|Comments April May June 2005
July August 2005
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Diana Demoore writes:
Ed, I was reading over the latest replies on the Pottertroversy and wondered what Old Blue Eyes Would say? Probably
Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you’re young at heart
For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart
You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on it’s way.
I applaud those of you out there who are young at heart. But I would imagine that even Frank, with all of his innocent musings
on the subject, after taking a girl out to the movies to see "Bambi" and buying her an ice-cream, eventually is going to want
more than a goodnight kiss. Harry is a good first date. You might even take him home to mom. But eventually, your gonna
want Moby Dick.
Diana, that's probably saying more than I would.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Sean Scotwell writes:
Ed, thank you for that clarification. I, too, believe that adult readers should spend their time on better-written books. Harry
Potter is just too plain. The more convoluted the style of a writer, the more impressive the thinking behind it. For instance,
when students complain that Moby Dick has many sentences that are difficult to follow, I point out to them that it is very
difficult to follow a whale. Also, I don't think Melville's haphazard use of semicolons is bad writing at all. The Harry Potter
books could use a few more random punctuation marks.
Eudora K writes:
It may surprise you, Edward, that I agree with Harold Bloom: if the books are bad for adults, they are bad for children.
However, Bloom got one thing wrong: the books are good. More specifically, they are good because they serve a public
purpose. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that adults would be better served reading Harry Potter. I first read the books when
they were being banned from Southern schools and libraries. Literal-minded parents objected to their children learning the
black arts. Rowling has said in interviews that she doesn't believe in such things as magic potions and enchanted forests. I
think every child who reads the books understands that broomsticks can't fly. If more parents read Harry Potter, maybe they
would understand metaphor as well as their children do. It's our society that needs to grow up, not Harry Potter fans.
Ed, You are no doubt correct. I let the Potter-hatred (or is it Potter envy) get ahead of my thinking. No doubt there are
countless innocent folks that have been holed up there for what must seem like forever and a day. I am not sure reading Potter
proves their innocence though. I am more likely to believe the whole Harry thing is some evil plot to brainwash our youth and
adults as part of some larger more maniacal plan of world domination.
Wallace Asher writes:
Ed, Kudos to you for logically setting things straight. Of course you don’t have to eat vegetables. Of course you touch the
stove and run with scissors. Sean, you are a free man. Do what you like. Just don’t make any twelve year olds touch the stove
and you’ll be okay. Of course…if you are going to continually do things that prove to be hazardous to your own physical
safety, don’t be surprised if they put you in a room with padded walls for a while. A good scolding (after a scalding) from the
folks is usually enough for the kids, but you’re a big boy! Now if you will excuse me, I am going to jump on the bed, eat candy
for breakfast, play ball in the house and anything else really rotten I can think of!
Sean, Eudora, Dan and Wallace ( a welcome newcomer), Thank you all for writing. I'll get back to all of you this weekend.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Dan chimes in on the Guantanamo readers of Hary Potter:
Ed, I would like to take a moment to offer up my sincerest apologies to all of the people I might have put down or insulted
outright regarding Harry Potter. Now that I know it is the choice of the terrorist generation, I have come to rethink my stance
on it. Maybe these books are just what the world needs. Forget the kids. Let's require Potter to everybody over the age of 18
and test them when the go to register to vote. If the pass the test, they can become a citizen, with all the rights and privleges
As for me, I'm not getting near one of those books. You couldn't pay me to review one (I'm not even married to Rushdie, but
I know I am biased). BTW...I hear they are giving Potter to newly lobotomized patients. I hear it's a favorite there too.
Dan, Remember, the Guantanamo detainees are still "alleged" terrorists. Perhaps their love of Potter proves them innocent?
Sean Scotwell didn't seem to like my snide response to Eudora K on reading Rowling:
Could you please clarify your theory that what's good for children is bad for adults. Does this rule apply to Harry Potter books
only, or are there other applications? For instance, do I have to eat vegetables? Is the logical corollary of this rule also true,
what is bad for children is good for adults? Is it okay for me now, as a grown adult, to touch the stove? I'm in my late thirties,
and I've always wanted to run with scissors. Do you think I'm old enough, or should I wait a few years?
Sean (and Eudora), What is good for kids is often not good for adults and vice versa. A martini or two is very good for me,
but I won't be stirring one for any of my kids. Harry Potter books are very good for children to read, but a waste of time for
adults. I grant that reading Rowling isn't bad for you, but each Potter book read is one more well-written book you won't
read. I encourage children to read Harry Potter, to eat their vegetables and to wear their seatbelts. I encourage adults to read
better things, to eat whatever they want and to protest mandatory seatbelt laws. And by all means, Sean, please run with
Monday, August 22, 2005
Bibliothecary readers comment on some of last week's posts:
MPH continues to comment on the Irving brouhaha (see my response to his last comment on Tues Aug 16):
Ed, Yes, read my books. (Buy them first though or borrow them from the library. Don't go all Abbie Hoffman on my ass,
now.) I know you don’t care too much for modern literature. My 2nd book may make you choke on your Cheerios, but I
need readers and Cheerios are cheap. (Did you read my first book?)
I should have 2 new books out next year, the huge, massive, doorstopping novel (Saving Magdalene) that I finished in 2004,
and a new collection of short stories (Mondauk Common) that I’ve been working on when I’m supposed to be working on
my next novel.
No further progress on the Irving than last week. Got caught up in reading A Christmas Carol after bringing up Charles in our
discussion. (But being the geek I am, I bought a new edition with an introduction by John Irving.)
Yes, Irving is garnering his fair share of negative reviews (as usual), but his last few books have been tepid at best, so he’s
earned them. As a fan, I believe he may have very well peaked with A Prayer for Owen Meany, but only The Fourth Hand
out and out blew great big donkey dong. Still think Wiggins’ review nibbled on pack mule balls though.
Finally, the rumors of my breakup with Mr. Rushdie are greatly exaggerated. The beard tickled but the fatwa kind of turned me
on. (You go, Cat Stevens! That’s what I call riding the Peace Train, babe.)
Michael, I never did read your first book, Deep Autumn. At first, I was waiting for a copy of the soundtrack you designed to
accompany it, but I never got that and the book just gravitated to the bottom of a pile. I have just fished it out and placed it
next to my reading chair. Hopefully, this week I'll start it again.
Dickens' Christmas Carol is in my top ten all-time books list. I read it every year. I should read an MPH book every year
The Brits seem to be enjoying the new Irving more than the Americans. Here's a review from The Telegraph and one from
The Guardian, which begins, "Jack Burns is nine when he ejaculates between Penny Hamilton's eyes." It's no "great big
donkey dong" nor "pack mule balls," but there's a first sentence to catch one's attention (or repel it). Also, note the noticebly
racier dust jacket for the British version. The Puritanical Americans would never stock an item that looked like this on their
bookshelves. Brits know how to peddle smut.
Sean Scotwell responds to the Osama piece from yesterday's
Nice Chaucer adaptation. I've heard Osama's style called
archaic, but I don't think these people realize that Middle English
is all but another language and un-understandable to Modern
English speakers. The killer line in the article: He's almost like
Sean, I wanted to make a funny comment about the Muskie
line, but thought it would be better for the readers to discover American British
it themselves. I'm sure it's the only time a religious terrorist has
been compared to Ed Muskie. That's classic.
And a quibble with your Middle English classification. I don't find
ME to be "another language." With a few glosses, it's pretty close to Modern English. Old English is "another language," but
ME takes very little effort to read. Of course, most people find Shakespeare too archaic to read. But that's a rant for another
Eudora K. comments on yesterday's link to the Guantanamo readers of Harry Potter:
Edward, This is more curious than it seems. The last book suggests that the "Death Eaters" in Harry's world are terrorists.
Who do you suppose the inmates root for?
Eudora, As an adult, I have not read the latest Rowling book. I'm too busy reading books written for adults. I let my kids
read the Potter books and tell me what they're about. I'll ask my ten year old daughter what she thinks about your question.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
MPH continues to comment on the Irving slam (see the last two Monday posts):
Wow! I had no idea that Wiggins & Irving had had a relationship! I never connected her to Rushdie at all! VERY funny.
I liked the Slate piece. I personally didn't think Wiggins' review was fair or unfair - that never even crossed my mind. But I
have to disagree with Slate. I didn't think her review was "well written" by any means. It wasn't poorly written either. It just
wasn't very interesting as a piece of writing.
(It's always tough going toe to toe on an issue like this when you're a fan of the artist being reviewed, as I am of Irving. Of
course, if it was another writer besides Irving, I probably wouldn’t have jumped in. Odd. Guilty!)
The Slate article brings up a good point about HOW to approach a review, but I think it misses an important facet of reviews.
Sometimes, in the case of, say, Entertainment Weekly or Newsweek or Premiere, a capsule review is all we’re gonna get.
Other periodicals like Rolling Stone or the New York Times or Atlantic can give the space for a longer piece. Regardless of
the size, it has to be good writing, and by good writing, I mean interesting – what’s your point? (What makes the Slate article
fun is that in presenting its argument, it gets to quote from a British bash of Irving, thus having its cake and smearing it too –
Capsule reviews are fine on many levels. For a music geek like myself who subscribes to umpteen music magazines, I’m
scanning for key words (rock criticism has a sometimes unfortunately limited vocabulary much like the vocabulary of film
reviewers) that’ll give me a glimpse into the “product.” “Glistening waves of infectious, rhythmic slabs” lets me
either Madonna has a new record or Tommy Lee and Pam finally got around to that album of duets.
(There is a secret contest among music writers when it comes to capsule reviews. Points are awarded each time the words
“ephemeral” or “bone shattering” are used, and front row seats to the obscure artist of your choice are handed out if BOTH
are used in reference to the same album. Exciting!)
Longer reviews are subject to the same criteria as any written piece OTHER than a capsule review (which is more like an
ingredients list). The clichés we accept in capsule reviews are forbidden in longer pieces. Opinions are required – and they can’
t include the phrase, “…it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” Anything other than a capsule review or the stuff on the
back of a cereal box – what the fuck is riboflavin anyway? – needs to aim as high as Dickens (exclamation points or not) even
if it’s lowbrow.
Wiggins was just out to trash the book, which is fine, but she could have found more creative ways to do it – read some of the
Amazon customer thrashings of Irving’s terrible The Fourth Hand – funny as all hell.
I received a bad review for my 2nd book, I See No Angels, recently. And I received mine VERBALLY. Fun. Well, actually, it
WAS kinda fun. This person really didn’t like the plots or characters for very specific reasons, but liked the writing. I sat there
and drank my tea and listened – and was absolutely surprised at my reaction. Sure, it was cool to hear compliments about my
writing (way cool), and it was horrible to hear that using sleep apnea as a plot device in a murder was unappealing or that all
the main characters were beyond sympathetic – but someone took the time to not only read my books, but to formulate an
opinion AND invite me to tea to hear them – and that was just about the greatest way to spend an afternoon.
Michael, I liked the Wiggins review because it was funny and it told me what I needed to know. And Wiggins wasn't alone.
The book has received some rotten reviews. What's interesting is that it has received some raves as well. A book must have
something going for it if the reviews are all over the map (Check out the sampling at the Complete Review). Sure Wiggins was
out to trash the book. But I want a reviewer to trash a book if she thinks it's trash. My favorite was Joe Queenan's savage
attack on that simpleton who read the Encyclopedia Britannica (although, I also enjoyed the simpleton's response).
I'm sorry I haven't yet read your second book (nor purchased it), but rest assured, I will. However, I will never trash it, even
though you were once married to my good friend, Salman Rushdie.
Monday, August 15, 2005
MPH responds to last Monday's post on the Irving review:
I'm guessing the reviewer isn't a fan of Charles Dickens, a fan of both the exclamation point and the semi-colon: not to mention
the colon in odd places. I'm going to go as far as to say she hasn't read Robertson Davies either, another exclamation point
(I bring this up because both Dickens & Davies are massive, obvious influences on Irving - which neither excuses Irving nor
annoints him, but Dickens used exclamation points like most people use ketchup.)
I've read a few good & a few bad reviews of the new Irving, but this woman's was terrible after re-reading it (while still
plowing through the Irving). I'm not convinced she actually read the entire novel.
Not sure where I stand on the book yet (more on why later), but the writing is top-notch. I hope the ink equals the pen.
The new Umberto Eco and the new Ian McEwan are on deck when the Irving is done. Both of their latest books didn't fair
too well with the critics either. Hope they're good.
Michael, I'll take you're word for it on the Irving. As you know, I don't read much contemporary fiction and was never able to
get very far with Owen Meaney. There is an overview of Irving in The Guardian Review which mentions the Dickens
influence and there is piece in Slate on the Wash Post mea culpa.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Dan writes in to comment on my library panegyric (July 27):
I know this sounds horrible, but I absolutely hate going to the library. I always have. I would rather spend all my money buying
the books then spending more than ten minutes in the library. When I was doing my Thesis, I spent about 23 weeks in the
library and I noticed something. As soon as I enter that building, I start to sweat and feel uncomfortable. I can not explain it,
but I get antsy and just want to leave. I can take the books out and read them elsewhere. No problem. But any more than a
few minutes and I go bonkers. I think that's why I always take out a lot of books at once and then pay boku late fees!
Dan, I don't actually spend much time reading in a library. I can spend hours looking at books, reading snatches of them. But
I, too, have to take them home to do any deep reading (this is a compulsion I will have to remedy this Fall). Of course, I am
most comfortable in my study, but the real reason I can't read in the library is because I can't smoke there. I have grown so
accustomed to my pipe while reading that I have a hard time concentrating without it. And why should I?
Mortals say their heart is light
When the clouds around disperse;
Clouds to gather, thick as night,
Is the smoker's universe.
Dan also comments on "celeberty" novels (July 26):
I'm not really up on the celeberty novels, but what gets me is the celeberty poets. There are too many to name here, but some
are just so bad. The worst might be Jewel. Her book is horrible. And Suzanne Vega, who I am a big fan of, pretty much just
wrote her lyrics out and published them. Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins' fame) has a lousy book too! Did Jim Morrison
publish his stuff or was it published after his death? I know there are a few books out there. BTW... I'm probably opening a
can of worms here, but I think he's horrible. The fact that people call him and Kurt Cobain great poets sticks in my craw! One
last thing on Jewel...on Amazon.com, listed under her book of poetry is a list of other things people who bought this book
bought. And wouldn't you know it...everything listed there are books about...Jewel. Those Jewel fans are really opening their
Dan, do you really want the minds of Jewel fans to open? I'll admit I liked Morrison's poetry when I was in college, but I
couldn't bear to hear it now without Manzarek et al. backing him up. But you fail to mention the worst celeberty poet of all,
Rosie O'Donnell! Her latest:
do not use carmex
things are worse
the sunscreen -
i think maybe that it’s that
i am getting up the guts
to go to a dermo
but fear her wrath
i am not good 2 my skin
just a dab
it’s odd to me
that this blog
makes the “news”
ever - but it does
so in iraq
a new constitution
secular seems to be the choice
and our children died for democracy
there in oil heaven
the rbk kids
2 day in unison
projection and smiles
friday is r show
parents friends family
will watch the wonder of wonder
miracle of miracles
a cast opening night
come on along and listen to
the lullabye of broadway…
there’s no place like home
there’s no place like home
there’s no place like home
The scarier part is this poem has 54 comments, some of them including advice/treatment for getting rid of acne. I think I can
now read Blood Meridian.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
A comment from Michael-Patrick Harrington on Monday's link to the Nushu museum:
Ed, I spent a couple of months earlier this year researching Nushu for my book The Innkeeper at the End of the World. In
October of last year, Yang Huanyi died. She was believed to be the last person to actively use Nashu. Since my characters
are former child genuises, I thought it would be intersting if Zooey’s “hobby” as a kid was Nushu. Truly fascinating language. I’
m not sure how much of what I learned I’m
going to use in the book, but it was a great side-trip. "By writing, so much suffering disappears," Yang Huanyi said in an
interview with Northeast Asian Weekly in 1996.
Michael, I had never heard of Nushu and am not only fascinated by a gender based language, but also that it seems to have
arisen to provide a voice for a dispossessed segment of a society. I wonder if there are any other dialects like this.
Of course, my disparaging statements on the Harry Potter books brought in a few comments:
Ryan Karp writes:
"The problem with the HP books is you can find bad writing on nearly every page."
And you're calling Bloom cranky? Even he didn't go so far.
Ryan, When I wrote that line, I did think, "Now that's cranky!"
I agree with Bloom that Rowling's prose isn't very good. But I don't think she's so bad that a serious editing wouldn't have
greatly improved Goblet (the only long one I've attempted). While Bloom deplores her lazy cliches, I think they are fine for
children. He doesn't think HP is even worthwhile for children to read. I think they are great books for kids, but don't hold up
for mature readers.
Sean Scotwell writes (succintly):
Sean, It's not that I'm a Muggle, it's that I belong to the Slytherin House.
Monday, July 11, 2005
Dan takes time out from his busy schedule of drinking and salsa dancing to comment on my Friday (July 8) rant:
Ed, I must admit, I have been thinking about reading some, what did you call them, "books". Ever since I saw "Troy" I have
been intrigued by these odd printed word movies. I "read" the "Iliad" just the other day, and I have to admit that except for a
few parts that the author got wrong, it was enjoyable. I'm thinking of reading some more and I would love to start some kind of
campaign or petition that would eventually lead to more movies made into this genre. Imagine picking up a book and reading
something like "Moby Dick"! I am pretty sure I would be able to place the character's voice with the original actor's so it would
seem, you know, legitimate. I don't know, it's just a thought. I am interested in what you and the readers think.
Dan, I'm with ya, buddy. I keep seeing these movies where everyone talks all funny like "Pacino in Venice," and "Romeo +
Juliet" (despite the addition symbol, there are no mathematics in this movie). Wouldn't it be "amazing" if we could read this
stuff? Maybe then I wouldn't be so confused.
Sunday, July 3, 2005
A couple of readers' comments to recent posts:
Michael-Patrick Harrington writes about my recent book buys:
I saw you picked up Chuck's Fight Club. Good book. My fave Chuck book is Invisible Monsters. All of his books are sort
of the same in an odd way, but when he's on, he's very compelling. Kind of a modern choice for you! If you dig Fight Club,
check out The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides or Observatory Mansion by Edward Carey. Then cleanse the palette
with Atonement by Ian McEwan. Really great writer. Than have dessert with Monster by Joyce Carol Oates. Hannibal who?
Michael, I figured someone wold comment on my acquisition of a very contemporary book, namely Fight Club. Not my usual
cup of tea. I can't claim any burning desire to read cool writers. I was content with the movie, but I'll be teaching it in my
Comp class this Fall, so I figured I should read it. Thanks for the suggestions. Monster sounds very interesting. And
Invisible Monsters? Isn't that the plot of Fight Club?
Ryan Karp comments on the NPR story featuring Hemingway's grave:
Hemingway had a bottle of Jack Daniels in his headstone? I'd love to know how the label stayed on. Didn't think they had
those engraved bottles back then. I'd like to think it is replaced from time to time by devoted (i.e., drunken) fans. Who's idea
was it anyway? This requires research.
Ryan, I'll join you for a little "devoted" research.