Sunday, August 16, 2015

Thunder! Inertia! Fantasy Reading List!

After months of dry, hot weather, Seattle finally got a good old-fashioned, epic, rage-of-the-gods thunderstorm that went on for six hours straight last Friday afternoon. It was glorious. The sky was all dark and weird and crackling with gloomy electricity, and it poured and poured over all the parched, yellowed landscape, and Seattle felt like my home again.

Maybe it’s just because of the stage I’m in with life right now, but for the last few weeks when I’ve sat down to blog, I’ve just drawn a blank. Life feels like drudgery at the moment, and it’s translating to a lack of imaginative sparks in my mindscape, which is usually rich with material. Then I get jealous of people like Frank effin’ Moraes, who puts up like, eight blog posts a day, while I can barely get in one a week. (Coincidentally, I met Frank’s sister for breakfast this morning. I hadn’t seen her in well over a decade, and it was lovely to re-connect. In a time far away, we were roommates and went to massage school together.) But with the exception of this morning’s outing, I don’t go anywhere except work, and there’s just nothing new happening. I’m civically dis-engaged, so that leaves out writing about politics. I don’t make anything or grow anything, and my rug project has sat unfinished for over a year, despite my high hopes that rug-making would become my “thing” and I would have an online empire by now. But I lack the will to change anything, so if the gods want to rattle the cage of my life, they’re going to have to be the ones to throw down. I’m too apathetic to do it myself.

The thunderstorm was a reminder that cold weather is on its way, and that I have made a pact with myself to read some classics this Winter. There are a number of books I just never got around to reading, and as a writer, it feels irresponsible somehow. I have a going list that includes Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, and the Lord of the Rings series. I want to read them as real books, heavy and leather-bound, while curled up proper-like on the recliner, sipping tea. It’s a nice fantasy, anyway. Hopefully it won’t go the way of my rug empire.

In cat news, Buddy seems to calming down a little bit. It’s fun to have his fiery kitten energy in the house. After he destroyed two expensive cat feather toys, I stuck a wrinkled-up piece of paper into the toe of a knee-high panty hose and let him roll around with that. Hours of pure bliss, and it cost nothing. Which is good, because he decimated it in the course of an evening, and I had to make another one. So my never going anywhere has worked out for the best—plenty of panty hose to spare!

--Kristen McHenry


Jo-Ann said...

I loved Moby Dick even though some chapters should definitely been edited out. But do add the Illiad and Faust (part one and two). There is drama, comedy, and cathartic pathos. I think you'll especially love Mephistopheles in the latter. And great news for Seattle in getting a good drenching... totally missed Vancouver.

Kristen McHenry said...

Hi, Jo-Ann!! Nice to see you here! Not to brag, but I actually did read the Illiad...not Faust, though, so I will add that to the list. Yes, the rainstorm was amazing and beautiful. We just need more of them. Like, one a day for the next month.

Frank Moraes said...

I do wish I could become known as "Frank effin' Moraes" -- that would be so cool. Thanks for the shout-out! But there ain't nothing to it. It's all tricks. I could write a book, but no one would want to read it. Of course, I have the advantage of having no life to speak of. I have a guest this week, and I have to say, I much prefer sitting in front of my computer than hiking around the redwoods (beautiful though they are). But really, when I wrote one post a week, I probably worked on it as much as I do the dozens I do now.

I read the Kaufmann translation of Faust when I was close to death in the hospital. That's a great time to read it! But the book I'm writing an intro to has an opium-based story about Faust that is the best I've ever read. The writer (Claude Farrer) is really clever about it. I'll send you a copy when I can.

But if we are talking about classic books, I feel it is my duty to point out that you really must read Don Quixote. And since I am a total freak, I can tell you with certainty that you should read the John Rutherford translation. I have read major portions of every English translation, and his really is the best. I've also corresponded with him. (It isn't hard, because there aren't a lot of translator groupies around.) He's a very nice man, even when you suggest that he totally blew it. (I was wrong.)

Speaking of which, I was over at Moe's Books in Berkeley as part of this "entertaining" thing I'm doing and I got a new translation of Exemplary Stories by a total unknown, Lesley Lipson. It's much better than the C A Jones translation that Penguin has been pushing for a while without the preface!

I'm really mixed abut Moby Dick. Melville is a difficult writer. Jo-Ann is right. Most people find a lot of details a waste of time. And it is certainly true that they don't matter to the story. But to me, they are the one thing I love about the book and him. He was such an idiosyncratic writer. Sure Herman, we're up for another 5,000 words about whaling technologies! I think Moby Dick is kind of like Hamlet: we love it because it doesn't actually work that well. Yet there is some kind of indescribable greatness.

Oh, the Iliad! In our society, the Odyssey always takes center stage, but I find it boring. I love the Iliad. But if I can make a recommendation: go with a prose translation. I've never been able to get through a poetic translation. And it isn't like German where the languages are similar enough that you can do a reasonable poetic translation.

I'd skip The Lord of the Rings. If you have't read it, check out The Hobbit. I think Brave New World is the most important book for modern people to read. And are you seriously saying you haven't read The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men. That latter only takes me a couple hours to read; you ought to be able to read it in 20 minutes. Be sure to have a lot of tissue handy! I love it, but it kills me. Really: if you read it, you should have Cannery Row right beside you so you can start it and stop the crying.

I'm glad Buddy is working out. He sounds delightful. The next step is for you to post videos of him.

The Good Typist said...

Thanks for the book suggestions, Frank. For some reason, I find thought of reading "Don Quixote" very intimidating. But perhaps I will try it, and if I do, I will go by your suggestion of the John Rutherford translation. Maybe I'll swap out that one out for Moby Dick. Moby Dick sounds really dull now. I hate over-description in books.

I never seem to have my phone at the ready when Buddy is at Peak Antics, but I'll try to capture some vids soon.