Guess The Line’s Source

Today begins a new series. For the next few days, I'll give a beginning line – or a more widely known interior line – from a famous novel. Your job, should you accept it, will be to name the novel, and its author.

A caveat: no fair Googling the line, which will surely turn up the desired connection. 

Today's line is an easy one:

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The answer will be posted tomorrow


Summer Reading List – Summer Books –

It's hot and humid outside. I'm inside, reading my usual summer tome (more on that in a few weeks). Oprah has her own ideas about what to read this summer. Below is her latest.


Kings of the Earth

By Jon Clinch
416 pages; Random House

For his acclaimed debut, Finn, Jon Clinch borrowed from Mark Twain, telling the story of Huckleberry Finn's malicious father. In his masterful and compassionate new novel, Kings of the Earth, Clinch borrows again, this time from a true-life case of possible fratricide in 1990. Three elderly, semiliterate brothers live in squalor on a ramshackle dairy farm in central New York state.


Useful Sites for Beginners to Creative Writing

This site may be useful to any one thinking about starting a writing group.

Creative writers who are interested in selling books may need the service of an agent. If you find yourself in this spot, you'll definitely want to check out Agent Research. This site provides a free service that allows you to research the record of agents to determine who's legit and who isn't.



I’ve previously posted on one long piece in this book: Hadji
.  The remainder of this book is a
collection of short stories selected by the book’s translators, Richard Pevear
and Larissa Volokhonsky, no doubt to show off the diversity in Tolstoy’s story
structure and subject matter. But in doing this, they’ve perhaps inadvertently
selected stories that, except for a pair, depict Tolstoy’s project of using story
to demonstrate his views on morality.


Some of his moral depictions here (and almost all literature
trifles with ethical dilemmas of the author’s times to one degree or another)
are as subtly put as those modern by a hundred years. On the other hand, others
are actually quite ham-handed. But more on this subject below and in the
following two weeks’ posts.


The translators made these stories entertaining – not only by
showing us the more timeless aspects of Tolstoy’s literary thinking – but in
herding them ever so gracefully into modern times via a more contemporary
language that refuses to betray Tolstoy and the language of that time. As I’ve
implied previously, these two translators are likely without peer in doing so.


Possibly since I’m a blue collar dude by sensibility, my
favorite story (besides Hadji Murat) is Master and Man, in which a man of
means, Vassily Andreich and a servant, Nikita, an older muzhik, or peasant,
take off on a winter trip to another town with a snowstorm looming.

The story is a masterwork of the dynamics between the two
men, how they both complement one another and manage inherent class conflicts.
As well, it depicts as deftly as any modern work might the ways in which Nikita
belongs to nature, in which he understands, despite his usual drunken state,
how to navigate nature in such times and how to yield to it in order to
survive. Vassily, on the other hand, is headstrong to a fault, which proves his
undoing in this Jack London-style story of man versus the elements.


I’m not going to blather on about each story in this way.
Instead, what I propose is a radical departure from my usual book posts.

I’ve mentioned several times here my observation that
secular culture’s Achilles heel is its underdeveloped sense of what’s ethical
and what’s not. And further, my wish that literature be looked upon as
something I’ve called secular scripture, writing that complements religious
precepts and writings over the millennia on ethics (okay, some – including me
at times – would also wish that literature’s depictions of ethical successes
and failures actually supplant those of religion)


So. If I’m going to rattle on about such high-minded things,
I think I should get that conversation going, don’t you?

Over the next two posts, I’ll use two of Tolstoy’s stories
in this collection as springboards into the possible uses of literature as
ethical texts in the secular world.




My rating for the book: 4-1/2 of 5 stars



Ethics, literature, secularism, Russian literature, religion



History and The Suppositions of Fiction

Green Zone – The Movie


The missus and I decided to eschew ( remember that word,
vocabu-philes? Nothing like dragging out a creaky word once in a while to
challenge the ten-second blog readers) the theaters and saw this movie on our
significantly smaller – albeit HD – screen at home.


I’m drawn to Matt Damon films, partly because I’m a
vicarious adrenalin junkie, partly because I like a guy who can sass anybody in
any field and make it stick, and partly because his films provoke (in me, at
least) a different perspective on politics and other newsworthy events than the
pablum our media feed an oh, so, easily disturbed public.


This one has to do with the weeks just preceding our initial
2003 romp through Iraq – you remember? The one precipitated by Saddam’s high
stakes poker game with the world concerning weapons of mass destruction? If
you’re a political junkie, as I am, you remember he did have WMDs – we gave ‘em
to him in the Iran/Iraq war of the eighties. A proxy war in which we
backed Iraq, and the Soviets backed Iran. But I digress.


Matt plays a chief warrant officer who heads up a team to
find the WMDs the Prez used as an excuse to invade. These WMDs are still a
cause to the neocon faithful and their acolytes, insisting that we simply
haven’t found them. Or that Saddam, on the eve of war, moved them to Syria. The
logistics of that seem laughable, but that’s a subject for another time.


Matt, of course, finds no WMDs. And as a significant aside,
the movie – as the best historical fiction and movies do – "what if"s the role
the Iraqi army could have played during those early weeks in stabilizing the
nation and undercutting the compulsion to insurgency that actually did follow
our invasion.


The movie critics remained blasé about Green Zone – just
another fast-paced action flick, they said, and with an all too predictable
plot. Partly true, I suppose, but the what-iffing was the real draw here.
Probably more probable than some of Oliver Stone’s similar suppositions.


Matt essentially plays himself here – and he’s an person who burns with
understated emotion on the screen. It was smart for him to be cast in this way – not as a star, per se, but as one of many players in the U.S.'s latest unfortunate adventure in the Middle East. Particularly since the storyline  – and the fictional suppositions – hit so close to close to
contemporary history.


My rating 4 of 5 stars