books


Random quote of the day:

“Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren’t real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books. All too often, that’s more than Mummy and Daddy know; for, in denying their childhood, the adults have denied half their knowledge, and are left with the sad, sterile little fact: ‘Unicorns aren’t real.’”

—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Language of the Night

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Currently reading:

(Subtitle: The life and mysterious death of Scottish churchman and scholar Robert Kirk and his influential treatise on fairy folklore.)

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I have two novels that are fighting it out for my attention, one about goddesses and one about Faery with a substantial appearance by the Rev. Robert Kirk of The Secret Commonwealth fame who has been after me for years to tell a version of his story. They have been team tagging me for months, first one then the other.

But both novels are wrapped in a cloud of ennui and exhaustion that is summer seasonal affective disorder, with a side of pandemic miasma. My health hasn’t been great the last few months, most especially the last two weeks, so that is adding to the funk. Nothing serious, I don’t think, but chronic. Which means that any progress I make on these two novels is sporadic at best.

I am so not alone in this. I know many creators who are facing similar struggles, but I do feel that I’ve slipped my mooring and am drifting in circles, becalmed in a Sargasso Sea.

I get occasional signs from the universe that it isn’t done with me yet, and the Sargasso, beneath its floating mat of seaweed, is a fertile region of biodiversity for many species. But I fear mine will  wonder if I have another novel in me? And if I do, is it only one? Will I be able to finish both of these projects? I don’t know the answer to that.

All I can do is to keep chipping away at the marble, hoping that the form within will eventually reveal itself and come to life: a real flesh and blood woman. Or man. I have no preferences. Only a forlorn hope. And two metaphors, neither of which I can choose between.

Random quote of the day:

“Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.”

—Salman Rushdie, Independent on Sunday, 4 February 1990

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“It is from books that wise men derive consolation in the troubles of life.”

—Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea (tr. W. Moy Thomas)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love, and like that colossal adventure it is an experience of great social import. Even as the tranced swain, the booklover yearns to tell others of his bliss.”

—Christopher Morley, Pipefuls

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote.”

—Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Librarians are wonderful people, partly because they are, on the whole, unaware of how dangerous knowledge is. Karl Marx upended the political landscape of the twentieth century sitting at a library table. Still, modern librarians are more afraid of ignorance than they are of the political devastation that knowledge can bring.”

—Walter Mosley, The Long Fall

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Review (plus a personal note): Round in Circles: Poltergeists, Pranksters, and the Secret History of Cropwatchers by Jim Schnabel.

Mr. Schnabel wrote this book in the 1990s, an American post-graduate student living in England and specializing in science writing. He himself turned hoaxer after studying the phenomena and, more closely, those caught up in the excitement of the phenomena. What I really liked about this book is that he manages to show the parade of human folly and the will to believe—the need to believe—without being mean-spirited. There’s plenty of understated humor, but mostly he allows people to display their nature in their own words. He captures the awe while still showing the painful and hilarious lengths people will go to protect their pet theories (and continue to get media attention and earn dollars, to boot). Even when these theories are debunked, some still can’t let go, resorting to conspiracy theories and black magic tales to save face.

The book demonstrates, although this was probably not Mr. Schnabel’s intent, how Trickster manipulates us all. Whether that trickster is embedded in human psychology or an outside force I will leave to others to decide for themselves. Mr. Schnabel admits that there is something mysterious at work which compels people to go into the fields and make pictograms and other ephemeral art in the secret dead of night. He does quite a nice job of evoking that mystery and compulsion. And when something genuinely unexplainable happens—a tractor driver caught on film being buzzed by a mysterious metallic orb comes to mind—Mr. Schnabel doesn’t shy away from showing it and doesn’t try to explain things away with strained rationalization. Even if the vast majority of these circles are hoaxes, he allows wiggle room, a tacit suggestion that perhaps a few may have some other explanation. The cropwatchers, however, are so caught up in their own theories that it’s an all or nothing for them. Mr. Schnabel lets us draw our own conclusions, and one of those is that many of the cropwatchers were missing out on a much grander mystery: that of the human imagination.

A Personal Note

I admit: I drank the Kool-Aid back in the day. I was swept up in the wonder and awe of the crop circles. To this day, even accepting the hoaxing, even after decades of serious disenchantment with the New Age, one of my regrets is that I missed seeing this formation by only two weeks:

Formed in July, it was harvested in mid-September, and I was at Silbury Hill in late September. I didn’t find out that I’d missed it until I was already back in the States.

But my awe didn’t need to actually witness one of these for myself to be caught up in the sensation of it all. Especially after this beauty appeared in a field near Alton Barnes in 1990 (a village I visited in 1988) and was broadcast all over the world:

The phenomena was evolving! The messages were getting more complex! I even incorporated a part of this one in some of the artwork I was making at the time:

And therein hangs a tale. Because it turns out most of the crop circles were all about art. Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, two 60-somethings, finally came forward and admitted they had started the craze and were doing circles as far back as the 70s “for a laugh” and for the pure joy of making large folk art in the fields. They never claimed to have made all the circles, although the newspaper that broke the story said they did, but D&D showed it was possible to hoax even the complex shapes that crop circle aficionados claimed (and still claim, some of them) could not have been done by the hand of man.

And that’s what catches Schnabel himself up in the hoaxing craze: the pure joy of being out in the English countryside in the darkness and making something bigger, grander, more magical than his individual self. And therein hangs another tale. These lovely things don’t need to be made by UFOs or earth spirits or fairies because all of those things live inside us, we complexly-layered human beings who often respond emotionally to things our intellects can’t grasp entirely. Trickster ties threads to our hands and feet, making us dance in the fields with crop stompers and think it’s all our idea.

Sure, it’s our idea. On the surface. But beneath the swirled grain of our imaginations lies a whole chthonic realm where other forces call the dance.

The Crop Circles

Round and round in a circle,
but not a circle: a cipher—
blank, yet potent with meaning,
universal and profoundly personal.
Each eye that falls on the corn
sees their own life rippling
through the wind in the fields:
their deceit, the circles deceit;
their pain, the circles pain;
their joy, their sorrow,
their wonder and fear
all caught in the circles’ round
and etched in the corn.
And what is the true meaning
of the patterns in the fields?
Only the same meaning
that each day brings:
I know that I do not know.

—PJ Thompson

(If any of you are interested in seeing more of that metalwork piece, I’ve put the pictures beneath the cut.)

(more…)

Chuck Kinder may be a metafictional wonder boy, but this book often tried my patience. I didn’t give up on it, though many times I wanted to. I would put it down, sometimes for weeks at a time, but I’d always circle back because I couldn’t quite give up on it. And these days, when I’m notorious for abandoning books because “life is too short” that’s something of a backhanded compliment.

You see, this book is what Chuck Kinder calls “faction”—that is, a memoir that’s even more loose with the facts than most memoirs. Mr. Kinder states repeatedly that he’s a storyteller above all else and never lets the facts of his life get in the way of a good story. Born and raised in West Virginia, he pays loving and cynical attention to his quirky home state, speaking of its history and its legends, everything from Matewan to Mothman. As fast and loose as he plays with the facts of his own life, when he’s talking about history and legends (as far as I can tell) he plays it fairly straight. Oh, he may insert himself into the headspace of the historical actors —which makes the narrative come alive in quite wondrous ways sometimes, if I’m honest—but he does tell the story down to its bones. In these days of the internet, it’s easy to call his bluff there, and some of these oddball characters have presences you can even look up on YouTube (Jessico White, for one).

I was good with all of that. Enjoyed that part of the ride. What Mr. Kinder had to say in these passages was often beautiful and heart-wrenching; or oddly, spookily, legendarily interesting; or downright funny. A lot of funny. When he talked about the history and legends of West Virginia (“Planet West Virginia” as he referred to it), you could feel his love for the place and its people and the craziness he grew up with.

Unfortunately, he frequently interspersed these bits with references to his own bad boy past and present, and those passages smelled of stale testosterone. I am so over reading about bad boys and posing tough guys, whether they are teenagers or fifty-somethings. He often doesn’t name the people in his life, or only by pseudonyms and nicknames—either to protect their innocence or to turn them into characters he can fudge facts about. Again, I wouldn’t have minded the faction about his relatives, but his wrenching everything back to stories about his bad boy status got tiresome, and interrupted the flow of the rest of the narrative. And that, as the saying goes, got on my last nerve.

But I did finish Last Mountain Dancer, so there is that.

Some ignoramus has posted a video on YouTube showing Frank Sinatra with Nat King Cole actually singing the song, “L.O.V.E.” This is the wonderful and classy Nat King Cole:


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Two hours without WiFi and I was hyperventilating. Fortunately, it was a simple fix, but I may have an addiction problem.
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Tommy. His eyes were actually a soulful gray, not blue. He was in his forties and had done his soldiering during World War I. He became a special police officer during World War II so the younger men could go and fight.

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I found an old keepsake box buried amongst a lot of, well, junk. Some genuine keepsakes inside the box, but also some very old story rejection letters from some of the top magazines, stuff I sent out when I was probably barely out of high school. All form letters, of course. I decided my nostalgia did not stretch to holding on to those any longer. I Kondo’d their a*ses.
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That feeling when something seemingly minor turns dark and deep and symbolic…

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I WILL NOT JOIN FACEBERG, no matter how many paranormal and Outlander live events they host. I WILL NOT become part of the evil empire! I WILL NOT! (Although I did succumb a little bit and joined Instagram. Mostly as a lurker.)
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What to do with all these calendars that people gave me because they didn’t know what else to give me? I only need one and that’s the one with kitties that I bought myself.
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Sometimes I look at my house and pity the person who, when I die, will have to clean out and dispose of ALL THESE BOOKS. But mostly I pity the books.
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Zero results from the Iowa Caucus are just about right if you consider Iowa’s relative importance to reflecting the diversity of the United States. They give such outsized importance to Iowa and New Hampshire. Nothing against either of those states but they’re hardly representative of the rest of the country. Yet because somebody gets defeated in either Iowa or New Hampshire often they’re eliminated from the race.
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I get nonsense phrases stuck in my head sometimes. When I was doing research for the WIP on Nazi occult matters recently, the nonsense phrase in my cranial echo chamber was, “Otto Rahn on the Autobahn.” Research earworms. I have a weird brain. Fortunately, “Otto Rahn on the Autobahn” made me laugh.
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Ray Bradbury famously said about writing, “Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.” I’m at that stage of my current WIP where I’m wondering if I’ve jumped off the wrong goddamned cliff.
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I’ve been reading Last Mountain Dancer by Chuck Kinder on and off for about a month. It’s both an interesting and irritating book so I’m not sure I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. I keep reading because it’s about West Virginia where Kinder was born and raised and when he talks about that place, the book sings. Then he goes off into the woods talking about his extramarital affairs and his bad boy ways and it gets boring. (I am so done with middle-aged male angst.)

But yeah, when he talks about what a remarkable and strange place West Virginia is on so many levels it’s worth the read. He goes into many legends, those arising from the tragedies of Matewan and the coal mine bosses, as well as Mothman and other less well-known oddities. It turns out his mother was born and raised in Point Pleasant, WV, home of Mothman, and that her maiden name was Parsons—which will have some meaning to those who follow Hellier.
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I was watching a show on Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda where they’ve discovered lots of messages to and from soldiers. In one of them the soldier refers to the tribes they were trying to keep north of the wall as “Britunculi”: “nasty little Britains.” My people!
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Hellier has made me way too map conscious. Every time I see something weird about a place I always have to find out where it is in relation to Point Pleasant or Somerset or Hellier or whatever. And it’s kind of amazing how much weirdness connects up.

I say this knowing full well how much the human mind longs for linkages and synchronicities.
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Lewis Black: “Trump is good for comedy the way a stroke is good for a nap.”
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Patrick Stewart was on Colbert the other week talking about when he was younger he and Ben Kingsley were here in LA doing Shakespeare, along with some other actors of the RSC. He said he and Ben went to Hollywood because they were excited to see the hand- and footprints at the Chinese theater (Sir Pat recently joined the famous hand- and footprints there). But the whole time he’s talking I was remembering being a young undergraduate at UCLA where Sir Pat and Sir Ben were doing those Shakespeare performances. During the day when they were not rehearsing or going to Hollywood all of the actors from the RSC would come to classrooms where Shakespeare and theater were being taught, talk to the students, and give impromptu performances. I was lucky enough to be in two such classes. One was Shakespeare, the other on Modern Theatre. I snuck into a third class taught in the theater department and held in an auditorium, but the other two were small English department classrooms. I was lucky enough to sit no more than 6-10 feet away from Sir Pat and Sir Ben while they answered questions and did impromptu performances. Utterly thrilling, even though neither of them was famous at that time. They were just masterful actors doing amazing performances up close and personal. Sir Ben still had his hair back then. Sir Pat did not. But his voice was that rich dark chocolate even back then. PRESENCE, both of them, and I never forgot.
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There’s hope, I think, even thought the GOP did not have the guts to do the right thing. During the impeachment trial I called my doctor’s office and the answering service picked up. As she took my message I heard the impeachment trial playing in the background. America is listening. We won’t forget. I hope they still remember next November.

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