gardens of yore
Lauren quotes A.S. Byatt on J.K. Rowling (07.07.03); in passing Byatt drops the name of Enid Blyton, which has been tormenting me for a week with its almost-familiarity. But that's what Google is for, kids.
Besides many other books I didn't know about, Blyton wrote The Adventure Series, eight books about four children and a parrot called Kiki; I devoured these when I was ten and living in England, though I only remember fivepossibly those were the only ones in print at the time. The Ship of Adventure, The Circus of Adventure, and The River of Adventure are mysterious to me.
Other long-forgotten books from that year:
Half Magic, Edward Eager: children find a magical coin that grants precisely half of any wish. This means wishes must be thought through; otherwise you get results such as, in wishing that the cat could talk, causing the cat to wax loquacious and irritated for precisely thirty seconds, then sitting quietly for thirty seconds, and repeating the cycle until further magical intervention.
Archer's Goon, Diana Wynne Jones: Howard comes home to find an enormous man sitting in his kitchen who identifies himself only as goon. Further investigation reveals that Howard's town is actually run by seven megalomaniacal wizardsone runs power, one runs education, one runs water and drains, etc.with whom Howard's father, a writer, has entered into a shady deal to avoid paying his taxes.
Witch Week, Diana Wynne Jones: The best of the lot, and probably still my favorite children's book. An alternate-universe England where witches exist and are still treated medievally: inquisitions, public burnings, etc.
Fattypuffs and Thinifers by Andre Maurois: I have no idea if this was really that good. It involved a couple of kids who are somehow transported to a world caught in civil war between fat people and thin people. One of the kids actually taught the fat people about trench warfare, but due to their girth they kept getting stuck in the trenches.
Flossie Teacake and Ossie Osgood books, Hunter Davies. There were an awful lot of these, and most seem to be forgotten. Flossie, a 10-year-old girl, and Ossie, a 10-year-old boy, magically turn into the 18-year-olds Floz and Oz when they don, respectively, Flossie's sister's fur coat and Ossie's grandfather's Iron Cross. Hijinks must have ensued, but when I try to recall the plot I just think of that Tom Hanks movie.
The Cremaster cycle is showing here at Cinema 21; last night I saw the first two. I'm withholding my punditry until I've seen them all, but I will say at least that behind the hype there is some very, very solid art going on.
in the admiralty
A bizarre case where telling yourself "if only I had known that/said that at the time" actually produces results: about two years ago Denis Johnson was in Iowa. He asked us what the difference was between a land mile and a nautical mile, and I was ashamed not to knowthough I went and looked it up later. Last night Mr. Johnson appeared at Reed as part of this Tin House workshop and asked the same damn question, and this time I knew the answer, in all its arcana. It was oddly vindicating.
The "Tin House Martini," which they served there, has Pernod in it. I'll try anything once, but I don't think that needs to happen again.
Anna Karenina blows me out of the water, rocks my rhetoric, o'erwhelms me with its preternatural understanding of human nature. There's a gem on almost every page, but I'll quote a favorite:
Mikhailov, meanwhile, though he had been much taken up with the portrait of Anna, was even more glad than they were when the sittings ended and he did not have to listen to Golenischev's talk about art any more and could forget about Vronsky's painting. He knew it was impossible to forbid Vronsky to toy with painting; he knew that he and all the dilettantes had every right to paint whatever they liked, but he found it unpleasant. It was impossible to forbid a man to make a big wax doll and kiss it. But if the man with the doll came and sat in front of a man in love and began to caress his doll the way the man in love caressed his beloved, the man in love would find it unpleasant. Mikhailov experienced the same unpleasant feeling at the sight of Vronsky's painting; he felt it ridiculous, vexing, pathetic, and offensive.
Resuscitation of a Hanged Man: like many of Johnson's novels, it seems to overflow its bounds. The language, the voice, the strange theological currents are too strong to be completely harnessed to plot or character, and the book suffers for it. But even where it unravels, it's a hell of a ride.
Now it is Herodotus, whose History I've never read in its entirety, though I remember the bit where Gyges sees the queen of Lydia naked made quite an impression on me when I was eleven.