Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Monday, June 8, 2020
I just read an article about universities (yet again) abandoning the Western Humanities in the face of a relentless drive to embrace diversity and a multicultural outlook. The article decried the loss of a rich culture in the face of a loose hodgepodge of approaches, none of which offers a coherent curriculum to university students. As an eighteenth-century British scholar and someone who wrote a Master’s Thesis on South Asian literature, I’m torn. Do I want to preserve a world where Homer, Sappho, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Defoe, Johnson, and Jane Austen still have a place in the curriculum? Absolutely. But I do want that to be the only voice in the curriculum, so students have no idea that there was a Golden Age of Indian Literature? Or never encounter Taoism? Or remain ignorant of names like Tagore, Narayan, Naipaul, Desai, Lahiri, and Rushdie? Not on your life.
Friday, June 1, 2018
Inevitably, certain works in the classical music canon fall into heavy rotation, often to the detriment of lesser-known (but equally powerful) pieces. One piece that is a perennial favorite is Gustav’s Holst’s 1916 suite, The Planets, which is often given the dubious distinction of being a “pops” piece. It is been recorded numerous times by most of the great conductors and orchestras, and many people assume that it has said all it needs to say by now, just over 100 years after its first performance. So I often think myself, until I hear it with fresh ears, or even better, catch a live performance. A few months ago I saw it again in concert (my third time, I believe) and though I was looking forward to it, I wasn’t desperate to hear it again, as much as I adore the piece.
Saturday, February 24, 2018
As a writer, it’s difficult to know when a work is complete. Writing “the end” is only a kind of beginning, after all, since there are so many stages of re-reading, revision, editing, proofreading, and nail-biting (waiting for the first readers to tell you what they thought of it). Of course, some would argue that a work is never complete; only after years or even decades of living with a work can you finally close the book on what you once wrote and what you actually meant. So how do you take the first step from writing to revising? Whose words can help you see the flaws (as well as the virtues) and figure out what kind of work you’ve actually written?
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Recently in an article on Book Riot’s Facebook page, a writer/academic boasted of her lifelong disdain of a “great” work that everyone is supposed to like, but apparently, no one does. The work in question is Moby Dick, and the writer congratulated herself for finally tossing the work aside, realizing that you can be an academic without sacrificing your own sense of taste. On the one hand, she’s exactly right: being an academic doesn’t mean conforming to a rigid standard of taste or values, since no one is more argumentative or less homogenous than a group of English professors. I should know—I’m one myself, and ran the gauntlet of a PhD program in English literature with a highly divisive group of mentors. Indeed, one of my favorite professors would often tell us, “Jane Eyre is a piece of shit—read
But to return to the article in question: why is rejecting a work a badge of pride or an arbiter of taste? Of course we’re not all going to like the same books, or appreciate the same music, but that has less to do with conforming than our individual aesthetics. I get that the writer felt pressured (by whom?) to like and appreciate Moby Dick, and by defying it to all and sundry, she felt she was asserting her independence from the academy. My only question is, why take it out on a book? Books don’t care what you think of them; they don’t have a secret agenda to make you feel stupid; and they certainly don’t belong to a secret club of hipster academic rock stars. Yes, a group of hipster academic rock stars might carry specific books as icons of their own importance, but that’s their choice—not the book’s.
Okay, granted, you might have every intention of liking Moby Dick, or Beowulf, or To The Lighthouse and a dozen pages in, you’re nodding off. So you toss it aside and try again a few days later...with the same result. Maybe you try again in a month, even a year, with the same experience of tedium or blatant dislike. How could you respond so negatively to a work embraced and loved and taught by millions? It’s natural to feel a little embarrassed, as if everyone is laughing at a joke that doesn’t seem in the least bit amusing. And often that vague embarrassment turns into resentment—and then a total rejection of the book in question. Some people assume it’s a conspiracy or an act of pretension; no one really likes that book—it’s just something people say! Another click bait article on FB recently announced, “25 books that if people say they’ve read that proves they’re lying,” with rather tame favorite such as Pride and Prejudice and 1984. Is it really that simple? If two people disagree about a book one of them has to be lying?
* Figure out what else was being written at the time. This is especially important for the so-called classics.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tuesday, January 2, 2018
1681: Two sorcerers are summoned to a remote estate to exorcise the Viceroy’s daughter. Is she entranced by the ancient book that holds the soul of a mysterious sorcerer...or the strange blue woman who appears in mirrors at night? Or have the sorcerers bewitched her themselves?
Read my new novella (only 75 pages--an hour's worth of reading--or two, if you read especially slow), The Shadow Familiar, set in the 17th century world of Mandragora, in a Europe that never was. You can download it for only 99 cents on Amazon and read it with a Kindle or any Kindle app. Leave a review if you enjoyed it or even if you didn't.
Here's the link: https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Familiar-Prelude-Backward-Hildigrims-ebook/dp/B078RBBFTS/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1514932945&sr=1-2&keywords=the+shadow+familiar