Friday, November 02, 2007

Lagoon Blues

I have finally finished it. Library of America's first offering, Herman Melville's first three books, has taken me almost four months to complete. I believe I have to pay Timberland Library's $10 Collection Fee for having held on to it so long. I nearly abandoned it but stubborness prevailed.

The problem wasn't with the first two novels, Typee and Omoo, it was his philosophical nightmare Mardi, which is longer than the first two books combined, that took forever.

Melville was twelve when his father died, leaving the family in debt. He worked on his Uncle's farm, and also worked as a clerk and bookkeeper elsewhere. He was able to return to school and also published two anonymous sketches.

A couple months before turning twenty Herman Melville sailed across the Atlantic as a crew member for a trading ship. A few months after returning he was among the first crew of the Acushnet, a Whaling Ship. Nineteen months into the voyage Melville and a companion deserted at Nukuhiva in the Marquesas Islands. His one month there, greatly exagerated, became Typee.

Herman was able to join an Australian Whaler but was incarcerated at Tahiti having been accused of mutiny. He and a friend escaped, holding down odd jobs there and the surrounding isles for what would be the basis for Omoo.

After joining up with a new Nantucket Whaler Melville ended up discharged in Hawaii where he joined the Navy and eventually made it back home having been gone over four years.

Typee was written and the manuscript sent with his brother to London where it was published. Being successful there, it was then published in America. His portrayal of naked natives and their relaxed sexuality, along with his harsh criticism of Missionaries, resulted in a tenth of the American edition being censored.

I was already well familiar with chapter one, which ends with Nukuhiva's Queen scandalizing the French Navy by showing the tatoos under her skirt, when I saw my Father-in-Law had a copy of the book. It claimed to be the uncut, unexpurgated version. It wasn't. Seeing that it was published in the 90s I found out that there's still two versions floating around, and that many readers might not be getting the full story.

Melville published Typee and its sequel Omoo as non-fiction. There were some who doubted him, so when he tackled fiction in Mardi he placed his tongue firmly inside the cheek and reasoned that the public, doubting the facts of his non-fiction, would accept as truth something made up.

When I first read Moby-Dick I told people it'd be a great story if about 700 pages were cut out. I say the same about Mardi. A few days ago when I was trying to finish it I realized that I had no remembrance about how the characters got on their voyage, or why Taji the narrator was searching for the illusive Yillah. The book was so long and boring, and took so many weeks to finish (what with me sometimes lucky to read two pages per night) that I couldn't be bothered to retain anything. There were clever and profound passages but I never bothered marking them down. It was as if I too was on a long, fruitless voyage, a futile quest for Yillah.

I was hoping that I might be able to go through the entire Library of America catalog. However, at this rate, it would literally take me over seventy years.

Where'd the last two years go?

I deleted them. The last two years were pathetic for keeping The Taze Files updated. There was very little of substance worth preserving. Here's what I bothered keeping.

Feb. 13, 2006

from Alice in Wonderland

For as long as I can remember I was always bored with the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. It didn't have any memorable songs, the turn-when-you-hear-the-chimes record and book set I had in the 70s was retarded, and when I finally had a chance to see it on The Disney Channel in the 80s I had better things to do.

Screw the movie and screw Disney. The source, the book, there is the masterpiece.

Any scholar of Children's Lit knows the deal with Alice's creator. I have a previous post on Lewis Carroll's biography which serves as a fine text-book. Once you know his ways, his contemporaries, and his style you'll be able to dissect his books for all the puns and statements layered throughout.

Fortunately, unlike Swift's book from nearly two centuries before, this is not necessary to experience Alice. The better puns don't require a Who's Who of 19th Century Oxford. The poems and parodies are priceless (being better remembered than their sources which have disappeared into scholarly obscurity.)


In school we're taught that Alice's journey represents a girl's struggle to "fit in" (hence all the growing and shrinking) in a world that doesn't make sense, with everything that "seems right" leading to unforseen consequences.

It's possible, after all Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a genius. However, he created the story from scratch while on a boat ride with Alice Liddell and her sisters one fine July 4th while America was in the middle of the Civil War. He presented her a copy of his story later on, and was encouraged to publish it. He tidied it up a bit, but most of what we know was invented on the spot.

I've always liked the Father William and the Walrus/Carpenter poems, but there's one part, early on, that I like best. I don't know why. It's kind of stupid.

Alice had grown so large while inside the White Rabbit's house that she was trapped. When he came home he feared the apparent monster and summoned help. The lizard Bill was sent down the chimney after her but a swift kick sent him flying.

Now who, when the weight of home and responsibilities seems to be crushing down on their shoulders, wouldn't want to boot a bill that had been sent to them clear over the horizon?

Feb. 13, 2006

from B is for Burglar

In the first book Kinsey killed someone. In the second book she was battered and shot. In a period of barely a month she's worked two cases that ended up with four dead bodies after the fact. This is normal when it's not the real world.

The methods in the first book were plausible. The methods in the second book, while possible, were more unlikely. Wait until the third book, you've seen nothing yet.

Feb. 21, 2006

from Through the Looking-Glass

Even before there was really such a thing as a sequel they rarely held up to the original. Take the opening paragraphs of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there. Compare them to the opening page of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The first book starts off the action right away, while the second is about as exciting as having your face washed by a cat.

When Carroll wrote this it was already a decade after his first masterpiece. His beloved Alice Liddell was an adult and married to someone else. A picture of her around that time, available in Cohen's biography, shows her looking like a stuffed and miserable Victorian. There was the problem, and it can be found throughout this book.

The gist is that Alice is crossing a field and having adventures which can be symbolized as a chess game. The dominant theme is that, by advancing to the end and becoming a Queen, Alice is growing up. Carroll was fond of female children and often wasn't as comfortable around adults, even among those who had been his former friends. This book is Carroll's way of letting go, and he tries too hard. I mean, the first book has a theme, but Lewis created most of the story all at once during a picnic. The humor and symbolism is fresh, funny and intelligent. With the sequel it just seems too forced.


Oh yes, the White King and Queen. I guess they're alright, but the White Knight, which was Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson himself, was the most boring, overlong segment in any children's book (and I'm including Montgomery's Avonlea series in that statement.)

It makes me almost wish that Carroll had gotten his little 11 year old Nymph after all.

Feb. 27, 2006

from Peter Pan

That's the style of the book. I don't get it, and yet whenever I return to Peter Pan I can never put it down. Much like in Gus van Sant's Elephant I get it without understanding in plain English what exactly I'm getting.

Peter Pan is the purest form of a boy's adventure story ever put to paper. Of course there's the pirates and redskins but it goes beyond that. The Good sometimes have evil or otherwise unlikeable personality traits and vice versa with the villains. Also Death is a very real force, even in the fantasy world of Neverland. It's too bad Disney didn't play that to the hilt, with Peter delighting in ending the lives of stars, or his matter-of-fact conclusion that Tinkerbell, whose existance he has forgotten about, is dead.

June 19, 2006

Yesterday I unintentionally omitted a book I've been keeping in my inner coat pocket: Tristram Shandy. Like James Joyce, The Bible and Shakespeare I like to open it at random and just read anything out loud for nothing but the sound of the language. I have read the entire thing before, just like the others. Also I purchased a small copy of Sonnets From the Portugese for fifty cents on Friday. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the last of the poets I like whose works I didn't have any copies of.

I might've promised some non-fiction yesterday but if I did I'm not going to give you anything but Nickel and Dimed, a book about not getting by in America, mainly because I can't remember the author's name (It's Barbara something with an E.) If I wasn't using WebTv I'd just be able to open another window and find the info without losing what I've done here so far. And no I don't feel like just saving this as a draft and coming back to it. Maybe tomorrow.

People at work saw me reading Browning during lunch and asked if I was done with that other book?

"What book?"

"The one with the small print you were reading Friday."

So I had to tell them how I just read bits and pieces of Tristram.

June 24, 2006

Last night I picked up a copy of a book I already have but hadn't read. It, like most of my books, are packed away in storage and won't be released until I have a decent place to live (just a couple more months away, knock on wood.) I figured when I have both copies side by side I can just trade one back in at the used book store.

It's called Murder at Hogans Corner, Washington by Wallace Exum. I lived in Hogans Corner when I was in elementary school from 1981 to '84. Hogans Corner is a residential neighborhood two miles outside of Ocean Shores which had a population of "175 more or less" and was technically a Hoquiam mailing address (even though Hoquiam was 20 minutes away.)

The murder of Virginia Barsic happened in 1991. If I'm not mistaken the apartment house she lived in hadn't been built yet when I lived there. There was no McDonalds, no movie theater, no casino, no high school. Still it's eerie reading this true crime story and knowing all the streets, businesses and landmarks. When two of the assailants are hiding in tall grass behind some trees watching the others walk away from the crime scene I can remember hiding in that same grass myself many times while playing war.

While many names are changed most law enforcement officials are referred to by their given names. One of them I recognized due to his connection to other cases I've been aware of, but another one I actually knew personally way back when. More accurately my parents knew him, I knew his daughter. We were practically next door neighbors. (We lived on perpendicular streets but there were only vacant lots between our houses.) I've briefly worked with his wife a little over a year ago.

I have a great interest in True Crime stories, I watch the various crime and forensics shows on A&E religiously, and I'm a member of The Doe Network. While I had no involvement in that case it was still something on a personal level to have a connection of some sort.

Ocean Shores - Hogans Corner isn't a hot spot for crime but when it happens it's usually a tough one. The year before I lived there a second grade girl was murdered by a family friend; her body was dumped within eyesight of the house I would live in. A few years after the Barsic murder a white racist was killed in self-defence by Asian visitors in the middle of downtown Ocean Shores.

Monday, September 12, 2005

So Long, Long.

I read the second installment of Tabor Evans' Longarm series, Longarm on the Border and was so disappointed in it (compared to how well I liked the first book, and in comparison to the first ten or so books of Don Pendleton's Executioner series) that I decided to wait awhile before playing with the cheesy 70s pulps again.

Instead I've recently read some classics. First I read, in less than two hours, both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. I followed that up with J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan

Then I did myself a double whammy by not only reading adult books, but reading books I had never read before. These included A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas: Slave, Willa Cather's O Pioneers! and Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.

Last was Charlotte Gilman's lost work Herland and I've just started The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Braced with these classics I feel solid enough to say a word or two on Custis Long's second adventure. It lacked the interesting enigma which the first mystery had, the most compelling moments concern an assassination attempt in the beginning which is neither followed through nor has any relation to the rest of the story, and like the first book Longarm takes his pants off too many times to be realistic and more explicitly depicted than a fan of action-western-mysteries cares to experience. The one exception, where Long's two current fuck-buddies find out about each other and decide to combine their talents for a threesome instead of kicking him to the curb does not get the same amount of coverage as the rest.

Long didn't do much case-solving, pretty much found himself moving along due to external circumstances and convinced me not to bother with #3 anytime soon, if ever.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Executioner #2

Death Squad by Don Pendleton

But wherefore thou alone? Wherefore with thee Came not all hell broke loose?
John Milton, Paradise Lost

What is Hell? The most common description is of a fiery underworld where the souls of the damned are punished eternally. The vision believed by most is of a world made solely of fire or lava. It is a fire which burns yet doesn't consume. It causes a pain that will never be satiated. Despite the fire Hell is supposed to be absent of light. The darkness, comparable to the Egyptian plague, is a supernatural state of being incomprehensive to us on Earth. It represents the chaos that was before God separated light from dark.

There are many who don't believe in Hell. Their arguments come from all directions: some say there never was a God or anything supernatural in the first place, some say that a loving God would never create a realm whose purpose is the torment of his creation, and yet others point out its emergence from the Babylonian exile and its origins in the Zoroastrian faith.

Many believe Hell to not be a physical realm, but a state of being, namely the absence of God from one's life. Those who don't see the world from the Christian point of view might define it as a place where evil reigns supreme. A warzone, a crime-riddled ghetto, a corrupt government. Yet someone who saw their child killed, or who is ridiculed unjustly by their community, or who are alcoholics, or drug addicts, or suffering from pain which no doctor can help, could be said to be living a Hellish life.

Sgt. Mack Bolan was living in Hell during his Vietnam tours of duty. It was Hell for him to be called home on emergency leave after his father gunned their family down. It was Hell to learn that his father succumbed to pressure after being strong-armed by the Mafia. It was Hell to learn that the police weren't going to see it that way.

And it was Hell when Mack Bolan, The Executioner, decided to take matters into his own hands and fight America's real enemy.

Being realistic about his choice Bolan didn't expect to live long but he left his hometown's mob in ruins and then headed cross country. With a $100,000 bounty on his head and every law enforcement official on his tail The Executioner continued to live in Hell.

After meeting up with an old war buddy in California Bolan ended up recruiting nine Vietnam veterans to be mercenaries in his war. Occasionally the sarge questioned inwardly his right to involve these men in a fight that wasn't theirs and which they could not win, yet always the response was the same. These men were trained for Hell, they could only be alive while living in Hell. They brought Hell to the Los Angelos mafia then Hell was given back to them.

The original Hell was when Adam and Eve brought Death to the world and were kicked out of Paradise. Sgt. Mack Bolan is now living a new Hell, the Hell of being a survivor when others equally worthy, or more, didn't.

The Executioner books aren't exactly the best examples of top writing. Characters are rarely given a chance to be fleshed out before they're cut down. That may be necessary. With all the death this series presents it would be Hellish for a reader to get emotionally attached to a character. Unfortunately it means that many interesting creations get short-changed, especially the enemy. John Milton opened Paradise Lost with Satan's point-of-view. Although Milton considered Satan the enemy and unworthy of having an advocate he knew from a psychological stance (which is impressive concerning psychology wouldn't exist for another 300 years) that if the audience was first sympathetic towards Satan, and then experienced for themselves his treachery, lies and evilness that the impact of the Fall of Mankind would be understood better. Perhaps Don Pendleton's books could have benefitted from such detail but ultimately it doesn't matter. These are action-adventure books. The reader expects shooting and maybe a car chase or a description of strategy. The reader gets all that and then some.

Will I continue to read and write about The Executioner? Hell yes.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Mission: Clambake

The Invader's Plan by L. Ron Hubbard

You, my loyal readers, are probably fed up with my lazy posting ethics. Granted, a lot of it has to do with a combination of Summer laziness and with a lack of decent computer access. However, this time I needed to spend a lot of time researching my legal rights since I'm going to be reviewing an L. Ron Hubbard book. I didn't want their covert hostilities getting me in trouble with the FBI. Oh, by the way, if you happen to be a Clam and you're reading this: I'M BEING SARCASTIC, get over yourself, go get rid of your clingy alien spirits or whatever it is you do when you're not telling sick people that Tom Cruise can save them with exercise and vitamins.

It's obvious that L. Ron Hubbard was a paranoid liar, it's equally obvious that his followers are seven eggs short of a dozen, but despite all that I have quite enjoyed the Mission Earth series so far. There's plenty of critical websites disliking it for every reason from his marketing tactics to the grammar and syntax. But I want to be fair, I'm reviewing book one, The Invader's Plan, not Dianetics.

The book is "fiction", concerning a story that took place nearly a century ago on the make-believe planet Earth (it's obvious such a planet never existed since it's inhabitants and their primitive stupidity would never have evolved in an intelligent universe.) It contains the written confession of Soltan Gris and the truth behind Mission Earth.

The Voltarian Confederacy is a union of 110 planets that has been in existence for millenia. The conquest of those planets, and of those that will be added in the future, are done based on a timeline developed by the founding fathers over 100,000 years before. The schedule is considered the most sacred aspect of Voltarian existence.

Trouble boils over when a routine recon mission learns that the inhabitants of Blito-3 (Earth) are polluting themselves at such a rate as to make the planet useless by the time of its invasion, which isn't scheduled for a few hundred more years. The Voltarian military is already pushed to the maximum limit in their current campaign but that's neither here nor there as invading Earth early would be a gross sacrilege.

Lord Endow of the Exterior Division, machinated by Lombar Hisst of the Coordinated Information Apparatus (CIA, get it?) proposed a plan: Have an undercover agent infiltrate Earth society and introduce some minor technology that will help the inhabitants keep their environment clean (long enough for the invasion, of course.)

That plan seems sensible enough, but now comes the real plan of the story. The CIA has their own agenda for Planet Earth, and that agenda means that Mission Earth must fail. Lombar Hisst has discovered the wonders of narcotic drugs (something unique to Earth) and his plan is to make the galaxy a confederation of junkies which he can then have universal control over. Everything seems to be in his control: The supposed mission was his idea, it's implementation will be handled under his supervision, strings were pulled so that other divisions wouldn't be privy to the true knowledge of what was going on.

His flaw, however, is in the person he chose to run the mission. Jettero Heller, unbelievably perfect in everything he does, decorated many times over for courage and valor in battle despite his young age. He knows nothing of espionage and it seems a cinch that the CIA will make sure he falls flat on his face. Yet his unbelievable luck and perfection always seems to pull him ahead.

How long will that last, especially when he's finally away from all that's familiar and alone on Earth, surrounded only by Voltarians whom he doesn't know are actually against him. To make matters worse he is unaware that a tracking device has been surgically planted in him, making everything he sees and hear be recorded for Soltan Gris.

The first book concerns the preparation for the mission and Soltan's desperation to get the mission underway so he can escape creditors. The book infuses history, geography and politics at an almost Tolkienesqe level but doesn't overwhelm.

I've owned the first two books for years and have never read beyond. My reading timetable has finally decreed that the time has come, the series will be finished soon. We will see whether the books maintain the interest and suspense that made book one so enjoyable.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Grungy, Filthy, Bloody Sex

Seven Wagons West by Jon Sharpe

Apparently this book is called Seven Ways to Die in the UK. That's the most meaningful thing one could get out of this book. That, and a new batch of liners for a birdcage.

I'll warn you up front that this review is loaded with spoilers. SPOILERS! in case you were talking and not paying attention. I justify giving the ending away by reasoning that a vaguely intelligent reader would see it coming well before the halfway mark.

Skye Fargo, in his first Trailsman adventure, is hired to lead a wagon train of born-againers to a supposed silver mine from which they'll build a New Jerusalem. The party includes the Preacher and his strong-willed wife, a mousy guy with a new insatiable bride, a tight-tight-tight young schoolteacher with delusions of independence, and a few more people including a couple kids. Based on my experience with 70s era series-fiction I wasn't surprised that Fargo banged the two wives throughout the book.

After all this waggoning and fucking is done the train reaches its destination, is betrayed by one from within, and then is caught up in an Indian attack.

One by one everyone is killed, the Preacher is killed believing God will protect him as he approaches the Indians, his wife is killed long, slow and loudly via the literary equivalent of "offstage", even the two kids are killed.

So, imagine you're a Trailblazer, you've just had everyone you've lived with the past few weeks killed around you, there's only one slim chance in Hell of getting your ass out of there. You can't even think of getting any revenge on the Indians, escape, if at all possible, is the only option. You manage to get yourself and the sole-survivor (who, imagine that, is the schoolteacher) out through that one-in-a-million portal of escape...if you're Skye Fargo, and you're still covered in the blood of others, and you're still hearing the battle cry of the mauraders, you strip down and get laid. Kinda like what Tammy and I might do if we're ever broadsided by an SUV and ejected from our fiery wreck on the freeway.

I guess I don't fault Skye Fargo for getting it where he can. Custis Long does and I quite liked the first Longarm book. Mack Bolan occasionally does (though he tends to do a better job keeping priorities straight.) I guess if a gun were held to my head I'd rather have unbelievable sex in an adventure book ("unbelievable" meaning "full of shit" and not "amazing") than to be reading Anais Nin or Erica Jong and having a gunfight complete with rocket launchers.

There will be more Mack Bolan and Custis Long reviews but I think I've had my fill of Skye Fargo.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Post Haste? Posthaste? One Word Or Two?

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brien

Last Christmas I unwrapped a present from Tammy and it was Patrick O'Brien's Post Captain. I had recently borrowed a non-Aubrey/Maturin book from her dad and she knew I was interested in tackling the series. Not having access to my boxes upon boxes of stored books, and wanting to avoid giving me a present I might already have, Tammy gave me this second book of the series.

Thing was, I neither owned nor had read previously the first book, Master and Commander. My disturbed psychological profile doesn't allow me to start books or movies in the middle of a series (it's even difficult for me to watch television if I haven't been with a show, more or less, from the beginning: I've really wanted to watch 24 this year but haven't since I've never watched it the first three seasons.

As much as I want to sit around all day (outside and on a beach if it's sunny) reading books I just don't have that kind of time these days. Along with working crappy and time-consuming jobs I don't want to arrive home, ignore everyone and disappear into a book at the expense of social and familial communication. I also have other interests and they had been taking priority these last few months. That's why it took me four months to tackle the book, and one more to finally say a word or two about it online.

After all this build-up what do I have to say? Simply, I loved it. I loved it better than the first book (And I'm usually one to dislike sequels.) It's easier to follow along with what's happening, probably because at least a third of the book is on land and therefore avoiding the nautical terms that stumped me in the first book. When the action was on water I seemed to know what was happening in spite of my having not researched any naval or maritime glossary (It must be some osmosis from reading enough pages.)

It was necessary to finish the preceding book first in order to fully appreciate Stephen Maturin's sometime-occupation as a spy. Knowing before hand that he was supposed to be both surgeon and spy I was disappointed to not see anything of that sort before. Not anymore, and when the time comes I'll be excited to have the next book in my hands.

A week or two after finishing Post Captain I house-sat for my Aunt and Uncle. They have a giant widescreen tv and usually have two or three new DVDs. This time they had Master and Commander. I despise Russell Crowe but wanted to check it out anyways.

Don't you hate it when you're greatly impressed by someone you'd rather see spindled on a cactus wrapped in rusty barbed-wire? Russell Crowe may be a self-loving asshole but he's also a damned fine actor and the movie was worthy of it's Oscar nomination.

What would that be called? I failed English every year of High School (Mainly from being bored and not doing my homework.) Is that irony? Hypocrisy? Judgment-Based Karma? If I'm going to answer that question it'll be on my other site. (But don't hold your breath.)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Excuses, Excuses

This is terrible

I'm alright with not being a daily poster but I've always meant to do better than once every two or three months.

Care to hear my sob story? I'll tell you anyway. The laptop died. We've been fitted with WebTv for the time being but everything from primitive browser capability to less available time (since, being on tv, it's more invasive for everyone in the apartment) makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have decent posting time. At the same time I have a temp assignment that has me working all day long an hour's drive away, meaning I'm tired at the end of the day and not too excited about the possibility of signing up on the library's internet or going to Evergreen's computer lab to get a post done. My better writings take at least 90 minutes to get just right (and even then I usually wish I'd polished it better.)

I've still been able to read, although not as often as I'd been doing for awhile, and reviews will be coming soon. Besides finishing Patrick O'Brien's Post Captain I've read the first of some seventies western series which was so bad it's name escapes me at the moment. Let's put it this way: the Mack Bolan and Longarm series certainly aren't representative of the finest writing available but this book which I'll be ripping to confetti makes them look like Michener.

I'm currently in the middle of that charlatan L. Ron Hubbard's first Mission Earth book.

Sorry for the wait, thanks for your support, and for the record I'm always more prolific if you come to Olympia on a Friday night and buy me a beer.