Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE by Reed Farrel Coleman

I know I'm late to the party on this one, but after reading it, I came on-line and read every review of it I could find.  I also read the author interviews.  As highly praised as it is, I still think it is greatly underestimated.

The book involves a missing person, and the dustjacket art on the first-edition hardcover represents the idea of the missing man's face on a poster, Jack O'Lantern generic.  Have you seen this man?

The first epigraph is:  "To be is to be perceived. -- Berkeley."

The second epigraph quotes the lyrics to Graham Parker's rock song, "Nobody Hurts You."

Together the epigraphs suggest problems with identity, are we what others perceive?  Or is "to be" merely to perceive ourselves?  The last line of the song says that nobody hurts you like you do yourself.  Taken with the title, the question might be, do we walk the perfect square for the sake of others' perceptions or for ourselves?  The perfect square might suggest the missing man, dancing in the estimation of others, trying to live up to a false ideal.

But listen to the opening segment.  It is a college drama class assignment, written by the now missing man, entitled "The Lie of Wetness."  He wrote,

"You know what it's like?  I'll tell you.  You ever been to one of those fancy amusement parks like Busch Gardens or Hershey Park?  Then you'll know what I'm talking about.  At those parks they have those huge flume rides...they go like ten stories straight up in the air, swoop around a curve, then come flying...down into a big basin of water.  The boat slams into the water...and boom!  This freakin' wall of water soaks everything and everybody for like hundreds of feet around.  Well, it's like that.  Not the ride, exactly, but the waiting in line.'

"So you're standing there waiting your turn as this big line snakes around...and you're watching boat after boat go up that freakin' ramp and come splashing down.  And there's like signs everywhere...Be aware:  You WILL get wet.'

"It's not like you need those signs either, because everybody you see getting off the damn ride's so wet they could wring out their sunglasses and make a puddle.  But see here, this is the point I'm trying to make about how it is:  even though you watch everybody getting soaked and there's those signs that tell you you're going to get soaked, you tell yourself that you're not gonna get wet.  Nope, not you!  Somehow, all of a sudden, you're waterproof as Jesus in plastic slipcovers.'

"But then it's your turn.  And you stick your feet into the boat and there's like six inches of standing water there and you're up to your ankles in it.  Then it dawns on you:  the signs weren't lying.  And unlike Jesus, the water's gonna walk on you.  So you look at the bald guy next to you and his toothless girlfriend or the mom and her frightened kids two rows up or the fat retarded guy in the tight tee shirt sitting alone behind you and you wonder how many other people getting on that ride with you told themselves the lie of wetness.'

"Well, that's my point, you see.  It's like that, just like that.  We don't come with slipcovers, so we lie to ourselves instead..."

Searching on Google just now, I could not find a review which commented on the opening.  No interviewer asks about it either.  It seems obvious to me that what is being discussed, the lie of wetness, is meant as the individual denial of death.  The author's choice of this opening casts its shadows on the entire novel--perhaps even on his entire series, although I've yet to read his others.

I now have both the first hardcover edition and the splendid Busted Flush Press trade paperback.  The latter has a nice foreword by mystery novelist Megan Abbott and an informative afterword by the author himself, talking about the evolution of his series protagonist and the authorial intention of his books.

The novel is many things, among them a period piece of 1978 with loads of historical and musical references involving the New York of that day.  The only anachronism I noted was the too early mention of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" which did not come out until October of that year and got most of its play during 1979, winning its Grammy in 1980.

Never mind that.  This is a remarkable detective novel, rich in atmosphere, gritty with a moral purpose, full of twists and turns, ultimately civilized and comforting--yet genre which pushes hard beyond the rules of genre.  I'm sorry it took me so long to discover this one for myself, but I'm now delighted to have the rest of the series to read at my leisure.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday's Best Book Diary: Roger Ebert, Lisa Randall, Grant Morrison

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert published his memoir this month (Life Itself, Grand Central Publishing, September, 2011) and it is remarkable, one of the best books I have read this year.  He profiles many of the interesting people he has known during his long career.  He speaks of the evolution of his personal philosophy:

Catholicism made me a humanist before I knew the word.  When people rail against "secular humanism," I want to ask them if humanism itself would be okay with them if it wasn't so secular. . .No, I am not a Buddhist.  I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic.  I am more content with questions than answers.

Ebert also speaks frankly and incisively about the depths of his illness and his struggle to recover.  Listen to this, pp. 387-388:

"Curiously, my love of reading finally returned after I picked up Cormac McCarthy's SUTTREE, a book I had already read not long before my first surgery. Now I read it two more times, reentering the same experience, the same occult and visionary prose, the life of SUTTREE so urgently evoked.'

"As rarely before, a book became tactile to me. When Suttree stopped at the bus station for a grilled cheese, I ate it, and the pickle, and drank the black coffee. I began to live again through this desperate man's sad life. In my chilly hospital room late at night, a blanket pulled around me in a wheelchair, a pool of light on the page, I found myself drawn into the story of Suttree with an intensity I hadn't felt from fiction in years.'

"I hungered for that book. I yearned toward it. Suttree was alive. He lived for me. How strange that a novel about such a desperate man could pull me back into living. . ."

Also added to my year's best list is Grant Morrison's SUPERGODS.  As I've never been much of a comic book reader, I was going to pass on this social history via comic books.  But then I started reading just a page or two and wound up being enthralled by the incisive ideas and the muscular prose.  I then backed off, bought the book, and started over at the beginning.

Coincidentally, just in the last week or so, I posted the cover of the original Justice League of America comic on this blog, comparing Don Winslow's Dawn Patrol to the original JLA.  I'd never thought about it before, but Grant Morrison points out that the original JLA was much like the lineup of Greek gods.  Superman was Zeus; Wonder Woman, Hera; Batman, Hades; the Flash, Hermes; Green Lantern, Apollo; Aquaman, Neptune; and so on.

I'd always considered Batman juvenile or campy at best, but after reading Morrison's detailed mythic and sociological analysis, I've decided to take a look at some of the dark Batman movies, starting with Batman Begins: The Long Halloween.

Also added to the best list:  Lisa Randall's new one, Knocking On Heaven's Door.  Randall was a guest on two segments of Charlie Rose this last month and I'm glad to have seen her.  She talks books at this link.

In her own fresh and widely informative book, she discusses the latest in scientific theories.  And she reminds us that it was Murray Gell-Mann, one of Cormac McCarthy's other scientist pals and a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, who coined the term "quark" to describe the elementary particle, the term inspired by James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday's Quotes

Last week I recommended Thomas H. Cook's The City When It Rains (1991) and Red Leaves (2005), but it appears that I didn't tell enough about them for some.  The mystery in the former involves a young woman who has fallen or jumped off a high building in a white dress, apparently after throwing her doll off first.  The protagonist is a free-lance photographer.  He tries to sort out the real story of the fall, doing his best to make ends meet while raising his nine-year-old daughter:

"On Saturday morning Corman spent several hours arguing intermittently with Lucy over what movie they'd see that afternoon.  Lucy sat cross-legged on the floor, carefully going over the entertainment section of the Times.  She preferred movies that edged cautiously into the forbidden zone of sex and violence, but Corman suspected that this had less to do with the actual film than with her need to feel grown-up.  It was the sort of attitude that could become a way of living, so that in the end you grew to adolescence hating childhood, then to adulthood hating adolescence, went all the way to death, hating life."

It is a smart, unconventional, philosophical novel, in which the hunt for and the surprising answer to the mystery affects the protagonist in ways that neither he nor the readers watching him can forsee.  Different characters in the novel espouse their own different philosophies, but readers are allowed to make up their own minds about these things.

The novel is rich in atmosphere with a feeling for New York City's hidden history, gritty in places while either rainy or overcast from start to finish.  The ending of the mystery turns compassionate rather than noir, and the last page finds the photographer determinedly philosophical, tentatively upbeat without being maudlin.

Don't miss The City When It Rains.  I hope I didn't give too much away now.

As for Red Leaves, it is a missing child novel which plays well into the modern fears for children around Halloween, given the slasher mentality of our movies, the urban legends of razor blades in apples, and the real life abductions featured in the news almost every day.  I'll leave it to the blurbs on the first-edition dustjacket for providing additional info:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another September Song.

Fall is here, the tag end of our year, the equivalent to the sunset of our day.  On the album scanned above, Dinah Washington sings of it in a voice that is ethereal and timeless:

This bitter earth
can be so cold.
Today we're young,
too soon we're old.

I like those other September songs too, such as the Kurt Weill composition most often heard in the voices of elderly men such as Willie Nelson or Jimmy Durante.  Tex Ritter with Stan Kenton's strings behind him.  The aging Frank Sinatra.

Oh it's a long, long while, from May to December
But the days grow short, when you reach September.
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame,
One hasn't got time for the waiting game.

Oh, the days dwindle down

to a precious few:
September. . .

November. . .
And these few precious days I'll spend with you.
These precious days I'll spend with you.

Metaphorically, fall is the conclusion of our lives, the diminishing of our powers, the dying of the light.  This metaphor is everywhere in the human universals of classic literature, sunset and autumn, the fall.  William Faulkner put the title Twilight on his greatest work, but he later changed it to The Sound and the Fury with a nod to that traditional fall tale, Shakespeare's MacBeth.  Cormac McCarthy's subtitle for Blood Meridian was The Evening Redness in the West, which of course is twilight or sunset.

We hate to see that evening sun go down.

Death is at the end of the fall, as we are each personally kicked out of paradise, in a metaphorical relationship to biblical and other mythic lore.  Legends of the Fall.  The fall starts in September and ends in December--just before Christmas as it has evolved now.  Poe was writing about this in "The Raven," to those with ears to hear it:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

In this country, it is the holiday season.  First there is Halloween, the death before rebirth, the nightmare before Christmas.  Halloween is our day of the dead, our celebration of that which we constantly deny.  That is, we live in denial of our pending personal death yet in the constant logical certainty of it.  It is the fear of death and its simultaneous denial which drives western material civilization, causes our wars, and inspires our greatest Art.

All night sheetlightening quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a blueish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear."
           --Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Not stone but fear.  And what are we afraid of?  Lots of things, and we give them names such as the Red Threat or Weapons of Mass Destruction, but all of them, imaginary or real, are but projected substitutes for what lies at the end of them:  Death itself, the Sunset Express, and the unknown void beyond.

In this country, betwixt Halloween and Christmas, we are blessed with another wonderful holiday, Thanksgiving.  That note of love and hope at the end of Dinah Washington's This Bitter Earth, the end stanza of Kurt Weill's September Song quoted above--these belong to that spirit of gratitude connected with Thanksgiving.  I've much to say about this in relation to certain books, and I hope some readers will stick around for that.

In the meantime, I'm going to begin daily reviews of books, movies, and songs which speak of the seasonal spookiness and death, such as Adrian McKinty's Dead trilogy, John Connolly's Every Dead Thing, David J. Skal's Death Makes a Holiday, and many others.

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: Thomas H. Cook's RED LEAVES and THE CITY WHEN IT RAINS

It's my pleasure to recommend two books today.  I can't say they're forgotten, because they're well known among readers who prefer intelligent mysteries with a literary flair, but they deserve to be more widely read.

Cook is at his best when telling the haunting tales of lost souls, of the redemption to be sought and found in forgiveness and empathy.  Small wonder that so many stellar literary authors read his books and praise them.

Right now, this deep in September, is a good time to read these two.  September in the rain.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Declan Burke's new novel is structured on the continuing dialogue between a novelist and his muse, the conscious with the subconscious.  On the novel's surface, it crackles with wit, aphorisms, black one-liners, erudite literary allusions, popular culture references, and frequently surprising wordplay.

A subtext of Absolute Zero Cool is laced with autobiographical asides and very dark humor involving terrorism, fatherhood, hospitals, the relationship between creation and destruction in parable, and much more.  I highly recommend it and I'll be giving it five stars at Amazon. 

Sometime back I reviewed Writers Dreaming (link), a remarkable collection of essays by authors who are led by their muse.  Many of them are literary but genre crime novelists speak of their muse as well, such notables as Elmore Leonard and Sue Grafton.

The muse inspires, but it is up to the craftsman to rein-in the muse, to restore balance, to fashion those inspirations into a workable text.  Sometimes you have to "kill your darlings," as Faulkner wrote of self-editing (link).  But we know of novels which were entirely crafted and we know of novels written entirely at the beckoning of the muse.

For instance, Lawrence Block, craftsman extraordinaire, always fashions a solid novel whether he is writing one of his mystery/thrillers or soft-core pornography.  In his autobiographical  Step by Step: A Pedestrian Memoir, Block reveals that he once wrote a novel entitled Random Walk, dictated by his muse in a spectacular way that had never happened to him before.

Although already well established, Block could not find a publisher to take this one.  Eventually the novel was published and went nowhere.  Some readers think it is the best he has written, while many others think it unreadable.  The muse insisted, and he gave it total control.

Most great authors put a lot of themselves into their works.  Burke's good natured bantering with his wife (via his novel) seems autobiographical and serves as lighter comic relief against the darker humor of the narrative.  But it would be a mistake to think that the dark ideas argued by the muse (Karlsson or Billy or simply K, Kafka-like) are those of Burke or his unnamed protagonist.  The muse simply serves as a dark counterpoint.

Burke himself does not seem dark at all, and if McCarthy's second ex-wife is to believed, McCarthy wasn't dark either, writing his darkest works, including Outer Dark, during the brightest, happiest days of their marriage.  The work has a life apart from its author.

Burke's muse quotes Cormac McCarthy's Outer Dark in here, and Corinthians as well.  Rinthy, one of McCathy's earth mothers, the eternal feminine, is a sobriquet for Corinthians, and quite possibly verses 13:1-13 are inferred.  Outer Dark is a part of McCarthy's early trilogy concerning the evolutionary fall of consciousness into id-dominated animal man, bringing with it the knowledge of death, recursive thinking, and powers of language.

The dark trinity in McCarthy's novel represents the furies, the dark side of human nature, still lurking in us as well.  Their sections in the novel are in italics, suggesting that they are a part of the protagonists' own subconscious.

Rinthy is in search of her child, which is to be killed.  Killing your babies had a different significance back then.  The father fears that the son will eclipse him, which is what the eclipse scene in the novel is all about.  The outer dark belies an inner darkness.  Dr. Jay Ellis, in his brilliant book-length study of McCarthy, No Place For Home, demonstrates in great detail how McCarthy entwined this simple fable with his personal history and human universals to create a masterpiece of Art.

Whether McCarthy did this through craftsmanship or through the machinations of his muse is hard to say.  In the end, it hardly matters.  The wonderful thing is, somehow he did it.

Absolute Zero Cool is also deep, much deeper than I expected it to be,  perhaps deeper than the author at first intended.  Some time ago, not having yet read the novel, I blogged about his change of the title, from "Killing Your Babies" to "Absolute Zero Cool."

Seems to me, the title Absolute Zero Cool refers to that state at which everything is frozen, "the universe set back to its default state of cold and darkness," as the text says, but if it be "cool" in the vernacular sense of "under control" or a subjectively "OK" condition, then an observer is needed. A God, a George Burns or a Morgan Freeman, a Signourey Weaver, an alien in Irish racing green. Some kind of higher consciousness has to observe in order to make that judgment.

This is a meaty novel and I will read again soon--perhaps, again and again.

Absolute Zero Cool is a literary novel and a darkly humorous work of philosophy.  It easily falls into that sub-category of intellectual noir along with such as:  Clancy Martin's How To Sell; Terence Blacker's Kill Your Darlings; James Hynes' The Lecturer's Tale and Next; Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil; and Craig Johnson's Hell Is Empty.

Dante is well served here, all the way around.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: MYSTERY MAN by (Colin) Bateman

The protagonist owns and operates a mystery bookstore in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  The office of the private investigator next door closes for unknown reasons, and the protagonist finds himself beset with queries from the investigator's clients.  During one phone conversation, asked to give his name, the protagonist replies with the first name he can come up with, Lawrence Block.

It turns out that lots of people in Ireland, at least on the phone, recognize the name as that of the famous mystery novelist.  I found the wit here delightfully surprising and the plot involving the missing private eye already very engaging.  Listen to what comes next:

...the shop door opened and a man came in and asked me if I could recommend the new John Grisham and I said yes, if you're a moron.

That's the last line of Chapter One.  Listen to how it picks up in Chapter Two:

Well, it turns out John Grisham was on a signing tour of the UK, and not wanting to cause pandemonium wherever he went, he was just calling at bookshops unannounced, which struck me as an inefficient way to do things, but each unto their own.  His face is right there on the back of his books, so I get to look at him at least six times a day and of course I recognised you straight off, I said, although in truth, shorn of good lighting and make-up, he looked a lot heavier and his hair was longer and unkempt and his skin was blotchy...

It's lucky that I myself was born with an honest kind of face, as he seemed to accept that my off-the-cuff remark was a typical example of our much heralded Troubles humour, etc., etc.

I made him a cup of coffee while he signed copies of his books...

The protagonist tries to tell him about the mystery he has been investigating or at least make small talk with the author so as not to seem overawed by his celebrity, but the author "kept trying to steer the conversation back to exactly how many copies of his next novel I planned to order, which wasn't a subject I was keen to explore because people can snap them up for half-price in the supermarkets so there's no point in me bringing in more than a few token copies."

"When he finished signing his books, he moved on to signing some books by other authors, which I thought was a little strange, but there didn't seem to be any harm in it. . .But after he had gone and I was beginning to put the signed books on display, I realised that he had signed most of the books "Johnny Grisham' and some of them 'David Grisham' and several 'The Lord God of Hosts'...and I began to reflect on the capacity of the Irish to fall for anyone with an American accent, be they pauper, paranoid, or President, and whatever gibberish they might care to spout."

This spoils some of the opening surprises for you, but there are plenty more where those came from in the novel's easy-to-read 426 pages.  It amazes me that it took me so long to discover this book.  I'm keen on novels about bookstores and especially about mystery bookshops.  At times I thought of Block's The Burglar Who Series, and at other times I was reminded of the best of Donald Westlake.  But Colin Bateman is one-off from both of these masters and he brings something fresh.  There is a self-effacing nonchalance to his humor that Americans like us will always find endearing.

Previously I had read only his first novel, Divorcing Jack, and I had seen the movie and read his humorous essay on it in Down These Green Streets.  Also, some years ago, we caught part of the terrific television series, Murphy's Law, on the American BBC.  The first two seasons were created and written by Colin Bateman but it seems he had creative differences with the management of that show and they parted ways.

I've now sent for his other books in this series.  I'll try to review them here as I read them, starting with The Day of the Jack Russell.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I tend to be a seasonal reader.  I try to read novels in the season in which they are set.  I arrange the books on my to-be-read shelves accordingly, saving beach books and sea stories for July, putting back ghost stories and dark mysteries for fall, waiting until winter to read novels set in the winter.

Lawrence Block's  A Drop of the Hard Stuff (A Matthew Scudder novel) is one for the fall.  It retraces in detail the protagonist's midlife crisis and his recovery from addiction.  I say recovery, but the struggle is always on-going, as readers of the later Scudder books are well aware.  This is a story within a story, a recollection told by an older, wiser Scudder, the detailed past framed briefly fore and aft by an older, wiser consciousness who already knows the rest of the story.

Every novel in the series can stand by itself, but because the characters age and develop, people who have newly discovered the Scudder novels might want to go back and read them in order.  While the early novels place a higher emphasis on action, the later novels place a much higher emphasis on character and reflect Scudder's own sensibilities, and perhaps the author's as well.

At the time of this novel, Scudder is old and happily married, but the story he tells is of his forty-five-year-old self as he nears his one year anniversary of being sober.  To this Scudder, the need for sobriety overwhelms everything else.  He has not yet adequately addressed the melancholy emptiness which made him drink in the first place.  All he can manage now is one day at a time.

His mood matches the season:

"It was getting dark out when I left the library.  I'd lost all track of the time, and when I checked my watch I saw that it was past five.  It wasn't fully dark, but the sun was down, and a gray day was drawing to a close.  Every day the sun disappeared a little earlier than the day before.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about that, it happened every year, but there were times when I felt there was a sadness attached to it, that the poor old year was dying a day at a time."

You might say that, to fill the emptiness, Scudder has traded his addiction for the bottle for an addiction to AA support meetings, which has definitely improved his health and his character.  Against this backdrop, the story of Scudder's love life (or at least, his sex life) develops.  And along with these two plot threads, Block has spun a mystery that unravels a bit at a time.

Just when it seems to be going nowhere, a new thread unravels, and that leads to another.  It is an unconventional mystery that kept me reading and pondering, brooding in sympathy with the protagonist.  People who prefer action mysteries might think it slow, but I think it is one of the best in the series, up there with Eight Million Ways to Die (Matthew Scudder Mystery) and When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (Matthew Scudder Mystery), to which it relates.

I turned the last page exhilarated, both delighted in the understated genius of it and sad to see it end.  Hopefully, there will be even more Scudder novels down the road.

THE BOOK OF UNIVERSES and David Eagleman's SUM

"What is the universe? Where did it come from? Where is it heading? These questions sound simple but they are amongst the most far-reaching that have ever been posed. Depending upon how much you know, there are many answers to the question of what we mean by ‘universe’. Is it just everything you can see out in space – perhaps with the space in between thrown in for good measure? Or is it everything that physically exists? When you draw up the list of all those things to include in ‘everything’ you start to wonder about those ‘things’ that the physicists call the ‘laws of Nature’ and other intangibles like space and time.'

"Although you can’t touch or see them, you can feel their effects, they seem pretty important and they seem to exist – a bit like the rules of football – and we had better throw them in as well. And what about the future and the past? Just focusing on what exists now seems a bit exclusive. And if we include everything that has ever existed as part of the universe, why not include the future as well? This seems to leave us with the definition that the universe is everything that has existed, does exist and will ever exist."

That's the eminently qualified scientist John D. Barrow in The Book of Universes (2011), a history and summation of the various universes as put forward by many of the leaders of that branch of science.  A smattering few of them:  Schrodinger's universe, Godel's spinning universe, Einstein and Rosen's undulating universe, the static universe, the chaotic universe, the inflationary universe, the eternal universe, the random universe, the probable universe, the wrap-around universe, the quantum universe, the self-creating universe, and many, many, more.

He neglects to mention the theories of some other scientists, also eminently qualified, such as those who have advocated the theory that the universe is based upon consciousness--for instance Roger Penrose's  Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe and Robert Lanza's Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe.

I can understand why Barrow doesn't go into the many universes drawn in religion, myth, and fable--in Frazer's The Golden Bough (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin), say--nor into those imagined by the authors of science fiction, though he allows that such imagined universes are prettier than the one we have, the one we scientifically observe but about which we still have the same persistent questions.

Which brings me to David Eagleman's little known gem,  Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (2009), forty different cosmological explanations of the universe.  Some feature God or gods in some aspect while others feature different explanations, but all are playfully astute and fun to read.

I've a fondness for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and long ago I compiled a list of related works at Amazon, at this link.  So while I enjoyed all of Eagleman's various explanations, my favorite has to be this one, entitled "Mary":

When you arrive in the afterlife, you find that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley sits on a throne.  She is cared for and protected by a covey of angels.

After some questioning, you discover that God's favorite book is Shelley's Frankenstein.  He sits up at night with a worn copy of the book clutched in His mighty hands, alternately reading the book and staring reflectively into the night sky.

Like Victor Frankenstein, God considers himself a medical doctor, a biologist without parallel, and He has a deep, painful relationship with any story about the creation of life.  He has much to say about bringing animation to the inanimate.  Very few of his creatures had thought deeply about the challenges of creation, and it relieved Him of the loneliness of His position when Mary wrote her book.

The first time He read Frankenstein, He criticised it the whole way through for its oversimplification of the processes involved.  But when He reached the end he was won over.  For the first time, someone understood Him.  That's when He called for her and put her on a throne.

...Unlike the other animals, who experienced each day like the one before, Man cared, sought, yearned, erred, coveted, and ached--much like God Himself.  He marveled as Man picked through the ground and formed tools.  The invention of musical instruments reached God's ears like a symphony...He felt His joy turn to trepidation as they began to scrap and brawl...He quickly discovered He had less control than He thought.

The bright colors of His ground were darkening with Man's blood, and there was precious little He could do about it...the voices of Man reached Him with pleas for help, entreaties for aid against one another.  He plugged His ears and howled against the cries of pillaged villages, the prayers of exsanguinating soldiers, the supplications from Auschwitz.

This is why He now locks Himself in His room, and at night sneaks out onto the roof with Frankenstein, reading again and again how Dr. Victor Frankenstein is taunted by his merciless monster across the Arctic ice.  And God consoles Himself with the thought that all creation necessarily ends in this:  Creators, powerless, fleeing from the things they have wrought.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September Song

It's been raining all night.  September in the rain.  The music swells and Dinah Washington's voice, the strings lush in the background, rises again in constant refrain.

To every word of love I heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to play a sweet refrain.

The song repeats, and when it isn't in my head, one of the other love songs from that great album takes it place.

Just a song at the start,
But it soon is a hymn to your grace.

I knew the songs before I knew my wife, but love is always and forever.  It stretches forward and back to infinity, as far as the mind can see.  It seems like Dinah Washington, long vanished from this vale, is still eternally singing about us. 

At the sound of your voice
heaven opens its portals to me.
Can I help but rejoice
that a song such as ours came to be?
But I always knew
I would live life through
with a song in my heart
for you.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


One of the few really good things about Direct TV, to people like us, has to be the Science Channel, and one of the best shows we've seen lately is Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole series.  You can see some of the episodes at this link.

This last month we watched the episode on consciousness, which included a brief interview with Douglas R. Hofstadter, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul, Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language, and I Am a Strange Loop, among others.

We especially like (and concur with) Hofstadter's theory that when two people love each other and closely share their hopes and aspirations over many years, a sort of mind meld takes place, where one sees through the eyes of the other, a condition that even transcends death.  In Ton Beau De Marot, Hofstadter illustrates that theory with his own experiences and reflections after the death of his beloved wife, Carol.

Earlier this year, I read Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, and I was surprised to find Hofstadter and his works discussed in the author's opening chapter--innocently, I might add.  Hofstadter deserved his Pulitzer Prize, and his books all have their permanent place on our most-beloved shelves.