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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/30/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 22, Whole Number 1469
Table of Contents
Join Anticipation Now (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, will be held August 6-10 in Montreal. Membership rates are currently US$90 or C$95, but will undoubtedly go up January 1.
Note that the US dollar rate is currently *below* that Canadian one. This is an artifact of the exchange rate at the time of the bid, and will also undoubtedly change.
And finally, all credit card transactions will be executed in Canadian dollars.
What this means: If you are a USian and planning to attend, you should join before the end of the year and *pay by check in US dollars*. If you use a credit card, it will cost you about US$10 more per membership (plus credit card fees for foreign exchange)! [-ecl]
Headline (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I read a headline that says "Carnivorous Dinosaur Tracks Discovered In Australia." That is really amazing. Presumably they are dangerous only to small animals that haplessly take a shortcut across one. [-mrl]
Musings on Religion (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am in a correspondence with a film fan from the African country of Chad, though our discussion has ranged far afield of cinema. Chad is a country going through a lot of strife right now. It has a low-educated Muslim majority and a more educated Christian minority. The person I am talking to, call him G, is a member of an organization "fostering religion and state separation in Chad." The president, Idriss Deby, is a Muslim who is working to remake Chad into a Muslim state. The Christians are, naturally enough, resisting. Deby is also supporting the Muslims in Sudan and their genocide in the Darfur region. Some of the discussion has taken a philosophical turn. The following is adapted from a piece of mail I wrote to G.
Deby sounds like a dangerous leader and a very bad one. I knew something of him, but had not heard how was connected with exacerbating the Darfur situation. I can well understand why G is anxious to keep religion out of his government. It sounds like what you are saying is that at base the problems of Chad come down to religious conflicts. That does not surprise me because it is happening just about everywhere else in the world.
Nobody fights over whether water is made of hydrogen and oxygen bonding together or whether 2 + 2 really is 4. There is plenty of evidence for those observations. People who say 2+2=4 feel very secure that these facts are true. In religion there is not strong evidence that what people say about God is true. People pick what they want to believe and that is the basis of faith. Faith is what they choose to believe without any good evidence. In most cases that would be OK. People are usually careful about where they invest their faith. But when somebody realizes that other someone else believes something different, people start getting very defensive. It would be simple if one person or the other had good hard evidence--2+2=4 sort of evidence--that what he believes is true. But frustratingly neither can. So what happens. Each person tells himself that these things he has decided to believe are true and the other person is just obstinate. People start dividing the world into "those who believe the things I do" and "those who don't." Those who believe the same things do not pose a challenge. Those who believe something different do.
Religion is really the only field I can think of in which people can make things up and then the things they make up can be accepted as truth. People make up out of their own imaginations all sorts of crazy things that they claim God wants and other people just accept it. One reason they accept it is that they have been told they will get a big prize when they die. Again there is no good evidence that that is true, perhaps just someone's interpretation of a book, but people are greedy to get that prize. This made them gullible and willing to be manipulated for what are really selfish ends.
At one point in the past all of this served a useful purpose. People would do callous and selfish things to other people. They would steal from each other and kill each other. Religion said, "thou shall not steal; thou shall not kill; if you do these things you will suffer grievously after you die." In fear people tried not to steal and kill. These days we have civil law to prevent these crimes. Religion seems to still want to do the job, though it appears to me that civil law, faulty though it can be, has a much more reliable sense of what is fair and unfair than does religious law. You rarely find civil saying the punishment for this infringement is to be buried up to your neck and then people throw stones at you until you are dead. It is also much easier to change civil law when it is found to be faulty than it is to change religious law. Religious law is claimed to come from God and God almost by definition cannot get it wrong. If He gets it wrong, he is not God.
A good deal of the conflict is whether people of a certain religion will live by their religious law or by the state's civil law. It is not entirely clear to me why one cannot just live by both laws. Generally religious law simply says certain actions must not be done and civil law say that certain actions will draw certain punishments. It is not clear to me why in places like Chad the Muslims cannot live by Sharia if they want. They just have to live by the civil law as well. They just have to live with the union of the two sets of restrictions. They must neither eat non-halal meat nor park in a hospital zone. In the United States having four wives may be permitted by religious law, but it is not by civil law, so it cannot be done. Eating pork is permissible by civil law, but not by those who want to live by Sharia. Where conflict comes in is where one set of laws requires an action while the other set forbids it. But those instances I believe are rare.
Even in the days before strong civil laws the average person had a good sense of what was right and what was wrong. Religions like to foster the idea that without religious law there was anarchy and terrible things going on. It is easy to say that in Biblical times that those who lived without religious law immediately fell to orgying and decadence. Cecil B. DeMille showed it as when Moses went up the mountain the people the people took all of about a minute and a half to fall into decadence and to start worshipping idols. Well, that may be the Bible account. More unbiased and more reliably documented was the pre-Christian life style in Hawaii and by all records it was a reasonable life-style. Religious morality was only so desperately needed in the self-serving view of the religions.
But there are many people who ignore their internal sense of morality and choose to believe just what their religion tells them is right is right and what it tells them is wrong is wrong. They delegate their sense of morality to a religion. That is dangerous. But they accept this in large part because they selfishly want that big reward when they die. There is no good evidence--there is only faith--that says that reward is any more than just a fairy tale. [-mrl]
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a thriller that actually is a thrill ride. A relentless killer stalks a man who found 2 million dollars in drug money. This is a brutal and violent film that breaks some of the rules that we expect from crime thrillers. With less plot and less dialog than most Coen Brothers films, NO COUNTRY is gripping, but it goes for the gut instead of the head. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
It is 1980 is Southwest Texas near the Mexican border. As the film opens we are listening to the voice of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) telling of some killers he has known. He is weary of his job and probably as weary of the world. He is about to be involved as one of the three key players in a deadly drama that may just push him over the edge. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out hunting when he comes on the grim remains of a drug deal that went sour. The ground is littered with the dead, human and canine. Most of the humans were holding guns when they died. The drugs are still at the scene, but what Llewelyn wants most is the money he knows had to have been there. And that is nowhere at the site. He tries tracking the money and finds one on more corpse and a case packed delightfully full of $100 bills--about 20,000 of them. Finders keepers, he reasons. But looking for the money is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Chigurh is about as dangerous as anyone can be. He kills on whim; he kills for sport; he kills anyone who can recognize him; he kills for just about any reason that seems logical to him and he has a creative mind for finding excuses to kill. He might kill over a coin toss. His smile seems friendly at first, but it is the smile of a predator going in for the kill. Chigurh wants to track down whoever has the money and will happily kill anyone who stands in his way or can help catch him afterward. Leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake brings in the Sheriff. Each of the three men seems to be fairly clever in what he does. Llewelyn has good ideas as to how to hide the money. Chigurh is good at finding it. The Sheriff is good at figuring out crime scenes. But the reptilian Chigurh seems best at getting the upper hand and most often does what is unexpected. Most puzzling is the tank of compressed gas that he carries. That too will make sense in a twisted way. It wouldn't surprise me to see tanks showing up in crime films in the future, and perhaps in real crimes.
It has been a while since the Coen Brothers have made a simple tense action film. The relentless stalking of Chigurh is reminiscent of some of the better scenes of their first film BLOOD SIMPLE. The Sheriff's ability to piece together a crime scene is reminiscent of FARGO. But Bardem's killer is as cold and ruthless as probably any screen villain we have seen. He is Hannibal Lector made opaque. He is called crazy, but there is certainly method in his killings even when he is toying with a gas station attendant. His methods prove to be believably effective through most of the film.
The Coen Brothers tell their story with what appears to be very little style. There are few frills and I remember no music until the end credits roll. This makes the tension seem more real and more immediate. The suspense carries the minimal story. Only the sheriff seems to have time for reflection. Bardem plays his role as killer with no emotion at all, unless it is with a little cold sadism. His killer is a force of nature, inscrutable and unstoppable. We get little personality from Llewelyn who spends most of the film just doing what he has to in order to stay alive. Kelly McDonald has little to do but be in danger. That she does well. Being used to a Scottish accent from her it is surprising how well she takes to talking Texan.
Through most of the film the plot can be told in one sentence or two. This is certainly not the best-plotted film the Coen Brothers have made. (My choice there would be MILLER'S CROSSING.) It is more an exercise in sustained frisson. I could admire the style and be pulled into the action, but found myself distanced from the plot itself. It is a roller-coaster ride and when it is over there is little to think about other that the unexpectedness of some of the plot twists. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0477348/
THE SINGING REVOLUTION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a powerful and emotional account of 71 years of the history of Estonia and especially how the Estonian spirit freed the country from the leash of the Soviet Union. The film combines beautiful choral music with the dramatic story of the country's fight for independence. Directors Maureen and James Tusty and narrator Linda Hunt bring a dramatic tension unusual in pure documentaries rising to a climax with the account of the 1991 Soviet coup and its attempt to seize the country. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In the 1990s I took the opportunity to travel both in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Republics. This was shortly after the fall of communism. I was struck that each of the newly liberated countries took to freedom in distinctly different ways. Czechoslovakia--it still had that name--seemed to involve itself in artistic description of their joy of freedom with plays and posters. Budapest seemed to be involved creating fancy upscale department stores. There was less variation in the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. I do believe in Estonia that we were aware that there was a singing concert in a church we visited. I think we did not know how vital singing was to the Estonians. In fact, perhaps more than any other people, the Estonian people consider singing to be a major part of their soul that defines who they are.
The singing carried the people through some painful recent history. Starting in 1940 they were occupied first by the Soviets, then the Nazis, and then again the Soviets until the early 1990s. Their desire to be a free and independent country again they expressed in their singing. For that time it was nearly the only outlet they had for their feelings of national pride. Today they credit their freedom from tyranny to their singing. THE SINGING REVOLUTION tells the story of those years of occupation, how singing kept their nation alive, and how it eventually proved more powerful than the chains that held them.
Estonia won the Estonian Liberation War and won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1920. But it was the path between the Soviet Union and the Baltic Sea. It enjoyed two decades of independence while the Soviet Union desperately wanted a road to the Baltic. The Soviets, emboldened by its agreement with Germany, the illegal Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, occupied Estonia in June 1940. The pact proved to be useless to the Soviets and Germany took Estonia away from them in 1941. During the war a full one quarter of the population died. By 1944 the Germans could no longer hold Estonia and the Soviets took it back. Each time the country changed hands tens of thousands were murdered for defending their country or for supposedly having collaborated with the other side. Tens of thousands of Estonians were deported to Siberia and Russians flooded in to occupy the country. Estonia remained under the Soviet heel until 1991 and credits its eventual liberation to singing and especially to the Laulipidu.
The Laulipidu is the Estonian Song Festival founded in 1869, a huge event considering the size of Estonia. As many as 30,000 singers on a single stage will sing in combined choral harmony. And the real event of the festival is always the singing of "Land of My Fathers, Land that I Love". The Soviets during their occupation tried to take over the song festival and turn it to singing pro-Soviet songs, but they could not stop the spontaneous singing of "Land of My Fathers". They had no way of arresting tens or hundreds of thousands of people singing of their love for their country.
Linda Hunt narrates the documentary story of Estonia from 1920 to the eventual reinstatement of freedom and independence in 1991. In 1985 the Soviet's could no longer deny the economic failure of the Soviet system and instituted the economic revisions of Perestroika and the relative freedom of speech of Glasnost. These the Estonians leveraged to create what freedom they could manage for their country. The film builds to a crescendo when in 1991 the coup in Russia removed Mikhail Gorbachev from power and Soviet hard-liners sent tanks into Estonia to seize the country, crack down on it, and control it. This was when the Estonian people stood together in nationalism to hold back the tanks. When the coup in Russia failed and the tanks were withdrawn Estonia declared its independence to the sound of "Land of My Fathers" and started the dominoes falling of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. THE SINGING REVOLUTION powerfully tells the story of those days and insets interviews with the major players of the 1991 revolution.
This is history as moving as fiction and as entertaining. I rate THE SINGING REVOLUTION a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0954008/
Dinosaurs in the Movies (presentation description by Evelyn C. Leeper):
"Dinosaurs in the Movies" was a slide/video presentation we attended at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, with narration by one of the RTM staff. We spent the time before the presentation trying to identify the pre-show slides, which all turned out to be films in the presentation.
It began with "Gertie the Dinosaur" (1914), which was a cartoon drawn by Winsor McKay, apparently as part of a bet with George McManus that he could bring dinosaurs to life. It was made in the midst of Canadian Dinosaur Rush, which undoubtedly fueled its popularity. However, I do not think that making a cartoon about dinosaurs constitutes "bringing them to life." This was followed by "The Dinosaur and the Missing Link" (1917), done in stop- motion by Willis O'Brien. the narrator claimed this was the "first ever cinematic example of natural selection," because the less intelligent caveman gets killed by the dinosaur.
Then came THE LOST WORLD (1925) based on the 1912 novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This had an Apatosaurus and an Allosaurus, and was a milestone because the dinosaurs were very active, even though conventional wisdom at the time was that the large dinosaurs were very sluggish. This was also the first film to show dinosaurs in a modern city.
KING KONG (1933) was, according to the narrator, not just one of the best dinosaur films ever made, or even one of the best special effects films ever made, but one of the best films ever made. (No argument here.) It even has a Canadian connection: Fay Wray was from Alberta. The narrator noted that the Apatosaurus comes out of the water and runs, but still drags its tail, and for some reason eats meat. (He also asks the same question I have: if the sailor is trying to avoid a tall dinosaur, why climb a tree the height of the dinosaur's head?)
Then he skipped all the 1950s films to jump to GODZILLA VS. KING KONG (1963). Godzilla is a cross between a dinosaur and a marine reptile. The film was in many ways the least technologically advanced of all of these films: up until 2000 Godzilla was always a man in a suit. (Mark observed to me that one can identify which Godzilla movie it is by Godzilla's dentition and ears, or lack thereof.)
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) combines dinosaurs and cowboys; the narrator described it as "an extreme version of the Calgary Stampede." The special effects were stop motion, done by Ray Harryhausen. From a scientific point of view, the narrator noted that the therapod's tail still rests on the ground.
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) has different dinosaurs than those we had been seeing in earlier movies. For example, it featured a Chasmosaurus. It was also the first dinosaur film to be nominated for best visual effects. It does have cavemen and dinosaurs together, though. This was done as stop motion by Jim Danforth. The narrator claimed it was a sequel to ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. but Mark was skeptical of this.
THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988) was a cartoon that we did not remember very well. For a scientific viewpoint, it was notable in that it showed a dinosaur family group and nests.
JURASSIC PARK (1993) was probably the only one a lot of people knew well. It used digital animation. Unfortunately, according to the narrator, DNA decays after 10,000 years, so the method used to bring back dinosaurs shown in the movie would not work. (But how does he know this is always true?)
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS (2000) was a BBC television production using both digital animation and full-scale puppets. In the interests of scientific accuracy, it had no humans, and it tried to portray dinosaurs as dinosaurs, not some anthropomorphized, cute, or even mammalian animals. It used the new posture scientists had come up with for Tyrannosaurus rex. It also had an Edmontosaurus and an Ankylosaurus.
CHASED BY DINOSAURS (2003) was a sequel to WALKING WITH DINOSAURS. However, it added a time-traveling scientist to add a human interest. It did try to keep up with the latest discoveries, and featured Mononichu, a feathered dinosaur based on the Chinese discoveries.
There was not much new on the movies included, though the comments on scientific accuracy were something we do not often hear. [-ecl]
Hagia Sophia (letter of comment by Mike Glyer):
In his book review of 1453 in the 11/23/07 issue of the MT VOID, Mark wrote, "By that point the city had already dedicated it crown jewel, the huge Church of St. Sophia (today the St. Sophia Mosque)." [-mrl]
Mike Glyer responds, "That's what I believed before visiting the Hagia Sophia in 2004, and unexpectedly discovered that Kemal Ataturk himself had converted the place to a museum in 1935. It ceased to be used for worship by any religion after that. A couple decades later an international team removed the white plaster Muslims had used to cover over the huge icons beside the altar, so the place now looks much as it did a thousand years ago." [-mg]
Mark answers, "True. But I think many still call it by the name St. Sophia Mosque, even if it no longer functions as a Mosque. (Evelyn quotes out the line from EVITA: "I'm still called an Admiral though I gave up the sea long ago.") [-mrl]
BEOWULF (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to Mark's review of BEOWULF in the 11/23/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
I thought I would pass along this bit of info to you in light of your review of the movie BEOWULF 3D. If they wish, my ENGL 1302 students have the option of seeing the movie and turning in a critical review of the film, complete with ticket stub as proof that they actually went to a showing, for extra credit. So far I have had six reviews submitted, and at the moment it is 4 negative, 2 positive. Not enough to generate statistical significance, but their comments are in agreement that the CGI is wonderful, and the first half of the movie is much better than the second half; in fact, one student labeled the climactic scene between Beowulf and Grendel's mother as "completely irrelevant to the original text." Then that student detailed exactly how the scene veered off from the original. A pretty good review.
So you liked it, it seems; an 8 out of 10 is a pretty good score. Well, to be honest, I want to see the movie myself, but I have my misgivings about it going in. I mean, Angelina Jolie plays Grendel's mother? That's a real head-shaker. But I will try to go in with an open mind. [-jp]
It is not easy to put a final rating on a film like BEOWULF. It is bound to have a lot that is right and a lot that is wrong. As my first experience with this form of digital 3D it is hard to be objective. And the fact they got as far as they did while still being relatively accurate to the source is another plus. We have had multiple adaptations of BEOWULF over the last three or four years, I think. There was a horrible one I saw on the Sci-Fi Channel starring one Christopher Lambert and one a lot better and still no darn good, starring Gerard Butler. There is a recent animated version also. This is by far the best. I would not recommend it to my family, but I might recommend it to fantasy fans.
If you see it let me know what you think. And do try to see the 3D version. That is a big part of the experience. [-mrl]
I shall have to see this version of BEOWULF. Have you seen THE 13TH WARRIOR with Antonio Banderas? Filmed version of [Michael] Crichton's BEOWULF version called THE EATERS OF THE DEAD. It's not bad, but still not the greatest. You are also referring to that abomination called GRENDEL, I am sure. I don't remember an animated version. [-jp]
And Mark answers:
You are right, it was GRENDEL I was thinking of on the Sci-Fi Channel. I must not have seen the Lambert version. Yes, I should have mentioned THE 13th WARRIOR. I thought the film was just okay. The Jerry Goldsmith musical score was great, and I sort of alluded to it in my review. Now I should go back and watch the animated film GRENDEL GRENDEL GRENDEL, based on the John Gardner book. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For one brief shining moment . . . I was down to under three months' of reading backlog.
Then the local book wholesale warehouse (JR Trading in Monmouth Junction, NJ) had its annual public sale weekend. (Normally they sell only to dealers and educators.) I bought much less than I did when I started going to this several years ago, but still enough to make a noticeable "anti-dent" in my list.
I really like the "Introducing" series from Totem books, and would probably buy any of those at the three-for-$10 price the sale offers. Similar, but not nearly as good, is the "For Beginners" series from Writers & Readers Publishing. "For Beginners" has a much more definite political slant (and agenda) than "Introducing", both in their choice of topics and in their treatment of the topics they choose. I passed up quite a few of these (including the unfortunately-named "Domestic Violence for Beginners"), but did buy ZEN, THE HISTORY OF EASTERN EUROPE (which really covers only the post-World War I period), GARCIA LORCA, OPERA, and STANISLAVSKI. (The last seems to be somewhat rare; copies on-line are priced at $20 and up!) I also got the Granta book/magazine FILM (number 86 in their series) and a self-published novel by Michael Hollister titled FOLLYWOOD, which seems to be an alternate history of sorts. New this year was a table of mass-market paperbacks for $1 each. Apparently this company defines "mass-market" by size rather than by the publishers' returns policy, so I was able to get an anthology of Rafael Alberti's poetry published in Spanish in Madrid for only a dollar, as well as an Agatha Christie novel translated into Spanish. (I figure the latter is an easy enough read to let me practice my Spanish.)
And then we continued on to Rocky Hill and Half-Price Books, where I sold them some books, but then turned around and used that store credit plus some of our banked store credit for Adolfo Bioy Casares's INVENCION DE MOREL (more Spanish, this one with an introduction by JLB), Agatha Christie's BLACK COFFEE (more Christie!), a *readable* translation of some the Arabian Nights (the W. H. Dulken translation, published by Barnes & Noble), and Hugh Ross Williamson's WHO WAS THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK? (a book of real-life mysteries in history).
For those interested, there will be another open weekend at JR Trading (as some sort of fund-raiser for the local animal shelter, I think) March 15-16, 2008. This will probably kick off the spring book sale season, at least for me, as I think the East Brunswick Library sale and the Bryn Mawr sale are the following week. (The Bryn Mawr sale fills a full-sized gymnasium *and" another room at least half that size.)
PLATO AND A PLATYPUS WALK INTO A BAR: UNDERSTANDING PHILOSOPHY THROUGH JOKES by Tom Cathcart and Dan Klein (ISBN-13 978-0-8109-1493-3, ISBN-10 0-8109-1493-X) gives a very sketchy outline of such topics as metaphysics, logic, ethics, and so on. Each aspect of the topic is illustrated with jokes so, for example, a paragraph on utilitarianism is followed by a joke illustrating (or refuting) it. My problems with the book are that the philosophy is fairly superficial, and the jokes fairly old. It is clearly intended as a book intended to make people feel they are reading something edifying, while not taxing them too much. There is a brief (humorous) glossary, but no index. This is okay for a quick read, but don't mistake it for a useful text on philosophy.
I find Michael Chabon a very frustrating author. I will find one book of his wonderful, and the next one unreadable. For example, I loved THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY, but could not get into SUMMERLAND. I liked THE FINAL SOLUTION and adored THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION, but could not finish GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD (ISBN-13 978-0-345-50174-5, ISBN-10 0-345-50174-8). The last seemed to be very well-written, with an amazingly ornate vocabulary, but there was just something about it that distanced me from it to the extent that I finally gave up. It is particularly irritating because part of me knows this is a very good book, but the other part says that reading it is a chore. I would be curious to hear other people's reactions to it.
HOW TO HEPBURN: LESSONS ON LIVING FROM KATE THE GREAT by Karen Karbo (ISBN-13 978-1-59691-351-6, ISBN-10 1-59691-351-7) is half Hepburn biography, half self-help book, and not very good at either. If you are a Hepburn fan, you are liable to come away liking her much less. (Ditto for Spencer Tracy.) But there isn't much in the way of self-help either--given the negative portrayal of Hepburn's personality, a list of ways to emulate her would seem to be something to avoid rather than follow. And the editing is way below what I would expect from a publisher such as Bloomsbury. Karbo says that Mary Stuart was Elizabeth I's sister (she was her cousin), spells "Christendom" as "Christiandom", and says that Spencer Tracy's character in BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK is "one-armed". (He actually has two arms, but one is paralyzed. (Karbo seems to know this, in fact, because a few sentences later she says, "[N]otice how he keeps his arms down?")
I did not read all of LOST CLASSICS edited by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, and Linda Spalding (ISBN-13 978-0-385-72086-1, ISBN-10 0-385-72086-6), but I did read a few selections. This is a collection of several dozen three-page essays by writers on books that they think should be classics but are "Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission."
Most were unfamiliar to me, but some I recognized. Christian Bok describes the CODEX SERAPHINIANUS of Luigi Seafini "an other- worldly encyclopedia" and compares it to Jorge Luis Borges's "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". (Laird Hunt also references this Borges story in his essay on Lafcadio Hearn.)
Brian Brett writes about CLASSICS REVISITED by Kenneth Rexroth in such a way as to make me want to run out and find a copy somehow. (And in fact, I did, and will write about it in a future column.) For example, he quotes Rexroth on the prose of Tacitus as having "a style like a tray of dental instruments", or of Julius Caesar's style with the sentence "The nouns and verbs carom off each other like billiard balls."
A story that Mark and I have been recommending--"Address Unknown" by Kressman Taylor--is chosen by Nancy Huston. It first appeared in "Story" magazine in 1938, was condensed by Reader's Digest soon after (though who knows why, as it was only about 9000 words to start with), anthologized in Philip Van Doren Stern's POCKET READER in 1941 (with almost continuous re-printings for the new few years, and re-issued in a small hardback in 1995. For all this, it remains difficult to find (although there is a version floating around the Web these days, which coincidentally Mark recommended last week!).
One science fiction novel appears in the list, THE TWILIGHT OF BRIAREUS by Richard Cowper (chosen by Eden Robinson). And my father's favorite book of all time was chosen: LOST HORIZON by James Hilton. I knew it was a classic; I just had not realized it was lost.
In the Afterword, Javier Marias talks about the loss of the old- fashioned bookshops with individual characters. One he described had "more rare and select titles than almost any other" he had seen--signed first editions, etc. But every book he asked the owner about got the response, "This volume is not for sale." Eventually he asked just *which* books were for sale, and was told that most of them were. "I'm not about to work against the interests of my own business," the owner said. Marias writes, "I later learned . . . that the man was indeed working against the interests of his own business, or, rather, that despite the fact that his shop opened onto the street and there was a sign on the door saying 'Open' or 'Closed' depending on the time of day, he had no business. He was a collector so fanatical, so proud of his possessions, that after having amassed one of the best libraries in the country, he found it unbearable that no one, or only the few acquaintances who came to visit him, ever saw or admired it. So he decided to pass himself off as a book dealer in order to enjoy the astonishment and greed that his exquisite treasures in incautious passersby or aspiring clients." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones. -- Bertrand Russell
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