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2003.01.24 =>


This questionable English synopsis of Carmen must have made the opera-dork email rounds at some point, because now it's all over the place.

Act 4. A place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls is heared in the arena. Escamillio enters (Aria and chorus: "Toreador, toreador, All hail the balls of a Toreador"). Enter Don Jose (Aria: "I do not threaten, I besooch you") but Carmen repels him wants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabbs her (Aria: "Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me. I did kill her") he sings "Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen."

Graham Greene, The Quiet American. (The book, not the movie; movies don't come here.) We will ignore the fact that the character Phuong has no personality (if you're so inclined, you can excuse it on the grounds that this hard-boiled European narrator wouldn't be bothered to look for a Vietnamese woman's personality), and we will concentrate on the salutary technical aspects that made it a blast to read. The prose is spare, often surprising, and occasionally gross (a river full of bodies is "an Irish stew containing too much meat"), the moral dilemma is painfully sharp, and the structure is tight, tight, tight. The narrative drives like a locomotive, aided by a generous helping of vice; ten pages in, we're already saturated in murder, adultery, and opium. There is much to be learned from this.

John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist. If The Art of Fiction was his seminar on craft, this is his pep talk. It's probably a matter of temperament whether one cares for his grandiose moral prescriptions on the writer's life; I find him comforting and inspiring, but I know he pisses a lot of people off. (Frank Conroy thought he was completely bats.) This book is much heavier on practical advice:

While one is learning one's craft, then practicing it and hunting for an agent, then waiting for mail with the agent's return address, one must somehow make a living. Every writer hopes, like a medieval Christian, that after his period of honorable suffering, bliss will follow as a reward. So the writer takes some miserable part-time job, or lives off his parents or spouse, and writes and prays and waits. One day, the writer tells himself, the big break will come, and his money troubles will be over.

It's not true. At any rate, it's not true for the serious writer. Maybe one in a thousand serious novelists ever become self-supporting by means of their art. The writer, for all his childishness, needs to face this fact and deal with it.

He goes on to suggest that, if your pride and pocketbook allow, you should just live off your spouse indefinitely. Failing that, teach.

Denis Johnson, Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond. When Johnson came to Iowa last year, shortly after this book's publication, he talked about his strange periodic impulse to drop everything and run off to the most Godforsaken parts of the world he could find—Afghanistan, Somalia, Liberia—to put himself in as much peril as possible, as if fear of death were the newest drug for the old junky. "I can't understand that impulse now," he said. "No part of me wants to do anything like that ever again." Then he read the piece on hippies, which ends with a recollection of a high school friend who is now dead of AIDS, and he broke into tears.

Jane Austen, Emma. I wouldn't try to review one of the finalists in the eternal Greatest Novel of All Time contest; let's just say I'm embarrassed at never having gotten to it before, and this has been rectified.

Next are the Canterbury Tales. So far reading Middle English is rather like listening to someone with a severe speech impediment, but I suspect the dirty parts will still read dirty.


<= 2003.01.22

2003.01.24 =>

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