Feb 15 2020

Duke Spooks: a Review of “Ghostly Tales of Mississippi” (2018)

Except for most of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work, some Hardy Boys, and a little Dick Tracy, a sprinkling of Edgar Allen Poe and Alfred Hitchcock mysteries series, and a couple of Goosebumps books—I didn’t read any Young Adult Fiction as a young adult (unless you think the 1992 NIV Student Edition of the Bible and 1984 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia qualify).

No Lovecraft in childhood. No Tolkien. No Stephen King (in book form). I did, however, read Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) but none of its sequels, even though we had the whole series sitting right next to the encyclopedias. (And I’m too old for Harry Potter to have made an impression.)

So I don’t know if I’m an apt critic to comment on current young adult fiction like Jeff Duke’s Ghostly Tales of Mississippi (2018). I have, however, had no hesitation in writing about the most recent work that I’ve read in this genre: the first two books of Heidi. So in what follows, I hope not to disappoint.

Besides being young adult fiction, Duke’s book is certainly southern gothic in genre. But thankfully, its aromas contain none of the musty smells of imitation-disguised-as-influence so frequently found in writers who were repeatedly burdened by classroom-assigned readings of Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily (1930) and O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find (1953). Duke was taught by Barry Hannah (1942–2010), a highly revered writer, but one I’ve yet to read (so I can’t tell you how strong his influence on Duke is).

But the stories in Duke’s book do remind me of the things I as a child liked (and of which I was chased by the occasional nightmare) in the works of R. L. Stine. Most of the ghosts and witches that appear in Duke’s stories, however, don’t cause most of the characters they’re chasing or spooking much harm. Most of them….

I’m particularly appreciative how the title of each story in Ghostly Tales of Mississippi is of a particular place in that state. This detail is part of the book’s larger intention of weaving together an intricate pattern from various strands of local folklore, geography, and family mythology.

“Rosehill Cemetery (Brookhaven)” and “Cinema Theater at the Barnes Crossing Mall (Tupleo)” remain my two favorite stories. The first for its simplicity at rendering spookiness; the latter for its keen combination of nostalgia for playing Street Fighter II at an arcade, the vivid image of a phantom seen in the reflection of an arcade video game screen, and the very Kubrickian environment of a quiet, empty, cinema at night.

And there’s even a bit of Joyce in Duke’s collection of local tales; for his final story “Witchdance (Houston),” (Houston, Mississippi, of course), almost overpowers all the stories that came before it––very similar to the way “The Dead” does for the rest of the local tales in Dubliners (1914). But only almost.

View this post on Instagram

A random assortment #bookstagram

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@bookbread2) on


Dec 7 2019

Heidi and Bluejays

Palazzo Re Enzo, Bologna, Italia

Recently, I read for the first time Johanna Spyri’s (1827-1901) Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre (Heidi’s Years of Wandering and Learning) (c. 1880) and its sequel Heidi Kann Brauchen, Was Es Gelernt Hat (How Heidi Used What She Learned) (c. 1881).

They are nice, pastoral books, set in the elevated Arcadia of the Swiss Alps.

Then, today, I saw these bluejays:

And these bluejays reminded me of a passage from the fifth chapter of the first Heidi book:

“What are you going to make of the child?” the pastor asked. “Nothing; she [Heidi] grows and thrives with goats and the birds. She is well enough with them, and she learns no harm with them,” [said the grandfather].


Jul 19 2018

Thursdays with Hobos

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

Thursdays with Hobos

My great-grandfather’s autobiography mentions that he was a hobo in North Texas during the early 1920’s. While researching some of his claims, I came across some wonderful illustrations by Gregory Orloff in Thomas Minehan’s Lonesome Road (1941), a kid’s book about the dangers of hoboing:

*****

*****

*****

*****


Jul 8 2018

A Sociology of Texas, 1978-2018

Western book stack

A Sociology of Texas, 1978-2018

I’m very excited to have my review of Lawrence Wright’s God Save Texas: a Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State (2018) published in the Berlin Review of Books!

A post shared by @chang.li.nao on

National Austrian Library


May 1 2018

Book Treasures from Germany

typewriter

Book Treasures from Germany

This translation of Dickens’s Oliver Twist comes from 1927, printed in Stuttgart, contains some beautiful illustrations by H. Grobet. It was a gift, and I believe it was purchased at Historica Antiquariat Bertz Wawrzinek on Heinrichstraße in Dresden.

wood

wood

 


Mar 22 2018

Hiding Out In the Open

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

Hiding Out In the Open

From the always wonderful Walter Kaufmann (1921-1980):

“Does one not write books precisely to conceal what one harbors? …. Every philosophy also conceals a philosophy.”

–Discovering the Mind Vol. IINietzsche, Heidegger, Buber,
(New York: McGraw Hill, 1981) 153–54, 161

Ero: all pornography conceals sexuality.

A post shared by @chang.li.nao on


Dec 26 2017

14 Different Ways to Think About Books

Western book stack

14 Different Ways to Think About Books:
Or, Do Good Questions Make Good Books?

I’ve been thinking about Kevin Kelly’s book The InevitableUnderstanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future (2016) where toward the end of his rather interesting book he lists some provoking questions. Their provocation led my thinking to take an initiative. So I went ahead and transposed the word “book” for the word “question” in this quotation from Kelly:

  1. A good [book] is not concerned with a correct answer.

  2. A good [book] cannot be answered immediately.

  3. A good [book] challenges existing answers.

  4. A good [book] is one you badly want answered once you hear it, but had no inkling you cared before it was asked.

  5. A good [book] creates new territory of thinking.

  6. A good [book] reframes its own answers.

  7. A good [book] is the seed of innovation in science, technology, art, politics, and business.

  8. A good [book] is a probe, a what-if scenario.

  9. A good [book] skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither silly nor obvious.

  10. A good [book] cannot be predicted.

  11. A good [book] will be the sign of an educated mind.

  12. A good [book] is one that generates many other good questions.

  13. A good [book] may be the last job a machine will learn to do.

  14. A good [book] is what humans are for. [1]

I think the transposition works well for intriguing lines of thoughts and, ironically enough, questions, except perhaps for no. 14. If the statement is understood as a good book is made for humans, I see no problem. But if the statement means humans are made for good books, I feel I’m on shakier ground. Yet here I recall Owen Barfield (1898-1997) once recalling Oscar Wilde (1854-1900):

Oscar Wilde’s mot—that men are made by books rather than books by men—was certainly not pure nonsense; there is a very real sense, humiliating as it may seem, in which what we generally venture to call our feelings are really Shakespeare’s ‘meaning’. [2]

NOTES

wood

[1] Kelly, The Inevitable, (New York, NY: Penguin, 2016) 288–89.

[2] Barfield, Poetic Diction: a Study in Meaning, (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928. Third Edition. Middleton, CN: Wesleyan UP, 1973) 136–37.


Dec 11 2017

Two Brief Thoughts on Reading Books

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

Two Brief Thoughts on Reading Books

A ghost––either of Isaac D’Israeli (1766–1848), or Andrew Lang (1844–1912), or Jorge Borges (1899–1986)––asks how differently I read a book (or author) when:

(1) I’ve bought the book,

(2) I’ve been lent the book from a friend or library,

(3) I’ve been given the book (and cannot re-gift it), or

(4) I’ve stolen the book?[1]

For scenarios (1) and (4), the answer involves me as an individual recognizing my own need to read. But in scenarios (2) and (3), it is someone else who recognizes the need for me to read something I have yet to get around to or perhaps deserve to reread. For I read differently when I want to read compared to the times when someone else wants me to read, either silently to myself or aloud to anyone around.

*****

When I was a child there were two kinds of trees: those you could climb, and those you couldn’t. Funny, I don’t remember thinking of buildings this way, even though the same principle would apply. But architecture is frozen music,[2] while books are trees. My childish eyes looked only for attainable branches to grab, sturdy knots to claw, and convenient toeholds to brace.

And these days I think I still think of books like that: books and trees that can be read or climbed versus those that can’t, or, at least on initial inspection, look too challenging to attempt. For example Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (2007) is a towering redwood whose canopy I slowly approach. ’Tis a big book, one I began reading in June of this year, and, after taking about 60 pages worth of notes, am only about a third of the way through. I scoot up its trunk with some fear and much trembling, not knowing what I’ll find when I reach the top, or how I’ll safely get back down.

NOTES

wood

[1] Andrew Lang, The Library, (New York, NY: Macmillan & Co, 1881). Reprinted under Dodo Press. 2004:

The Book-Ghoul is he who combines the larceny of the biblioklept with the abominable wickedness of breaking up and mutilating the volumes from which he steals … He prepares books for the American market. (p. 28)

See also D’Israeli’s essay “A Bibliognoste” in Curiosities of LiteratureVol. III, (Sixth edition, London: John Murray, 1817.)

[2] Goethe, Aus Meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit, (1811–1830) in Poetry and Truth from My Own Life, (trans. R. O. Moon, Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1949) II, 43.


Oct 11 2017

The Life of Books in 18th Century Autobiography

porticos in Bologna, Italia

The Life of Books in 18th Century Autobiography

From the Autobiography (1795) of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794):

It is whimsical enough, that as soon as I left Magdalen College my taste for books began to revive; but it was the same blind and boyish taste for the pursuit of exotic history. Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved—to write a book.

From the Autobiography (1731?) of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744):

In a conversation which he had with Vico in a bookstore on the history of collections of canons, he asked him if he were married. And when Vico answered that he was not, he inquired if he wanted to become a Theatine. On Vico’s replying that he was not of noble birth, the father answered that that need be no obstacle, for he would obtain a dispensation from Rome. Then Vico, seeing himself obliged by the great honor the father paid him, came out with it that his parents were old and poor and he was their only hope. When the father pointed out that men of letters were rather a burden than a help to their families, Vico replied that perhaps it would not be so in his case. Then the father closed the conversation by saying: “That is not your vocation.”

The Autobiography of Giambattista Vico, translated by Max Harold Fisch & Thomas Goddard Bergin, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1944) 134-35.


Aug 21 2017

An Open Book Beside an Empty Plinth

An Open Book Beside an Empty Plinth.

“Every scripture is to be interpreted by the same spirit which gave it forth,” — is the fundamental law of criticism. A life in harmony with nature, the love of truth and of virtue, will purge the eyes to understand her text. By degrees we may come to know the primitive sense of the permanent objects of nature, so that the world shall be to us an open book, and every form significant of its hidden life and final cause.

–Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature (1849), “Ch IV: Language.”

And:

“‘I, too,’ he said, ‘have closely studied this man’s soul; but, unlike my learned friend for the prosecution, I have found something there. Indeed, I may say that I have read the prisoner’s mind like an open book.’ What he had read there was that I was an excellent young fellow, a steady, conscientious worker who did his best by his employer; that I was popular with everyone and sympathetic in others’ troubles.”

–Camus, Albert. LÉtranger. (The Stranger.) 1942. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. NY: Vintage. 1954. p. 131.