Saturday, February 03, 2018

The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories

So, I’ve now read my first Tolstoy. Not War and Peace. I haven’t the strength yet. I read a collection called The Kreutzer Sonata, which contains three longish short stories: "How Much Land Does a Man Need," "The Death of Ivan Ilych," and "The Kreutzer Sonata.”

Before I talk about the stories, some folks might ask me why I waited so long to read Tolstoy. I’m nearing my sixth decade. I blame high school English and literature classes. I already loved reading before I started Junior high. I read a bit of everything but particularly enjoyed animal stories, football tales, westerns, and SF/Fantasy. I hadn’t really been introduced to the “classics,” but in school we read such offerings as “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Silas Marner,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Grapes was about farmers, which my family was. It was long, with no action, and the settings were very familiar. When I reread it as an adult I appreciated it. But not as a teenager. As for “Silas Marner,” I still think it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Gatsby was actually rather enjoyable because it introduced me to a world I didn’t know, but it still didn’t have the excitement I craved. And Scarlet Letter was much the same, interesting, but not a page turner. I decided after these experiences that the “classics” were generally unimaginative, long, dealt strictly with internal rather than external experiences, and, worst of all, were boring.

In my mid-twenties I came back to the “classics” when I started reading Hemingway and realized that things ‘can’ happen in classic tales. “The Old Man and the Sea” is a great example. I also came to appreciate internal experiences more, and since that time I’ve read a lot of the classics but have certainly not caught up with everything I should read.

And now for Tolstoy and this collection. Seeing as how this is a translation, I can’t make much judgement about Tolstoy’s prose directly. These tales are well and simply told. There’s not much beauty in the prose—in the translation, but there is excellent scene setting and Tolstoy seems able to involve you in the tale quickly. The stories are long and a bit slow for modern readers, but it’s not unbearable and the interesting things that happen keep you reading. I gave the collection four stars, which is pretty darn good. With the exception of “How Much Land,” and the ending of “The Kreutzer Sonata,” these stories are almost exclusively “internal experiences.” Almost no action, mostly telling, with very little showing. Despite these negatives, the tales are compelling, especially “Ivan Ilych” and “Kreutzer.” They are compelling because they lay out moment by moment high level emotional destruction of a human being, and they are paced nearly perfectly to wring the most out of the reader.

“The Death of Ivan Ilych” is just that, a story about one man coming to grips with his impending death. The fears, the hopes, the pleading. They are all there in superb detail. I found the ending excruciating and was glad of it. “The Kreutzer Sonata” is about the destruction of a marriage through jealousy. The last sections of that are also excruciating but pretty close to ‘page turning’ intensity. The internalized experiences of the characters in these stories rang absolutely “true” to me, and that is the mark of a very good observer of human behavior. Tolstoy certainly hit the mark square center. I highly recommend this collection.

I’ve already picked up another collection of Tolstoy’s short stories and will start reading that soon. And then? Maybe War and Peace.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book List: Prices and Inventory

I suppose the new year is a good time to put this kind of thing up. Below is an inventory list of my books--meaning the ones I have in my house for sale. With prices attached. Most of these prices are better than you could get online. Some of them are pretty cheap, actually. And I could sign these copies if anyone were interested. A few of the ones on this list are very limited in number. I have only one Mage, Maze, Demon, for example, and one Strange Worlds. Those two I will not be getting more copies of, but everything else I can generally get more copies if needed. Of course, if you buy from me there is likely to be some postage costs. These are relatively minimal in the US but generally much, much higher for international mail. If you should be interested, you can email me at cagramlich11 at gmail dot com



(4)   COLD IN THE LIGHT----  $8

(13) SWORDS OF TALERA---- $12:50
(8)   WINGS OVER TALERA---- $12:50
(6)   WITCH OF TALERA---- $12:50
(2)   WRAITH OF TALERA---- $12:50
(2)   GODS OF TALERA---- $12:50

TALERA TRILOGY ----         $35

(12) BITTER STEEL---- $12:50
(9) MIDNIGHT IN ROSARY---- $12:50


(1) MAGE, MAZE, DEMON---- $5

(8) HARMLAND---- DARK TALES---- $5

(6) KILLING TRAIL---- $5

(6) UNDER THE EMBER STAR---- $12:50

(4) WRITE WITH FIRE----  $18


 (1) STRANGE WORLDS---- $12.50

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Two Strange Movies

So, thanks to Lana, I recently watched two movies that I would never have seen on my own. I liked one of them quite a lot and one not so much, but I'm glad Lana urged me out of my comfort zone on these.

Movie 1: The Lobster, 2015. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Wiesz. This is an absolutely absurd film about an SF dystopia. If you want to know the details of the plot, you can find it on Wikipedia. I won't repeat it. Basically, in the world of this movie, it is unacceptable to be single. Single people are taken to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a partner, or they will be turned into an animal. They get to chose the animal, and Collin Farrell's character choses a lobster.

Farrell doesn't really want to become a lobster, though, so he strives to find a relationship. For a relationship to work in this world, it requires that the two individuals share some trait. One couple gets together because they both have nose bleeds, for example (although the man is faking it).

Farrell's character tries to start a relationship with a very cruel woman but cannot carry off faking his own cruelty. He flees the hotel and runs into a bunch of "loners" in the woods. Farrell's character is short sighted and he meets a loner woman (Weisz) who is also short sighted. However, the loners will not allow relationships so they have to hide their attraction to each other.

Throughout the whole movie, every character's dialogue and actions are delivered almost entirely deadpan. This adds to the absurdity of the situation. As with most artsy movies, the ending is left open-ended. I have to say, though, that I enjoyed this movie and was particularly interested in the dystopian world it envisions. I wouldn't mind reading a book that gave more detail about the world but apparently there isn't one.

Movie 2: Melancholia, 2011. Directed by Lars Von Trier. Stars Kirsten Dunst and Keifer Sutherland, among many other fairly big names. This is really a movie about depression. The big metaphor in the film is of a rogue planet named "Melancholia," which has entered our solar system and is supposed to swing close past earth. However, the first part of the movie barely touches on the planet.

Dunst's character is Justine. The movie starts on her wedding day. She and her husband are late to their wedding reception, but at first everything seems wonderful and they seem much in love. Gradually, the reception becomes a train wreck as Justine's depression comes fully into play. Her father is a dilettante and lush, her mother a vicious hag. Her sister, Claire, has some anxiety issues of her own but is generally trying to keep things together. Claire's husband, John (Sutherland) doesn't have much tolerance for Justine or her mother, but does have genuine affection for his wife and son. If you want to know more details of the plot you can find it here.

Although the acting is good, I found the first part of the movie to be pretty boring. I didn't really like any of the characters, particularly Justine. I sympathized with her depression initially, but when she began to behave in deliberately cruel ways I lost that sympathy.

The second half of the movie focuses more on Claire, Justine's sister, but it also brings to the forefront the plot with the planet Melancholia. Claire has heard that the planet will crash into Earth, while her husband, John, insists that it will only pass close by. This was interesting to me, and the visuals of Melancholia growing in the sky were great. My next couple of paragraphs are going to reveal the ending, so if you don't want spoilers you shouldn't read on. However, the beginning of the movie essentially reveals the ending anyway in a slow motion series of beautiful, digitally produced artistic images.

It turns out that John is wrong. The planet is going to crash into Earth. John cannot handle this and kills himself, abandoning his wife and child. This seemed completely out of character to me. Claire is left, panic stricken, to take care of her son. Justine is also there and now the movie tries to make Justine into the strong one. It doesn't work because Justine continues to exhibit cruelty and her solution to dealing with the impending destruction of earth is lie to the child about a "magic cave" that they can build to save them. The very end shows Justine, Claire, and the boy inside a haphazard construction of cut poles as Melancholia hits Earth.

Although I don't consider the time spent watching this movie to be a waste, as is sometimes the case with movies, I definitely did not like the movie. I thought it was well filmed and well acted but it was way too long, tried to make heroes of characters who were not heroes and tried to make cowards of characters who were not cowards. In a movie, or a book, the viewer or reader has to get to know the characters. It's a delicate thing to keep those characters true to the way they've been developed while still presenting new sides to them, but it is crucial. This movie didn't quite achieve that, in my opinion.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Year's Beginning: 2018

If you talk of 2017 now, you have to tell it like a ghost story. That year is dead, though I'm not sure it's buried. 2018 is fresh and vigorous, still feeling its sap rising. But life is like a gothic novel. The roots of the new grow out of the sins of the past. Nothing that "is" can escape the chains of what "was." And the older you get, the more "was" there is to deal with. The challenge, I guess, is to let the old inform the new without warping it.

I'm old enough now to have seen quite a few children grow up. I've seen them come into the world much like the new year, vigorous, curious, innocent. The innocence always goes. But some maintain their vigor and curiosity long after others have lost theirs. I wonder, were their childhoods less warping than those others? Did their roots start in a field free of sin, or relatively so, at least? Or do they have some inner strength, biologically given perhaps, that those others do not?

On a quiet day at work, with little to distract my thoughts, this is the kind of thing my mind turns to. Although my innocence is gone and my vigor diminished, it would seem that my curiosity has survive--although it has taken a morbid turn. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year's End: 2017

2017! An unusual year for me. It started off pretty good, got better, got bad for a while, then picked up again. At the moment I’m feeling pretty good. I sure hope that rolls over into 2018. I don’t live a terribly exciting life. One big surprise was being named as an influence by the new mayor of New Orleans. That was nice. I was also featured a couple of times in the local paper and nice things were said about my writing. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big year for sales of my books, although I didn’t do much to push it this year. I also did not submit as much as I usually do.

On the writing front itself, I did finish The Scarred One, a western novella/novel that I started working on a couple of years ago. I also self published a print version of my western collection, Killing Trail, under the pseudonym Tyler Boone. In October, Cold in the Light, my first published novel, went out of print. I went through it and did a fairly minor rewrite, and will be submitting it and The Scarred One for potential publication in 2018. I’ve also got a novella called “The Razored Land” that I want to submit next year. Finally, I wrote a lot of poetry this year, far more than has been typical of me in the past.

This marks the 5th year that I’ve been keeping a word count on my production. I wrote a little more than 50,000 words of fiction and nonfiction intended for publication. That’s about the same as last year. It’s up from 2015, when I did about 44,000, but down from 2013 and 2014, with 80,000 and over 100,000 respectively. I’d like to shoot for 100,000 next year, but that seems unlikely since in the spring I’m going to be teaching introductory psychology, which I haven’t taught in 20 years. That means quite a bit more work for me.

Word count is actually pretty misleading for me, anyway. For example, I spent a couple of weeks revising Cold in the Light but actually took out words from its original count. How do I figure that into a word count? Also, I don’t count wordage from my blog posts or my journal, since those are not intended for publication. My journal for 2017, which does include my blog posts, is around 40,000 words. That’s down from years past.

Besides writing, everyone here knows I’m also a big reader. I mark my “year in books” from one birthday to the next, but Goodreads, of course, does it by calendar year. According to Goodreads, I read 69 books in 2017, 17,720 pages, at an average of 257 pages per book. The shortest book I read was Goodnight Moon, a kid’s story, at 32 pages. The longest was the SF book, Earth, by David Brin, at 704 pages. My average rating across all those book was 3.5 stars. The most popular book I read was The Girl on the Train, reviewed by over 200,000 people. The least popular was reviewed by 0 folks other than me, and that was Incredible Football Feats, which was published in 1974.

Some of my favorite reads for 2017: My Grandmother Danced, by Eve Brouwer, a wonderful novel told in poetic form. I also loved Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, a poetry/prose chapbook by Bruce Boston and Robert Frazier. My favorite YA book was The Summer of Moonlight Secrets by Danette Haworth, although I also much enjoyed Lad: A Dog, by Albert Terhune. My favorite writing related book was Bestseller Metrics by Elaine Ash. A really fine, and uniquely written, fantasy novel that I enjoyed was Helen’s Daimones by S. E. Lindberg. A great short horror novel that I read was Dark Hours, by Sidney Williams.

I got back into Dean Koontz in 2017, after a couple of years away, and enjoyed his Frankenstein series. I very much enjoyed Ravenheart and Stormrider by David Gemmell. I loved me some Ed Gorman westerns. Perhaps my least favorite read of the year was Big Lobo, A Nevada Jim Western.

I don’t make resolutions anymore. There are certain things I will try to do. I will try to read and write as much as I can without ignoring my wife and son and other important folks in my world, and without losing my job. I’ll try to eat good food but not quite as much. I’ll try for plenty of naps and walks in nature. I’ll try to be a good person to the best of my abilities. Hope you all have a great 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

For the Love of Negatives

If you think people don't respond more strongly to negatives than to positives, then here's an example. In 2008, I reviewed Hubert Selby Jr's. Requiem for a Dream (the novel) on Goodreads. I didn't like it and made my feelings clear. The book is, in my opinion, all telling with almost no showing, and pretentious on top of that. Selby considered himself above the need to put individual character’s dialogue in separate paragraphs, and preferred such constructions as “Im” and “youre” over “I’m and “you’re.” I’m sure he did these things on purpose, and that makes it far worse to me. But certainly, if people like that sort of thing then have at it. As they say, it’s no skin off my nose.

Interestingly, though, I am "still" getting comments on that review, here at the end of 2017. I got one today. Overall, it has garnered 52 comments, many of them supportive of my views but plenty that responded with personal insults against my intelligence. In contrast, my review of Robert E. Howard's "Sowers of the Thunder," one of my favorite books, has gotten one like and no comments. My review of “The Snow Leopard,” by Peter Matthiessen, which ‘is’ my favorite book, has also gotten one like and no comments.

What is that old saw about which wolf lives, the good one or the bad one? The answer is, the one you feed. I don’t believe we have to avoid negative statements or negative reviews. Folks should make clear if they don’t like something, and why. But I also believe we need to promote what we find good and worthy. That’s why I’ve been doing blog posts about my “favorite” books in various genres—not the worst books in those genres.

What do you love?