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October 2nd, 2008

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02:22 pm - September books
Read this month

The Ode Less Travelled Stephen Fry

This is a jolly romp through various poetic forms and styles, examples of a sestina and so on. He likes poetry and wants to make it accessible to more people, and this is a good effort in that direction. Much better towards the end where he talks about language.

The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett

Children's book with all sorts of psychological allegory going on.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union Michael Chabon

Borrowed from happytune - I'm still reading it. Actually it's not really working that well for me so far but I will persist.

English verse, the best of the 20th century (that's English the language not the nationality)

Audio. Good, but some strange omissions.

The dove descending Thomas Howard

A book-length discussion of Four Quartets. These deep-analysis books always approach these poems from a pious angle. I know Eliot was pious himself, but I wish they were a bit less fannish. For instance, when Eliot talks about 'love' it seems to me he is cut off from it, mouthing the term because he's not really experiencing love for his fellow man or any particular individual. But these critics all talk as if referencing love with reverence is exhibiting it to the highest degree.

Woken Furies Richard Morgan

A second sequel to Altered Carbon, I'm still reading it. I just read an online review - oh where is it - of Morgan's latest book, saying that his novels are all about expressing anger. That illuminated every event in this book so far. For instance a woman beats a religious bully to death, and then the hero rescues her by infecting the misogynist's friend with a blood disease. If only life were like that, eh? It seems Morgan's work dramatises and partially assuages such frustration.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 2nd, 2008 02:00 pm (UTC)
I won't say what I honestly think of Fry's book in detail, because innocent folk shouldn't have to read that sort of language. But suffice it to say that (a) clever as he may be, it is unwise of him to think he can be an instant expert on everything, (b) his views on line breaks are just plain benighted and (c) to talk about the use of rhyme in contemporary poetry without so much as once mentioning the name of Paul Muldoon is a bit like talking about dystopian TV fiction and being totally ignorant of Terry Nation.

This review by Ruth Padel says what I'd say but in polite language....
[User Picture]
Date:October 2nd, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
I do know what you mean, though I give him credit for trying to reach out to people. I think clever people are a bit inclined to think they can have a bash at anything, and towards the end he sort of gestured in the direction of the bigger picture. I thought his geekish personality came across in quite an endearing way, but I can understand how it could also be very irritating.
[User Picture]
Date:October 2nd, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
Also, agree it's not a useful guide to 'how to write poetry', I forgot until I read that review you linked to that it was supposed to be. I like Padel's comment:

"This book ... presents metre and form as a penal code not a resource, and poetry as a clever-defensive game: some weird Hellenic cricket match full of people in union-jacked togas chanting odein."

I must say this is true. But I think that's a bit what life is like for Stephen Fry, a clever-defensive game.
[User Picture]
Date:October 2nd, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
Actually it's not really working that well for me so far but I will persist.

That's a shame, I really enjoyed it. Much more so than Kavalier & Clay.

I just read an online review - oh where is it - of Morgan's latest book, saying that his novels are all about expressing anger.

This one from Graham Sleight?
[User Picture]
Date:October 2nd, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I should have remembered it was at Strange Horizons. His review made me want to read The Steel Remains, and I thought this description of Morgan's default approach was good:

"By far the most frequent response of Morgan's characters being confronted with the facts of the world is anger. Anger is the promise of violence, and violence is anger made fact... There's a latent question about how much this savagery is the fault of "the world," the society and culture the characters find themselves in, and how much it's their choice."

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