Hello readers! We’re just a few days away from the end of National Poetry Month. I’ve added two more personal readings to the public Dropbox folder I’m sharing here. This week, we’ve got “The Garden of Love” by William Blake & “Organist” by Claudia Emerson. I’m trying to keep the two that I put up related some way, so I hope you enjoy these new readings!
Electric Forest by Tanith Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a near-perfect society, the ugly Magdala bides her time on the edges, waiting for the small luxuries she allows herself & to eventually die unnoticed. That is until the charismatic Claudio enters her life & presents her with more than she could have ever dreamed: beauty &, with it, power. Little does she know the price that she must pay for this fantasy.
If I could, I would give this as a fuck-you-very-much present to the character Roman DeBeers. Because the story certainly comes across as if Tanith Lee wrote it on a fit of pique, where every justification she gave for the story & its structure is driven by “because I say so.” Why is this story about a futuristic society presented as a book? Because it’s a part of an academic presentation & because I say so. Why is the subject avatars & displaced consciousness? Because the idea of changing personas can be used in unhealthy ways & because I say so. Why should readers who like “hard sci-fi” be interested in what is ultimately a story about relationships & self-perception? Because we should not “ignore the nakedness of humanity before the huge-wheeled vehicle of progress”, oh, and BECAUSE I SAY SO.
While the story itself is captivating (it is really more of a traditional noir story reskinned with tech), I found myself drawn to Forest’s meta-ness & how the main character flits in & out of awareness of the greater forces around her. I found myself not moved by Magdala’s struggle to define & redefine herself through her trials but by the pure idealism presented in the epilogue. It is a truly authentic statement about why the arts, literature, & chosen illusion remain important in a society that is constantly looking forward & outstripping its reach with cold purpose. But I’ve also read other stories by Lee & I know that her idealism is never starry-eyed & is always waiting to be grounded by reality. I loved it & will probably reread it soon to pick apart its structure with my new insights.
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Poetry Month is winding down & since I had been reminiscing about Thursday Poems at my college recently, I thought I would put up a few readings. Right now, there are just two poems in this Dropbox folder: “When All My Five and Country Senses See” by Dylan Thomas & “This Is a Photograph of Me” by Margaret Atwood. But I’ll be adding to it over the next few days & posting updates here for those who are interested. Enjoy!
Green Tea and Other Ghost Stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I recently got this little Dover Thrift collection as part of a boxed set of mystery & supernatural stories. I chose to read Le Fanu first because Carmilla is on my to-read list & I wanted to get a taste of what this author’s style was like. Unfortunately, the four stories presented here did not give me much to go on. The first story “Green Tea” was interesting enough & had a sort of Hawthorne-esque twist to it, where the reader doesn’t really know if the supernatural hallucinations are a product of the character’s guilt, some physical ailment or an actual batch of bad green tea. (If it is that last option, than this story becomes an unintentionally hilarious cautionary tale for this former Mormon reader.) However, the last three stories are all variations on deals with the devils or bad karma, with two of them being nearly identical.
I find myself wondering if I’m missing something. I’m uncertain if this is simply a poor collection or whether Le Fanu’s Victorian prose has a subtext that I’m not picking up due to his circumspect style. I do still want to read Carmilla at some point, but right now, I’m not much impressed with these stories.
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The White Album by Joan Didion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The White Album: a collection of essays by Joan Didion covering a phase of disillusionment she suffered in her thirties with the upheavals of the American 1960s & the paranoia of the 70s as its narrative backdrop.
This book proves to me that sometimes a book or an author just has to come to you at the right time. I had previously read Blue Nights & found myself underwhelmed with much of it. I picked up Album partially because some of it had shown up in an episode of You Must Remember This & partially because I felt ready to give Didion a second chance. As I read further, I found myself deeply empathetic to Didion’s bewilderment of living in a time where violence & chaos seemed part of everyday life, mistrust underscored every relationship & experience, & with Didion’s own confusion about what her role was supposed to be in her developing family & Californian community. Her words were a odd comfort to me, a conflicted thirty-something trying to figure out how to get through the current troubles racking American society in 2017.
Even the essays which would seem dated today, like the development of the first HOV lane or reflections on the lofty ambitions that created the Hoover Dam or the Governor’s Mansion built by the Reagans before they left for the White House, have fascinating connections to today’s crumbling infrastructure, the rogue Park Service’s struggle to maintain public lands, & the hollow display of wealth in American politics. Reading Didion’s subjects also emerged, to me, as a clearer influence on Claire Vaye Watkins & helped me understand some of Gold Fame Citrus better. (Although, there is some very clear class conflict that Didion recognizes but is unable or uninterested in pursing further.)
Because of these personal associations with reading The White Album, I can’t promise that another reader will have the same epiphanic moments as myself. But I do think that the collection is still powerful & will move readers in unexpected ways.
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