The Real Mary Poppins, How Foucault Won the Right & the Children’s Table of Literature

As I attempt to get back on the blogging horse so to speak, what better than that classic of blogging days past, the link collection post? Below, some articles I find interesting…

Sarah Schutte discusses the real Mary Poppins at National Review:

Mary Poppins first alighted at No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane in 1934, changing the lives not only of the Banks children but of countless readers around the world. Those exposed only to Julie Andrews’s charming portrayal of Mary Poppins (for indeed, you must always refer to Mary Poppins by her full name) in the 1964 Disney film may find the character in Travers’s book rather jarring — even downright unpleasant. Vain, haughty, snobby, abrupt, Travers’s nanny causes our Disneyfied senses to revolt in favor of the sweeter film character. But this is to give the “real” Mary Poppins short shrift, and naysayers will miss out on some of the most whimsical stories ever penned.

The Real Mary Poppins Reminds Us to Wonder

ICYMI, Ross Douthat had an interesting column on how How Michel Foucault Lost the Left and Won the Right:

Taken together, the essays tell a story that’s surprising at first but reasonable once you accept its premises: If Foucault’s thought offers a radical critique of all forms of power and administrative control, then as the cultural left becomes more powerful and the cultural right more marginal, the left will have less use for his theories, and the right may find them more insightful.

How Michel Foucault Lost the Left and Won the Right

Over at The Dispatch Guy Denton talks with Christopher Buckley about humor sitting at the “children’s table” of literature:

Buckley recognizes today what Wolfe and Heller understood before him: that there is no richer source of literary material than real life, and that real life is a comedy. Readers crave stories of equal scale and strangeness to their everyday experiences in what Wolfe described as this “wild, bizarre, unpredictable, Hog-stomping Baroque country of ours.” The quotidian in America is often ridiculous, and the ridiculous demands to be parodied.

The View from the Children’s Table

A Visit to Vanity Fair by Alan Jacobs

It is hard to top the publisher’s description of A Visit to Vanity Fair:

These perceptive moral essays crackle with wit, intelligence, and a wide range of knowledge. A cultural hawk eye delivers relevant, down-to-earth meditations on the way we live now. “A Visit to Vanity Fair” blends personal reflection with cultural criticism to address such topics as reading with children, sitting with a dying friend, and watching TV documentaries.

I mean it really does “crackle with wit, intelligence, and a wide range of knowledge. and Jacobs is a “cultural hawk eye” who “delivers relevant, down-to-earth meditations” and “blends personal reflection with cultural criticism.

The sad thing is that I have had this book on my shelf for quite some time.  I have long been enamored with Jacobs and his writing.  I have read a number of his books and have followed his writing online for many, many years.  But like so many of the authors and topics I collect and mean to dive into, I get distracted and end up just dipping into a book here or there.  For the last year or so I have thought about trying to read as much of Jacobs catalog as I could but have mostly failed.  So I recently girded my loins, so to speak, and grabbed this book of the shelf and forced myself to concentrate and spend time reading until I finished.

And it was worth it. It truly is a wonderful collection of thought provoking and well crafted essays. Published nearly 20 years ago, it nevertheless feels as engaging and relevant as ever. Whether dealing with Bob Dylan or Harry Potter, Jacobs gets at issues that remain not frothy debates of the minute. Instead, philosophy, literature, faith and writing are explored with verve and wit.

Continue reading

The elemental beauty and depth that can be found only in great works of literature.

I’m still not above watching vapid reality shows about meth-addicted Tiger tamers. Nor am I dismissive of the compelling fare we find on streaming media — we are living in a golden age of middlebrow culture. Certainly the world doesn’t need another writer praising the virtues of Moby-Dick. And that’s not my point. Sitting here in isolation, I come to praise the elemental beauty and depth that can be found only in great works of literature. Moby-Dick demanded my attention, imagination, and time. — David Harsanyi on reading Moby Dick

Everything is Its Own Reward by Paul Madonna

Everything is Its Own Reward: An All Over Coffee Collection by Paul Madonna was another random library pick up.  I knew nothing about the author/artist or the book until I saw it at the library at started “reading” it.  I was enthralled by this interesting blend of drawing and text from the start and finished it that day and promptly handed it over to my artist wife for her turn.  I love the art and enjoyed the quirky and melancholy reflection that goes with it.

For those, like me, not in the know:

Cover of "All Over Coffee"
Cover of All Over Coffee

All Over Coffee was created in September 2003. That November the strip was picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and in February 2004 began running 4 days a week; 3 days in the daily Datebook section and Sundays in the Pink section. After a year and a half and 200 daily strips, the strips grew more complex, so went to Sundays only. All Over Coffee still runs in the large format one day a week in the Sunday Pink Section of the Chronicle, on SFGate.com, and The Rumpus. In 2007, after just over 300 published strips, City Lights Books published the first collection in a full color hardcover edition titled All Over Coffee, and in 2010 published the second collection, Everything is its own reward.

I have to agree with the blurb at Amazon:

Entertaining and moving, gorgeous to look at, Madonna’s work remains unique and unclassifiable.

The drawings are a wonderful mix of architecture, landscape and still life; melancholy, peaceful and meditative.  The stories and snippets are both philosophical and whimsical, both optimistic and stoic; with a touch of surreal perhaps.  It is just a perfect combination of art and literature, of text and illustration, to sit down with and get lost in; in a comfy chair or out in the city at a coffee shop.  It takes you to and makes you want to visit cities across the globe but also makes them seem fictional in some sense; a setting of the author’s creation rather than real places to visit and live.

Publishers Weekly:

Madonna captures snapshots in time as he explores the relationship between image and text, with a mixture of single- and multi-panel strips all presented vertically. Completely devoid of people but never of life, each panel revolves around a geographical setting, from recognizable landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge to an anonymous block that’s so gorgeously rendered in Madonna’s precise yet fluid pen-and-ink style, it feels like it could be anywhere and everywhere. The integration of text—from snippets of fiction and autobiography to single sentences stretching across panels—is as deliberate as the pen strokes and ink washes, and as essential to grasping the complete picture. Though there are no conventional narrative arcs, Madonna continually revisits such themes as place and memory as he deconstructs the traditional storytelling elements in this “comic strip without the comic, whose main and only character [is] setting.”

Evan Karp at Litseen:

If you don’t know, the series establishes scene as the main character in images devoid of humans or cars. Often a cityscape of some sort, with lush architecture and mesmerizing details, the frames exude a stillness that is preternatural. In various ways, Madonna then incorporates text into the images—the only place that humans are manifested in this work. A combination of aphorisms, autobiographical stories, flash fiction, and thoughts—including both questions and answers, and even mini manifestos on the creative process—the words in the AOC series weave together a narrative as thrilling and revelatory and endless and humbling as an aimless walk through the city. And to read through each page is to occupy a space left for us to inhabit. Everything Is Its Own Reward is more than a book; it’s a life philosophy articulated by a beautiful body of work.

Laura Miler at Salon:

You don’t have to have lived in or loved San Francisco to fall under the spell of Madonna’s mysterious and largely unpeopled cityscapes. San Francisco isn’t the only place he draws with the miraculously exquisite attention on display here (Paris, Rome and Buenos Ares also appear) but something about the fog off the bay makes it particularly well suited to his dreamy and surprisingly emotional pen-and-ink images.

If you are interested in comics and drawing with a unique twist, or just fascinated by art and literature, I would recommend checking out Paul Madonna and All Over Coffee.  I plan to check out the other volumes and enjoy more of this unique talent.

The Gilded Chalet by Padraig Rooney

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of the most well-read book readers. I know very little of great literature other than the books I had to read for school (such as The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Great Expectations, etc). So, when The Gilded Chalet:Off-piste in Literary Switzerland by Padraig Rooney came in the mail, I was not sure what to think. Once I started reading the book, I grew to enjoy its excerpts from great Western writers and its history of those writers in Switzerland and the world.

From the publisher:

From Rousseau to the Romantics, from James Joyce to James Bond, from Conan Doyle to Le Carre, from Hemingway to Hesse to Highsmith – Switzerland inspired them all.

In the summer of 1816 paparazzi trained their telescopes on the goings on of poets Byron and Shelley – and their womenfolk – across Lake Geneva. Mary Shelley babysat and wrote Frankenstein. Byron dieted and penned The Prisoner of Chillon. His doctor, Polidori, was dreaming up The Vampyre. Together they put Switzerland on the map.

Switzerland has always provided a refuge for writers attracted to it as an escape from world wars, oppression, tuberculosis. or marriage. While often for Swiss writers from Rousseau to Bouvier the country was like a gilded prison or sanatorium. The Romantics, the utopians (Wells, D. H. Lawrence) and other spiritual seekers (Hesse), viewed Switzerland as a land of milk and honey, as nature’s paradise. In the twentieth century, spying in neutral Switzerland, spawned espionage and detective fiction from Conan Doyle to Maugham, Fleming, and Le Carre.

Padraig Rooney finds the rooms crammed with curios: lederhosen and Lepidoptera, spas and spies, fool’s gold and numbered accounts. Literary detective work and treasure chest, history and scandal, The Gilded Chalet will make you strap on your skis and come off-piste to find out the real Swiss story.

Rooney clearly knows his literature. He examines nearly two centuries of writers and their works and how those writers were influenced by their stays in Switzerland. It is a magnificent tribute to a country many only see as being a banking and holiday country, with a dash of international organizations.

I am fascinated to learn little things about the writers in the book. For instance, I had no idea that Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley hung out together in Switzerland. They were quite close.  In fact, Mary Shelley’s stay near Lake Geneva greatly influenced her writing of Frankenstein.

Although Rooney has benefited from his stay in Switzerland (teaches English at International School Basel), he is not shy in criticizing it – everything from its Calvinist roots to its shady dealings with Nazi Germany to its international banking scandals. Rooney seamlessly weaves these criticisms in with his discussions of the various writers.

Wherein I complain about too many books, not enough time, and a lack of inspiration

There is something ironic, in a “rain on your wedding day” kinda way at least, about my predicament. A number of interesting non-fiction books have been published recently and kind publicists offered me review copies of said books.  I accepted these offers under the belief that my interest in the books would match my ability to read them.  Alas, I am now seriously behind in the reading of these books. At the same time, I am struggling to find the inspiration and/or energy to post reviews of the books I have read, and enjoyed, and thus attract some semblance of readership to this blog.  Which is what causes publicists to offer me books to read. And which, when it really comes down to it, is the only real remaining reason I have this blog.

[OK, to be fair, I do still enjoy reading and discussing books.  But I am very busy with a job, and a family, and an inability to not be distracted by shiny objects on the internet, and this makes it hard to post regularly and of such a quality as to attract readers (Lame excuse? Perhaps, but still true). So I guess getting free books is not the only reason I blog here but some days it feels like that]

That clip art is retro and hip, right?

A Renewed Focus on Reviews and Interviews

Those few readers who have some history here, and have been following along, are aware that I have been kicking around the idea of making this blog about more than books in an effort to bring in more content and, in theory, more regular visitors.  I have played with themes and formats, with content and styles off an on for sometime.

I think I have finally come to the conclusion that it is not worth it to attempt such a focus change and that I am really not set up to do general blogging these days.  I just don’t have the time or focus nor do I feel like I have the platform to build that kind of audience.

Whatever strength remains at this site it lies in my book reviews and the occasional author interview. So I think it makes sense to focus on that and to work harder at posting reviews more often and with a greater level of engagement. I have also always enjoyed doing author interviews and Q&As so I am going to try and do more of that as well.

I have changed the site them back to a theme that works best for the this format and abandoned those themes more suited to daily blogging or Tumblr like themes.  I have also added some advertisements in an effort to add a small revenue (emphasis on small right now) stream to motivate me to focus a bit more on my reviews.

If you want more daily oriented blogging you can always check out my Tumblr blog.

It is my supreme hope and desire to leave things the heck alone for the remainder of 2013.  But I know better to make any promises on that front.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas below. And as always, thanks for reading.