What are you reading?

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  • 18 May 2017 at 1:18 am #9452

    Richard L.
    Member

    Well, BLOOD MERIDIAN can be a tough nut to crack. It sometimes takes several readings before you can begin to appreciate it. Now it might not be worth it in your case. But maybe later it will be.

    ——

    Lastly he said that he had seen the souls of horses and that it was a terrible thing to see. He said that it could be seen under certain circumstances attending the death of a horse because the horse shares a common soul and its separate life only forms it out of all horses and makes it mortal. He said that if a person understood the soul of the horse then he would understand all horses that ever were.

    They sat smoking, watching the deepest embers of the fire where the red coals cracked and broke. –Cormac McCarthy, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES

    ALWAYS DREAMING runs in the Preakness Saturday, an odds-on favorite as he should be. He is a handsome colt, runs with his head down in the way of Northern Dancer, to whom he is inbred with three crosses, a couple of crosses to Secretariat through his sire, plus another cross to Secretariat’s dam, Somethingroyal. On back in his pedigree, of course, there are multiple crosses to Native Dancer and Man O War. A pretty pedigree.

    I don’t think that he is much better bred than the thoroughbreds I owned, but he certainly can run faster. I was on hand to see Northern Dancer set the track record in the Kentucky Derby back in 1964, and again was there when Secretariat broke that record in 1973.

    At the time, I believed in the superhorse theory; that is, I believed that because thoroughbreds were selectively bred for speed, that over time they mutated and got faster and faster. You could depend on track records falling again and again.

    I had it all wrong. Secretariat was a very good horse, but there is no such thing as a superhorse. When you ran very good horses on the new steroids back then, they did indeed look like relative superhorses. Despite the selective breeding of horses for speed over two centuries now, the thoroughbred horse is not remarkably faster at all.

    This is because, given the physicality of the horse, he has been bred to the limits of his design. His form, his body is not designed to be tough enough to withstand more speed without breaking down–or at least without medical assistance like drugs that help him breathe or mask the pain. And that’s only a temporary fix, and not genetic gift that can be passed on.

    Secretariat was the Mark McGwire/Barry Bonds of horseracing. He was good, just not that good. He was a good sire, but not a great sire, his strength being that he was only bred to quality mares by whom he had a couple of marvelous fillies and broodmares. But a lot of unremarkable horses too.

    The one rule of breeding that you can bank on is: New foals tend to return to the norm. The norm isn’t bad, it just isn’t exceptional. That’s why there are so many foals born each year, but so few winners of any kind of a race, whatever their breeding. It’s a numbers game, and the odds are always bad.

    I read Tesio’s lost manuscript sometime back, and I was amazed at his opinion that horses have evolved two or three times after becoming extinct. Perhaps, like the fox/dogs in the Russian experiments, the horse is a form that nature likes and will return to again and again.

    I love that McCarthy quote.


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    25 May 2017 at 10:10 am #9472

    Richard L.
    Member

    Some time back, I mentioned Beth Shapiro’s HOW TO CLONE A MAMMOTH: THE SCIENCE OF DE-EXTINCTION (2015), and later I also read Helen Pilcher’s BRING BACK THE KING: THE NEW SCIENCE OF DE-EXTINCTION (2016). Both are good, but if you can only read one of these, read the former.

    One of the episodes of THROUGH THE WORMHOLE in the current season features Beth Shapiro and her work on cloning. Wow, she has quite a screen presence. If you are interested in this stuff, don’t miss it. I may go back and read her book again, it was that inspiring.

    I don’t think it would be advisable to clone the King (Elvis Presley) or Secretariat, but I do think it might be worthwhile to clone a version of the Mammoth/Elephant and turn it loose on the tundra, as Shapiro suggests. The mammoth once inhabited Kentucky and a few very early hunters claimed to have encountered it, but I think they must have just encountered mammoth skeletons which were still laying about the salt licks here.

    I would not be in favor of returning the mammoth to these environs. It is bad enough that we now have to put up with so many deer and coyotes.

    [edit] I liked all the Elvis stuff in BRING BACK THE KING, it was fun to think about, just as JURASIC PARK was fun to consider, but Pilcher knows that the trouble with cloning is that there is often a mismatch between the donor DNA and the mitochondria DNA, and the mitochondria DNA needs a match to pass on the vital spark, or it least that’s how it appears.

    The spark of the divine, perhaps, is in our mitochondria.


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    • This reply was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by  Richard L..
    30 May 2017 at 11:12 am #9478

    Richard L.
    Member

    One of the books that Cormac McCarthy asked his editor to send him was Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. I haven’t time-lined this in the Archives, but I suspect that it may have been after Cormac became aware of poet James Dickey’s novel, Deliverance. Dickey used Herrigel in the bow-and-arrow scene and McCarthy sent for some other zen-related works as well, so we just don’t know. Or at least I don’t know.

    I don’t recollect any scenes where McCarthy might have adapted anything from this particular work, except broadly in spirit, and that might have come from anywhere.

    Yet McCarthy enjoyed giving his readers a form of haiku, the best example of which is the epilogue in BLOOD MERIDIAN. There are some good books collecting these American haikus, which use as their model Hemingway’s six-word story:

    “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

    See NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: SIX-WORD MEMOIRS BY WRITERS FAMOUS AND OBSCURE edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith.


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    06 Jun 2017 at 1:09 pm #9522

    Toni
    Member

    Hey all

    I just read two very different, and very beautiful novels back to back.
    “Stoner” by John Williams, and “Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky” by
    David Connerley Nahm. Hallelujah! If you haven’t read these, check them out.

    I’m assuming “Stoner” is well known in the so called “literary circles”,
    but “Ancient Oceans. . .” may be a bit of an unknown gem. Read it and spread the gospel.
    It’s something like “The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake” meets
    “Under Milk Wood” meets “The Waves” and “The Sound & The Fury”.

    It’s been a while since I was moved this deeply by a novel. Both of them.
    I have “Butcher’s Crossing”, also by John Williams, waiting on the shelf.
    I hear it has some similarities with Blood Meridian.


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    • This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by  Toni.
    • This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by  Toni.
    06 Jun 2017 at 1:39 pm #9526

    Richard L.
    Member

    Thanks, Toni.

    Many of us here (come to think of it, there just aren’t many of us left around here). Well, let me then say that over the years, many of us have commented both on Stoner and upon Butcher’s Crossing, which indeed has its Blood Meridian moments but ends on a good solid open note with a C sharp laugh. You’ll see.

    Stoner, of course, is a gentle, insightful academic novel. I found John Williams’ other novels differently fine also, but not up to the measure of these two.

    I have looked at Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky but have not yet read it. I’ll mark it for “as soon as the right mood hits me.”


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    07 Jun 2017 at 5:37 pm #9530

    Richard L.
    Member

    I’ve ordered Rectify off Toni’s recommendations and the reviews at the Daily Beast and Culture Vulture (to which I’d link if they didn’t contain the major spoiler). Spoiled or not, this is a series I want to watch with my wife at leisure.

    The premise reminds me of Richard Hugo’s DEGREES OF GRAY IN PHILIPSBURG:

    Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
    you had was years ago. You walk these streets
    laid out by the insane, past hotels
    that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
    of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
    Only churches are kept up. The jail
    turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
    is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

    And if you haven’t already, you should hear Bob Dylan’s rendering on the link provided by Rick Wallach.

    Life is good, and we have Art around for when it isn’t.


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    13 Jun 2017 at 10:40 am #9603

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    I’ve just been re-reading Harold Bloom’s The American Religion in connection with my presentation on Whales and Men, Moby Dick and “The Kekule Problem” in Austin.

    Aside from having concluded that the best chance Whales and Men has of ever being widely read is for it to remain unpublished, it’s been twenty five years since I read American Religion as a young boy of 42 (time plays tricks on your self-assessments) and I didn’t realize at the time just how hilarious it was. It makes Donald Trump and his evangelical remoras look even dumber and more clueless than they did a couple of days ago. I grant you that’s not some Olympian feat but still, this is a terrific book. If you haven’t read it or, like me, haven’t read it in a geological epoch, please, have another look at it. Doing so might make me sound coherent in September.


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    13 Jun 2017 at 12:55 pm #9608

    leedriver
    Member

    Whoa! “Evangelical remoras.” Outstanding Rick. I will be absconding with and using those words.


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    • This reply was modified 2 months ago by  leedriver.
    13 Jun 2017 at 5:43 pm #9609

    cantona
    Member

    Yes, “remoras.” Word/description of the epoch. The Bloom book looks like something I should read.


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    14 Jun 2017 at 7:33 pm #9623

    Richard L.
    Member

    Rectify got a little too soapy or melodramatic a time or two, but over all, it was good solid literary TV, much like BREAKING BAD and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, but different in a good way too. Slower, more reflective, more literary.

    Premise: A man spends nineteen years on death row in solitary, able to zone out in a zen trance when he isn’t reading such things as books by W. Somerset Maugham, Beckett, Sartre, and Nietzsche. New DNA evidence sets him free, at least for a while, but his readjustment is troubled.

    Some of the episodes, taken by themselves, were stellar works of art. It deserves all the praise lavished upon it. Thanks to Toni for bringing it to our attention.

    The protagonist is named Holden, but he is more of an everyman Holden Caulfield than a Judge Holden. There is a mention of watermelon sex, but not of Suttree. Holden’s mother is also a reader, and at the below link is a list of her character’s favorite reading, provided by both the actress who played her and one of the writers on the series:

    http://www.sundance.tv/series/rectify/blog/2015/08/rectify-reading-list-janet-talbots-10-favorite-books

    1. Complete works of Plato.
    2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
    3. A Death In The Family by James Agee.
    4. The Night In Question by Tobias Wolff
    5. The Poetry of Robert Frost
    6. The Poetry of W. B. Yeats
    7. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
    8. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
    9. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
    10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

    I think that Cormac McCarthy would approve, both of the show and of the above list, especially the first three choices. On one episode, there is a discussion of Tobias Wolff’s short story “A Bullet In The Brain.” Here’s a link:

    https://writersblock.loft.org/2013/11/22/2864/reading_like_a_writer_psychic_distance_and_bullet_in_the_brain


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