Sunday, August 10, 2008

A new favorite blog: A Journey Around My Skull

Thanks to Kevin for pointing this out even though he assumed I already knew about it, which maybe I should. He'd forgotten the name and when he was describing the book it's titled after I thought he was talking about Schreber's Memoirs of My Nervous Illness but instead it was something I'd never heard about before: Frigyes Karinthy's A Journey Around My Skull. Oddly (or maybe editorially) both have been reprinted by NYRB.

A Journey the blog is one of those with a "narrow" focus that just expands outwards, the world in a grain of sand and all that. In this case, it's a kind of edgy, psychologically dense, quasi-fantasy literature that doesn't attract the avantgardists (not as outwardly flashy) or The Academy (mostly non-canonical even for people who don't believe in a canon). It's work by writers who go in and mostly out of print, who form an almost subterranean literature that doesn't go in set directions but can emerge anywhere.

As an example check the reprint of Marcel Schwob's "imaginary life" of Cyril Tourneur. Now Tourneur can probably have little but imaginary lives since not much in the way of biography has come down and even his best-known play, The Revenger's Tragedy, is increasingly attributed to Thomas Middleton. Schwob's "To him both parents handed down their taste for nocturnal things, for a red glare in the night, and for blood" is altogether apt for The Revenger's Tragedy though Schwob is approaching Tourneur more as a poet than a critic, with more imagination than scholarship. I'd love to read more of this book (published by Avon of all companies) but while my library has a dozen of Schwob's books not a one is in English and the few copies of this book available go for wild money.

Summer Reading

The Telegraph released a list called 50 best ever summer holiday books but the exception to the usual stuff is that this is pretty solid. Or at least seems that way since I've only read about six and a half of the entries: Possession, Northern Lights, King Solomon's Mines, The Code of the Woosters, The Secret Agent, Tom Jones and three of the six Barchester novels. But the rest are pretty interesting (I already own almost a dozen) though as Greg points out who would consider Gibbon summer reading? I'd never heard of A Place of Greater Safety before this but started it this morning. Not a good sign that it has a six-page character list at the front but maybe that's just to scare away the unwary. Blood River also sounds promising but the US edition doesn't come out until October and I haven't bothered to check the British edition out of the library yet.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Favorite Opening Sentence

''Take my camel, dear,'' said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

Maybe it's just the company I keep but favorite opening sentences come up every now and then but this has to be my all-time favorite. It's from Rose Macaulay's 1956 Towers of Trebizond and the rest of the book--one of those quasi-satirical, quasi-despairing looks at eccentric Brits on the edge of a crumbling empire--is nearly as good. It's the only thing of hers that I've read but have sometimes been tempted by a historical novel set in the 17th century that uses only a vocabulary positively known to have existed at the time. I believe this is They Were Defeated but can't confirm it right now and hope that I didn't imagine this whole thing.

And while on the topic I don't know where else I will ever get a chance to mention that when I wrote a piece on Godzilla for Joe Bob Briggs' long-gone Monstervision website I used the opening sentence for Remembrance of Things Past though completely unacknowledged of course.

There's a variation on openings to SF novels at though it seems a bit narrow to me. Still, the opening to Neuromancer is certainly a great one and almost entirely because of one omitted word: "the color of television" with no definite article for "television".