Jubilant Meandering

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A Summer of Reading: The Rundown

I do not always do well with reading. This summer is not much of an exception, but I’ve become more of a habitual reader during it and have read a greater deal this summer than any previous attempts. Here I just want to point out some quick recommendations from what I’ve read.

POETRY

I’m starting with this because I know this is what people will most want to skip. I didn’t read an excessive amount of poetry, this summer. To be quite honest I can name 2 poets I read a chunk of, and I will name both of them.

Seamus Heaney

Now, when I was planning on writing this I had no idea that Heaney was going to go and die on me. Heaney is one of my favorite poets, if not my favorite, ever. His early poetry, which is most of what I’ve dabbled in to be fair, is incredible. It made me believe I could write about the farm life in a way that might make people willing to read it.

Now, for suggestions, I’d say that his book Death of a Naturalist includes most of what I most love of his and particularly loved this summer. If you are feeling frisky, pick up his Opened Ground because it collects poems throughout his career. If you’re poor or are afraid of purchasing a book of poetry, look up poems like “Death of a Naturalist”, “Digging”, “Midterm Break” and “The Outlaw” on google and you should be able to find them.

Brad Cran

Here we’ve got a contemporary and a Canadian to boot. Brad is a great poet and his book, Ink On Paper, is probably the first book of poems that I’ve read cover-to-cover, or at least cover-to-cover within a two-day period. The book is wonderful, a lot of fun and really accessible due to his straight-talking style and the use of narratives to hold his poems together. It is a book that sets one chuckling and marvelling, and you should get it, because then you can say “Oh I’ve read the Brad Cran book, it came out in March, I’m positively contemporary!”. And saying that, to be sure, is priceless.

SHORT STORIES

I read short stories sporadically and often didn’t revisit one writer more than once this summer. That being said, there were two that I did, and that was Charles Baxter and Alice Munro. I won’t bother telling you anything but that Baxter and Munro are great short story writers. Go look for a “collected” of Munro if not any volume at all, and find Baxter’s Gryphon which has a selection of his stories throughout a wonderful career in short fiction. Both are humorous in their way, powerful, and won’t waste your time.

DRAMA

I didn’t read much drama this summer, but what I did read blew me away. What I did read was a single play, but it was one of the most vibrantly wonderful plays I have read in a long time. There’s a sense that Shakespeare too much comes up when we think drama, I think, so please believe me when I say that this is a really exciting and powerful play (not that Shakespeare can’t be, though I’m more partial to parts of Shakespeare more than wholes).

The play is Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. It’s one of the most lively plays I’ve ever read, and that you’ll ever read. It’s about vanity, it’s about chivalry, it’s about love, and it’s just an absolute joy. The first scene, in my head, was one of the most wonderfully hectic I’ve found in a drama, and it makes me REALLY want to see the play staged. You’ll love it, you’ll love the characters, you’ll be saddened, you’ll adore the ending.

NOVELS: Literary Fiction

Swami and Friends by N.K. Narayan is probably my favorite piece of literary fiction I’ve read this summer, so suck it Faulkner. In many ways Narayan’s book feels like the Indian equivalent of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, but with a bit more brutal politics and heartbreak added into the adventures. It revolves around a cowardly 10 year old named Swaminathan and his antics with regards to his boarding school(s) and a strike opposing the British arresting an important individual and a game of cricket. It’s really a fun book, light enough but not so light as to feel like you’ve wasted your time. Get on it.

Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. There, now nobody is reading anymore because they believe this book to be an absolute bore due to it being one of those books people are forced to read in High School. Hemingway’s book is great, though it comes off a bit more like a very long short story than a novel or even a novella. It involves an old man who goes fishing and catches a fish. It’s about life. And it’s really a great book. More depressing than Swami, though, so if you’re feeling down by what you’re reading, pick up the Narayan.

NOVELS OF GENRE

I hate to discriminate for Genre but everyone does it. These books in particular feel a bit out of place in their own genres simply because the writers are explosively powerful beyond what else I’ve dabbled with in said genres.

For Science Fiction there’s More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon. This book… This book is hard to talk about. The writing is in a class of his own, a class I’ve never met with in Sci-fi or in Fantasy, and by using the genre, more powerful (certainly) from a lot of literary fiction (which isn’t inherently better, but has most of the better writers, and most of the worst too). The book is centered around an evolution in the human line called Homo Gestalt, which features an identity spread between a group of, for lack of a less cliche sounding word, “misfits”. The style drops into poetry as well, and it really gives the book a novel feel simply due to the fact that you don’t often find such a confident language stylist in the area. It’s dense, but it’s short, and it’s worth gandering at.

Then there’s Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett is an amazing humorist and satirist, and you get that in his first (albeit, according to many, not the best) book of his Discworld series The Color of Magic. As well as being absolutely hilarious Pratchett is a very athletic writer when it comes to fantasy simply because his books are about 250 pages while the most beloved fantasy books (I’m looking at you GRRM) are twice or three times that. Pratchett takes you places quickly and effectively because he doesn’t need as many words as other writers because he’s just such a damned good writer. His world is not without complications, and yet, it is hard to find many “word dumps”. It might just be that the ones he does are unnoticed because they’re funny. The mere fact that Pratchett can consistently write short strong books makes him my new favorite (of, granted, a short list) Fantasy writer because his books are so smart and so damned short. I can’t stand long books, that’s why the novel is hardly my favorite form of literature, and Fantasy a genre I very often shy from.

I also read the first half a page of a harlequin.

That’s all.

All the best,

the meanderer

Against Admiring in Secret

There’s nothing more admirable to me than the courage inherent in being the admirer who isn’t secretive. Now, I’m not speaking of romance here, I don’t give a flying monkey about romance, you can be as secret or as open when it comes to that as long as you don’t say I suggested you do one or the other. I’m instead speaking in the general sense of admiration, what google defines as: respect and warm approval, and adds as synonyms: wonder, adoration, and delight.

Delight is a delightful word.

There’s a way in which speaking your admiration makes you (read: me, perhaps I am strange) feel incredibly vulnerable. It doesn’t feel very good. There’s a sense inside that praising cheapens you in some sense, that it strips away any pretence of kinship and places you in the valley of the fan. When I tell someone that I adore what they do I can do nothing but imagine that everyone who sees me praising thinks simply: Look at this guy, this guy’s suckin’ ______________’s phallus. Even when you aren’t being public with it, there’s a sense that just opening yourself up like that really, really doesn’t feel good.

You’ve got to be damned brave to do it, as silly as it sounds.

But there’s a thing about the world that you must understand, and you probably do understand: the world loves to complain. The world loves to complain about everything. I love to complain about everything. Complaining is fine and fun and the hobby of many people. Complaining is easy.

And complaining ruin’s people’s days. Complaining makes people sad.

As a personal anecdote, someone on Reddit commented on a comic of mine recently complaining about the science of it, how the comic wasn’t possible. That sucked. I was bummed. And all the while everybody who might enjoy the comic didn’t comment and tell me. The only compliments I get are basically from other comic artists, and that’s because they know how it feels.

This isn’t about me, though. That’s just my example.

The world is too sad to sit by and be silent when you admire something or someone.

Lately I’ve been brave. I’ve been telling people how I feel about them. And each time I feel like my entire jesting persona (which is the most important thing about me) is shattered to the person I’m confessing my admiration to. There’s an anxiety to it, it hurts, really.

But it should be done, meanderer. Buck up.

I’m not saying this because I think you should tell me you like me and my stuff. Please. This isn’t about me. Even if you do tell me, the chance of me believing you will be very low. All I want is for you to read this and think about what you admire and who you admire and who admires you and at the very least just consider to inform them (even in the slightest, less-blunt-than-me ways) of your admiration.

I’ve been friends on Facebook with a very entertaining poet for almost two years and only today let him know that one of his poems always pops into my head. I tell my comrades in comics (whom I do not deserve to be placed among) as often as I can that I love what they’re doing because I know that, more than anybody, they are the ones that are doing what they love and exposing it to the world for free, for me love, for free. The least I can do is tell them that what they’re trying to do is working. God, they’re very admirable people. I can’t even do a comics without regular anxiety attacks.

In a loveless world like ours, it’s nice to know you’ve got some supporters. And I can guarantee that no matter how bad it feels to voice yourself (sometimes it doesn’t feel bad), the receiver will be happy to hear it. They won’t think any less of you no matter how much you feel like they should (as I always do). You’ll make their day and you’ll be their hero.

One day, early in this blog’s history, a good friend of mine commented (which I almost think he made an account for that reason) a most wonderful comment that made my insides tickle. It made this heartbreaking process of releasing things to the world for free feel like it’s worth doing. As well, the other day, someone on Reddit said one of my comics was funny and perfect. You can’t beat that. It’s subjective and wrong, but hell, it makes things worth doing.

It’s not hard to make someone’s day. So make it.

Compliment like you’ll be dead tomorrow and the people you compliment are the ones responsible to say a few words at your funeral and take care of your cat.

So this sappy post will end with a suggestion to just say nice things and tell people when you appreciate them or what they do. This includes telling the people who appreciate you that you appreciate them. That’s very important. Admire in the world loudly like a town crier. Sing it to everyone who’s nice and everyone who makes you smile and everyone who makes your existence hurt less.

With love and admiration to all the lovely beasts who keep a bit of room in their eye for me and my fumbly words and silly scribblings,

the meanderer

The Occasional Untimely Review: “The Red Pony” by John Steinbeck

The first time I read Steinbeck’s The Red Pony (1937) I was a scrapping young high-school student of some 17 years. I was a soon-to-be senior in a real American high-school, and being so I was compelled (forced) to read an “Advanced Placement” level book over the summer for my AP English course. I ended up choosing Steinbeck’s novella because I’d heard that a friend of mine’s father was somehow traumatized by the book (though I didn’t know then, or do I now, how it happened). For that reason I decided to expose myself to it. Needless to say if you know how high-school students work: I hated the book. In retrospect I realize that my distaste towards many books I had to read in high-school was due to some abstract rebellious and vain principle. My excuse was that I didn’t like (or even notice) the ending, and I was rather disappointed by the length of time the pony itself was present in the novella. I felt like I was cheated. I was, undoubtedly, an idiot. Now I am a bit better.

Well, at least now I know that I was wrong to dismiss the book so swiftly and arbitrarily. Upon rereading The Red Pony I found a story (made up of four loosely connected stories, which probably also confused me at the time, as if I can hear myself declaring: That’s not how books work!!!) that was, quite honestly, one of the best portrayals of rural farm life I’ve read (if not the best, Guodberger’s The Swan is another favorite) with some truly shocking scenes that I actually remembered quite vividly from my first read. For a book I “hated” I remembered most of the key scenes.

It was, as well, my first exposure to Steinbeck (aside from an excerpt from Grapes of Wrath) since developing a refined and – albeit subjectively limited – taste in literature. I found Steinbeck’s descriptions to be exact and at the perfect pitch: not minimalistic, and not pay-by-the-word excessive. As well, and a necessity when writing of the rural life, I was struck by how positively populated Steinbeck’s world was with animals that had, if nothing else, distinct character, whether it be the dog who always emulates an old limp of his when he is scolded or the handful of horses.

And the book was brutal when necessary, in-cutting the moderately idyllic and calm life on the farm. I am a firm believer that if you’re choosing to write about farm life you’d have to be extremely naive to draw it as any sort of purely idyllic life. That’s my PSA, my advice for writers out there. I’ve seen enough dead animals this past month to dismiss any of that idealism. Farm life consists of a quiet life broken into pieces by tragedies, and there is a kind of anxiety which makes you unable to ever truly relax.

But I won’t go on for long because I think that a lot of the novellas magic would be lost if I really went into any kind of synopsis. If I were to tell you what the book is about in a sentence I’d probably say this: The Red Pony is a novella focusing on the life of a young boy on a ranch in California that shows the brutality as well as (if not intermixed with) the beauty of such a life. His prose is the descriptive and vibrant variety, albeit generally quiet so mildly slow-paced (especially with two of the four “stories”), that is specific enough that it doesn’t waste your time. If you’re lucky, as I was both times (I believe), you’ll also be blown away by the climaxes of each of the four “stories”, which, in contrast of the majority of the novel, scream out in horror, anguish, and comprehension.

Also, the name Billy Buck is one of my favourite names.

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