextual character development and dialogue that leaves me breathless with anticipation for more. Did I mention that I'm a fan of 19th century prose?

There is a love interest, of course. It involves a prim but worldly Scottish maiden and the eponymous French prisoner, a nobleman whose service to Napoleon has ended in captivity in Edinburgh. Stevenson allows le prisonnier, M. le Vicomte de St. Ives, to confidently speculate on his prospects with the lady: "Many waters cannot quench love."

Indeed. Read 
St. Ives to get the whole story.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Creator of crime fiction and that ace crimestopper, Sherlock Holmes

I'm re-reading some of Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" adventures, including several that are new to me….yes, yes, of course I read "The Five Orange Pips" again, doesn't everyone?
This time I tried "The Adventure of Lady Frances Carfax" and "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" and a few others.

Basil Rathbone as Holmes
I first read some of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes when I was too young to be entertained by anything but the action. With that constraint, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was somewhat boring, and "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" was simply pedestrian. The Complete Sherlock Holmes languished on my "To Read" list for years.

Now I am an older, more aesthetic fancier of the agile mind and the haughty generosity and the dimensioned humanity of Sherlock Holmes. Time after time, Holmes austerely allows Lestrade to claim a vaunted reputation that is too often boosted by the singular and covert prowess of Holmes himself. Holmes always takes the opportunity to be genteelly solicitous to the frightened widow. Despite his loveless bachelorhood, he is charmed by young lovers and easily condones their righteous excesses. He can be excited by discovery, and clap at each revelation, with the innocence of a child.

And yet, the fabulous boarder at 221B Baker Street has no fear of the nastiest brute….Holmes will leap—leap!—onto the back of an escaping felon….he will defy the powerful and the villainous alike, in defense of the letter of the law and in obedience to humane justice….

Jeremy  Brett as Holmes
Holmes is a good man.

His adventures are good reading, time after time.

The yin and yang of productivity

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book review: Thieves in the Night: Chronicle of an Experiment

Book review: Thieves in the Night: Chronicle of an Experiment
The Macmillan Company, New York, 1946
357 pages

Koestler, a Hungarian-British writer and journalist, more famously wrote Darkness at Noon, a critique of Communism and totalitarianism. 
Thieves in the Nightwritten later,  is a gently powerful story. Koestler recounts the travails and limited joys of only a few of the milliohnim. His characters are Jews, creating new settlements on purchased Arab land in the Holy Land, prior to World War II.

Creating settlements is a tough life. A reader like me learns almost too much about the vagaries and drudgery of deliberately, fully conscious communal life on Ezra's Tower, an isolated hilltop in Galilee. First, establish the security perimeter, then erect the watchtower, build the children's dorm, construct the cowshed, set up the showers…in that order. The dining hall, the sleeping huts for the men and women, and the lavatories, are to built later. 

The Mukhtar and his clan in the nearby Arab village do not welcome the Hebrew newcomers. Soon, the leader of the village delegation gives morbid advice to the settlers: "You young fools and children of death, you don't know what may happen to you." Bauman responds, curtly: "We are prepared." The Jewish settlement at Ezra's Tower is not a resort.

The story of the settlers' life at Ezra's Tower is drab. Koestler's exploration of their mindset, their politics and their philosophy and their religion all swirled together, is stunning. Their aspirations and their misgivings, and their palpable legacy of homelessness and their transforming experiences, are irresistible. 

Thieves in the Night is an adventure for the open and inquiring mind. Occasional sympathetic despair is a perfectly understandable reaction.

After you read this novel, look around you and ask yourself if you see things a bit differently. Ask yourself if you like your new conception of "a thief in the night."

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book review: Saint Martin’s Summer

Book review: Saint Martin’s Summer

Saint Martin's Summer, published in 1909, is a historical romance, Sabatini's signature style. Think of it as a very high-toned beach book….
Here's my take on it:

Jason Bourne would be bored in Dauphiny.

It's a sleepy, rural French province, but there is the occasional sword play, and some moat diving, so he wouldn't be bored all the way to tears…

But let's just face up to it, in your classic Romantic novel about 18th century French dowager marquises and blundering bounders and dashing heroes and cherishable maidens and fat, simpering seneschals, you're going to get more talk than titillation, and more argument than action. So be it.

Sabatini deftly creates his tale of principled, introspective people trying for success, both villainous and otherwise. 

 His characters have deep appeal—they're always trying to do the right thing, or at least trying to do a bad thing the right way…e.g., Grenache knows he must save the girl, and he knows he will love her deeply…

They care deeply—about the ones they love, about their success in a milieu that maximizes opportunity for deception and ultimately minimizes the prospect of getting away with a betrayal or self-dealing or moral weakness.

Sabatini is a colorful storyteller, and he tells a great story about things that count.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.