Saturday, November 29, 2014

On to Turgenev

Having finished the unabridged, expansive, unruly, and endlessly rewarding NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, I move on to my next audiobook, Turgenev's FATHERS AND SONS.

Hemingway was big on this novel, and after listening to the first two chapters I can already sense the influence. I've been looking forward to this for quite a while.

Here's the link to the free, high-quality audiobook I'm listening to. Not every Librivox recording has an adequate reader, but this one does and NICKLEBY did, for which I am grateful.

I take these audiobooks in on long walks.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Shakespeare Rips Off Shakespeare: Richard II and King Lear

Recently, I was watching The Hollow Crown -- that's the superb BBC miniseries adaptation of Richard II, the two Henry IV plays, and Henry V -- when this strangely familiar exchange played out between a noble father and his son. Mom jumps in for one line, but it's the father and son we're interested in. Keep an eye on the bits in italics.

What seal is that, that hangs without thy bosom?
Yea, look'st thou pale? let me see the writing.

My lord, 'tis nothing.

No matter, then, who see it;
I will be satisfied; let me see the writing.

I do beseech your grace to pardon me:
It is a matter of small consequence,
Which for some reasons I would not have seen.

Which for some reasons, sir, I mean to see.
I fear, I fear,--

What should you fear?
'Tis nothing but some bond, that he is enter'd into
For gay apparel 'gainst the triumph day.

Bound to himself! what doth he with a bond
That he is bound to? Wife, thou art a fool.
Boy, let me see the writing.

I do beseech you, pardon me; I may not show it.

I will be satisfied; let me see it, I say.

The scholars tell us this play, Richard II, was written before 1595, during a phase of Shakespeare's career now known as the Period of Early Mastery. A later phase of his career comes between about 1601 and 1606, the so-called Dark or Tragic Period. One of the great tragedies from this later period, of course, is King Lear. Take a look at the strikingly similar passage below from that play, also between a father and son. The italics mark direct parallels with the scene from the earlier play.

What paper were you reading?

Nothing, my lord.

No? What needed, then, that terrible dispatch of it into your pocket? the quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see: come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.

I beseech you, sir, pardon me: it is a letter from my brother, that I have not all o'er-read; and for so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for your o'er-looking.

Give me the letter, sir.

I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.

Let's see, let's see.

I can't imagine I'm the first person to have noticed this, but it's worth pointing out regardless. The bits I've italicized from the first scene, along with the whole idea of the exchange, seem to have served as writing prompts for Shakespeare in King Lear. Translation: He recycled his own stuff, assuming no one would ever notice. What's exciting for me is that the second passage is so much more sophisticated than the first. Edmund wants his father to notice the letter and make him hand it over; the word "nothing" is an important thematic touchstone in King Lear; unlike the earlier play, King Lear alternates between verse and prose for effect, and here shifts into prose for a sense of intimacy that contrasts with the earlier, formal verse of the play's first scene. Shakespeare learned a lot in the years between these two passages.

There are dozens of these self-plagiarisms -- I call them echo scenes -- in Shakespeare. As the mood strikes me, I'll post more.

Friday, November 21, 2014

SPIDERS: The New (Kind of) Fiona Apple Album on #Spotify


Click here, or on the photo above, to listen to SPIDERS -- the new (kind of) Fiona Apple album on Spotify.

Okay, okay. It's not really new. It's a playlist comprising all the Fiona singles and one-offs I could find that didn't show up on an album. I left out two painful collaborations with a moribund Johnny Cash that didn't do anything to respect his memory.

I share SPIDERS here because the playlist demands repeat listening. Ten superlative, glove-fitting covers show up like new best friends, and most of them don't sound at all like covers. I guess this magnetic collection's lack of new material makes this a concept album: Songs Fiona Didn't Write, but That Sound Like She Did.

It all hangs together, thanks to some classic, fortuitous Fiona themes that show up across the selections: fearlessness, imagination, innocence, yearning. (Compare Shawn Colvin's equally powerful COVER GIRL, which pulls a similar trick.)

I think of SPIDERS as a vinyl album with two sides. It's got everything: gentle rockabilly, smoldering blues, childlike wonder, spiritual yearning, torch songs, even a superb, unlikely country duo with the comedian Margaret Cho. Folks, there is not a weak track anywhere. Songwriters are listed in parentheses below.

Spiders are not scary unless you make them scary. I always think of bravery when I think of Fiona Apple.


Everyday (Buddy Holly)
Why Try to Change Me Now (Cy Coleman)
I'm in the Middle of a Riddle (Anton Karas)
I Walk a Little Faster (Cy Coleman, Caroline Leigh)
Pure Imagination (Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley -- yes, it's the song from WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY)


Frosty the Snowman (Walter "Jack" Rollins and Steve Nelson. Just in time for the holidays!)
So Sleepy (The Gummy Bears)
Please Send Me Someone to Love (Percy Mayfield)
Hey Big Dog (Margaret Cho and Patty Griffin)
Across the Universe (John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Victor Hugo On the Art of Digression

I thought I must have posted something explicitly citing this superb Adam Thirwell article on Victor Hugo's use of digression, a technique engineered right into the DNA of his masterwork LES MISERABLES. It turns out I didn't. So here it is.

An excerpt from Thirwell:

The subject of one of the longest novels in European literature is - what else? - the infinite.

That is why its tempo is so explicit with slowness, syncopated with digression. But in this novel there is no such thing as a digression. Everything is relevant - since the subject of this book, quite literally, is everything: "This book is a tragedy in which infinity plays the lead," writes Hugo. "Man plays a supporting role."

"When the subject is not lost sight of, there is no digression," Hugo wrote later on. But how can the subject of the novel ever be lost sight of, if the lead character is infinity? In that case, nothing will ever be a digression.

Yes, the length of this novel is important. Its quantity is its quality. It represents an answer to a central artistic question, which was not an answer the tradition of the novel has ever quite believed in since. This is one reason why Hugo's novel is so strange, and so valuable.

And another relevant quote:

"For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky


David Brooks, in a brilliant New York Times column that may or may not be accessible when you read this, writes:

"I’ve been thinking about moments of agency … because often you see people who lack full agency. Sometimes you see lack of agency among the disadvantaged. Their lives can be so blown about by economic disruption, arbitrary bosses and general disorder that they lose faith in the idea that input leads to predictable output. You can offer job training programs, but they may not take full advantage because they don’t have confidence they can control their own destinies.

"Among the privileged, especially the privileged young, you see people who have been raised to be approval-seeking machines. They act active, busy and sleepless, but inside they often feel passive and not in control. Their lives are directed by other people’s expectations, external criteria and definitions of success that don’t actually fit them."

"So many people are struggling for agency. They are searching for the solid criteria that will help them make their own judgments. They are hoping to light an inner fire that will fuel relentless action in the same direction."

Agency is the degree to which we are cause in the matter of our own life. At any given moment, we are either the product of our obstacles or our aspirations, of our drama or of our possibility. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Terrible Threat

"The terrible threat against life is not death, nor pain, nor any variation of the disasters that we obsessively try to protect ourselves against with our social systems and personal stratagems. 

"The terrible threat is that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in just such a premature death. A death after which we go on living for many years." -- Viteszlav Gardovsky, Czech philosopher and martyr. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Word counts for FREED

11/1: 1603
11/2: 1614
11/3: 1149
11/4: 1104
11/5: 1146
11/6: 1011
11/7: 1007
11/8: 706
11/9: 1010
11/10: 1190
11/11: 1022
11/12: 1068
11/13: 1155
11/14: 1110
11/15: 1030
11/16: 1000
11/17: 0
11/18: 830
11/19: 892
11/20: 1034
11/21: 1164
11/22: 5444
11/23: 1111
11/24: 1131
11/25: 531
11/26: 1001
11/27: 556
11/28: 0
11/29: 574
11/30: 1034
12/1: 390
12/2: 805
12/3: 772
12/4: 303
12/5: 339
12/6: 1470
12/7: 840
12/8: 516
12/9: 528
12/10: 510
12/11: 0
12/12: 325

Work on this novel started in February of 2014, but I only started tracking it here in November, which was my own personal mini-Nanowrimo: 33,000+ words. I had thought I was getting it ready for ABNA, but cooler heads prevailed. It will be ready when it is ready.

Here are completed chapters one, two and three of the novel.

I will keep the totals up-to-date here as I go forward, inshaAllah.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Publishing #literaryfiction in installments: pro or con?

I've had lots of people ask where they can buy a copy of JIHADI; A LOVE STORY. As of now, the answer is, alas, "Nowhere," because my agent is shopping it around to editors at publishing houses whose decision timelines are best measured in geological epochs. The opening chapter is here, though.

Frustrated with this state of affairs, I considered publishing my second novel FREED in installments. I was talked out of this by people who argued that it was impossible, or at least absurdly difficult, to market literary fiction on the installment plan.

Then my cat Paprika suggested: "Why not ask people?"

So I'm asking you. Here are the opening chapters of FREED. If you want to buy Chapters Four through Six on Kindle, for ninety-nine cents, drop Paprika a line here,    If I get enough people willing to subscribe, maybe I'll go for it. Please put the word "Paprika" in the subject line.