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Annie Proulx's hopeful speech

Receiving a lifetime achievement award, author Annie Proulx delivered a speech commenting on current affairs but looking forward to a happy ending.

As an ethicist and pastor, I thrilled to these sentences:

Yet somehow the old discredited values and longings persist. We still have tender feelings for such outmoded notions as truth, respect for others, personal honor, justice, equitable sharing. We still hope for a happy ending. 

The speech concluded:

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.

My Uncle Napoleon

My Uncle NapoleonMy Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A young man falls in love with his cousin in the midst of family turmoil in this hilarious story set in 1940's Tehran.

At times the family arguments dragged out but other times they were quite hilarious. This story was turned into a popular Iranian television series before the Revolution, and it almost reads like a script, there is so much dialogue. I can imagine it was quite entertaining.

Only near the end did I feel like the novel fully flowered in both comedy and pathos.

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Goodreads is making an odd recommendation.  Here's a screenprint:

Odd Goodreads Recommendation

Notice the recommendation off to the side.  Usually these make sense.  This one does not.

Crazy Horse's Vision is a children's book about the thing indicated in its title.  What relation does this book or its content or that it is children's literature have to the letters between Sackville-West and Woolf?  Some algorithm is clearly broken.

Radiant Suggestion

For the universe is full of radiant suggestion. For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world's appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs and forever and forever returns, we experience eternity.--Mary Oliver

Reading Mary Oliver Essays--2: She's simply wrong

The passage is about her observation of a turtle and eating some of the turtles freshly laid eggs, which disgusted me actually.  But then she further repulsed me with the following:

The turtle lay a long time on the bottom of the pond, resting.  Then she turned, her eyes upon some flickering nearby as, without terror, without sorrow, but in the voracious arms of the first of the earth's gods, she did what she must, she did what all must do.  All things are meltable, and replacable.  Not at this moment, but soon enough, we are lambs and we are leaves, and we are stars, and the shining, mysterious pond water itself.

I highlighted the sentence that offends me.  Maybe it's because I'm currently teaching Kant in my Ethics class and Kant defends the dignity of each unique human person.  No creature is replacable.  Each has a unique and sacred (to my mind) value that cannot be replaced.  This is precisely the wrong word.  It defies ancient wisdom, such as Heraclitus' statement that we never step into the same river twice.  No other turtle egg will replace the ones she ate.  No other human creature will ever replace me.  He choice of word leads to a cynical nihilism.

Reading Mary Oliver Essays--1: Who are your great ones?

I'm reading Mary Oliver's book of essays Upstream.  In a few pages I read earlier this week, I came across two passages I wanted to comment on.  First, this:

For it is precisely how I feel, who have inherited not measurable wealth but, as we all do who care for it, that immeasurable fund of thoughts and ideas, from writers and thinkers long gone into the ground--and, inseparable from those wisdoms because demanded by them, the responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently.  To enjoy, to question--never to assume, or trample.  Thus the great one (my great ones, who may not be the same as your great ones) have taught me--to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly.

Yes.  Quite rightly stated.

She goes on to list some of her great ones who include early Wordsworth, Shelley, Blake, Emerson, Carson, and Leopold.  She adds, "I go nowhere, I arrive nowhere, without them."

Who are your great ones?

Mine include Alfred North Whitehead, William James, Wendell Berry, Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, C. S. Lewis, James McClendon, Beethoven, Bach, and R. E. M.

My Thoughts on the Nobel in Literature

When Alice Munro won a few years ago, I realized that she was the first Nobel laureate I had read before she won the prize.  Mostly I've read them afterwards.  

So, when I set a goal for 2017 to read a broader array of world literature, one aspect was to read works by some of the authors I've not read before who are often mentioned in contention for the prize.  A few listed in the running I have read over the years, Haruki Murakami being the best example. I've enjoyed some of his books and been puzzled by others and have sort of given up reading them.  I'm ambivalent if he ever wins the prize.

Then there are those I've long wondered why they aren't mentioned seriously in the running or have never won, Salman Rushdie being the best example.  Given that he represented literature's value with his own life, this has always puzzled me, as the Nobel committee often likes to make a political statement and not just a literary one.  They must have some reason they don't like him.

It also seems that some writers whose names were mentioned more often at one point begin to fade over the years, Nuruddin Farah being an example.  I liked well enough his book Links, which I read this year.  


If I was voting, I would vote for the Syrian poet Adonis.  I marveled at the volume of his selected poems which I read.   It was among the best books I've read this year.  It has been something of a surprise that he has not won during these last five years of the Syrian civil war.  

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o has been mentioned for years and seems to be the odds on favourite this year.  With great anticipation I read his novel Devil on the Cross, which I had also read about in some books on postcolonial theology.  But I was very unimpressed by the book.  Maybe his reputation is based upon other works, but this was the one I thought was considered his masterwork.  So, while awarding the prize to an African writing in his indigenous language is a good thing (is this why Achebe never won?), I can't say I'll be excited if Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o takes the prize.

Amos Oz would be a worthy recipient.  I admired the writing in his memoir I read this year, though I judged the book needed some editing.  

I did not like László Krasznahorkai's The Melancholy of Resistance and don't understand his international reputation.

I quite liked César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and look forward to reading more of his works. 

Of course there are many writers mentioned in the running whom I've not read.  But I do hope this year especially to have read the author who will be honored.

Selected Stories of Lu Hsun

Selected StoriesSelected Stories by Lu Xun
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A compelling collection of short stories from early 20th century China. Most are realist depictions of life, often for those on the margins (Mao admired Lu Hsun). A couple are more fantastical. There are some a haunting scenes--such as when an adolescent boy keeps changing his mind as to whether he is killing or saving a rat who has kept him awake at night and has fallen into a pot of water.

For my 2017 effort to read a broader array of world literature and my more particular goal of reading Chinese literature this year, this was a good contribution.

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