Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pirates and Stuff

Lately I have found myself somewhat surrounded by pirates. This is not necessarily by design, though it may be a result of predeliction.

Bought The Gigantic Book of Pirate Stories, which I named (accurately, I think) Possibly the Coolest Book in the Entire Universe. It has stories, histories, ballads, poems, and other random stuff like ships' charters and a section on the last words of famous pirates. Plus I traded a bunch of stuff in to the used bookstore where I got it, so I didn't spend any money and got rid of a bunch of no-longer-wanted books in exchange for it.

Then I was reading Red Seas Under Red Skies, the second book of the Gentleman Bastards sequence, which is cool simply for combining the epic fantasy and con artist genres--really effectively--and halfway through that book turns into a sort of pirate story.

Yesterday I read the beginnings of a few different YA novels, and was reflecting on how dismal the Young Adult genre can be. Then I picked up Victory, by Susan Cooper, which Yes! is largely about sailing ships (though being much about Admiral Nelson the ships are of a less illegal variety). I read the first couple pages and sighed in relief; Cooper's writing was like diving into a swimming pool after a long time toiling in the hot sun. There's something about a good writer who has been writing for years, a writer whose sentences and paragraphs and rhythm are so self-assured that there can be no question she knows what she is doing, that is completely different from any other reading experience in the world. The sense of this crosses genres; one can get it as easily from a book intended for small children, young adults, or anyone else.

All these nautical encounters will, sooner or later, lead to a re-watching of Pirates of the Caribbean--either all three or the first one multiple times. Maybe both. I can feel it. I was thinking earlier that one of the best parts in the first one is the bit just before the Black Pearl and Barbossa's ship have at each other--when the two ships are pulling alongside each other, all stops pulled, battle about to be joined, and the crews yelling and screaming wordless hostility. It creates a moment of almost unendurable tension before that tension explodes along with the charges in the cannons.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Product of Boredom

A rose bloomed in my window
Outlined in the falling snow.
The world turned white under an old,
Cold, worn blanket that covered
The land and bent it to its own will.
A petal fell from pane to sill
And stained my white world crimson;
Crimson drops seeped across
The white wood of my floor.
I lay down in them and would weep
But the depths of sleep took me instead.
I slept and I dreamt that I saw
That the world was a great white maw
Into which the Creator wept
Tears of crimson from a great red rose
(That was Himself) and as I close
I awake, somehow, with a great thirst slaked.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Complete Works

A while ago in a class about British literature of the Romantic and Victorian eras, my prof (a nationally-known Dickens scholar and one of my favorite teachers of all time) was talking about authors whose complete works he had read. He had done all 14 1/2 of Dickens' novels, all 7 of Austen's, most of Thomas Hardy's, among others. Currently he was (probably still is) working on Anthony Trollope, of whom there are only 47 novels to get through. This digression had the effect of making me think of which authors' complete works I wanted to read through.

Of course, saying one has read an author's "complete works" can be a bit of a tricky thing. Does this mean all novels? Novels and short stories? What if the author also wrote essays, plays, songs, screenplays? What if the author's writing in one of these genres, well, sucked? What about things that went unpublished during an author's lifetime, or manuscripts that have been completely lost?

Being a nerd, I have spent some time pondering these questions. My basic conclusion is that it's plenty impressive to have read an author's published work (meaning published in their lifetime, or generally included in the canon of critically considered work by an author), or sometimes to have read an author's major works (Thomas Hardy, for example, has several novels that are almost universally considered lesser works, and nine or so that are considered his major ones). The caveat to this is that there is the possibility of cheating: one can say "I have read all of William Golding's major works" when what one actually means is "I have read Lord of the Flies."

At any rate, the only author whose every work I intend to read (or as close as possible) is, of course, Mark Twain. I have read all of his at-all-major works except two of his later travel books; I also have a couple volumes of his more obscure newspaper columns and letters. When I have read those two travel books I can say with a clean conscience that I have read every at-all-major work by Mark Twain; after those two more obscure volumes I will have to begin digging to make sure there's nothing even more obscure I have missed.

I have also read the complete works of Laurence Sterne, which is less impressive when you realize they consist of two books: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and A Sentimental Journey Through France and Spain. However, the first of these is one that English professors slog through in grad school, if they finish it at all, and that I read and loved as a senior in high school.

One of my goals this year is to get through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's major works; this consists of 4 1/2 novels and about an equal amount of short stories, 4 or 5 volumes' worth. Once I finish Tender is the Night I will only have his half-finished final novel and all his short stories left.

I have apparently read through most of Stephen Crane (author of The Red Badge of Courage), but that was mostly by accident and occurred in late middle and early high school.

According to Wikipedia, I have read about half of Ernest Hemingway, but that seems like quite enough. I have covered most or all of his major novels, some of the minor ones, and enough short stories to last me... forever. The only work of his I still consciously intend to read is A Moveable Feast, simply because of its profound influence on so many authors.

By the same reliable source, I have read 10 of 19 of Joseph Conrad's novels, and (debateably) 9 of his 12 or so at-all-major ones. Conrad is someone else I intend to read all or most of. He is another one people in college and grad school slog through; most--pretty much all--of what I have read so far I did in high school.

Other authors I want to read in some sort of full measure, just off the top of my head:

Oscar Wilde (about 1/2 read)
Jane Austen (2/7 read)
P.G. Wodehouse (just for kicks--he has 150 or so novels and story collections)
G.K. Chesterton (have read deplorably little of him so far--maybe 3 volumes)
Lord Dunsany (must research his bibliography a bit more)
Edgar Allen Poe (and I have a convenient 1-volume complete works)
Neil Gaiman (have read all of his prose, except a couple YA type books)
E.R. Eddison (1 volume out of 3 1/2)
Gene Wolfe
James Joyce (2 out of 7 or so--and the real monsters yet to be conquered)

...and this list will continue to increase. Of course, there are some notable absences: Tolkien, CS Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Ursula Le Guin, Connie Willis, Ray Bradbury, and Terry Pratchett are examples of authors I adore but whose utterly complete works I for various reasons do not intend to go about reading.