Books and Book Reviews: January 2006 Archives

So I Can Find It When I Need It


Erle Stanley Gardner Bibliography

Pursuant to the last post--a very complete-looking bibliography of ESG.

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Lamentations of a Bibliophile

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I inherited my love of books from my mother. Unfortunately, what I did not inherit, at least initially, was her taste in books. As a result I often found myself in the past trolling through small out of the way second-hand specialty bookshops looking to fill in gaps in my collection of Carter Dickson, or John Dickson Carr.

Recently, I have found another case of overlooked until almost too late. I have long been a fan of the mysteries published under one of Erle Stanley Gardner's pseudonyms--A.A. Fair. I was fortunate enough to discover this when it was still possible to pick up paperbacks of the novels at a fairly reasonable price. And I did so--excessively. To the point where I think I'm only lacking one--either Widows Wear Weeds or Bachelors Get Lonely (I'd have to check the shelves. Oh, and if anyone wants to donate to the cause, please don't hesitate.)

Unfortunately, I did not acquire my mother's taste for Perry Mason in time. I found the television series mildly interesting, but nothing that would provoke me to read the novels. That's a shame because, like the Fair books, they are intricately constructed and completely in a world of their own. They don't inhabit the "hard-boiled" world of Hammett, Chandler and Ross MacDonald. They don't exist in the noir world of Chandler, Fair, and Woolrich. They don't run straight out in the golden age world of Rex Stout. There is nothing in the mystery world to compare to them.

I know that there are some who might breathe a sigh of relief at this news. However, I find myself in the distinctly unpleasant position of having about 17 out of 82 titles, and now wishing to acquire the rest--this in a time that if they are not a-list they might see print once every ten-or-so-years, and that will fade with time. I'm also in the unfortunate position of not living anywhere near a large used book store, much less the specialty used book-stores I used to prowl through in the DC area.

So, I'm left with the unappetizing, but potentially required necessity of prowling through the internet used-book corridors to see if I can rustle up some Perry Mason novels. Once again, an open invitation to any of my potential benefactors out there--you've got some you don't want, I will provide a loving and caring home for them--just e-mail me. And while I'm not picky, the 1960s editions with their lurid covers would be particularly well-loved and admired. However, beggars can't be choosers and the real issue is to get these and read them, so whatever wings its way to me--I'll be just fine.

Now, since my benefactors haven't usually mobbed me with offers, I'll ask an additional boon. If any of you all have had particular success with an on-line used book dealer or know of one that is really good, I'd greatly appreciate recommendations.

The down side of all of this is that the thrill of the hunt is definitely diminished with on-line shopping. I remember how thrilled I was to walk into a story and be able to snag a "new" (to me at least) binding of The Peacock Feather Murders or the day I nearly passed out at having in my hands Nine, and Death Makes Ten in a rare PB edition for $0.50. I know that will not happen again, but what a rush it was to score such a coup! (Same with Behind the Crimson Blind which I had to pay $10.00 for.)

Any way, any help you might offer would be greatly appreciated.

Later correction: Turns out I was missing Some Slips Don't Show, which I recall reading so I don't know how it went missing. However, probably got it from the library, etc. Still, if anyone has an extra copy lingering about. . .

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From the Heart of Dismay

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As of today, I have 1,808 books catalogued on my "Library Thing" catalogue. The dismay sets in when I realize that this covers two sets of shelves in my family room (and it doesn't even complete those). My estimate of my total library may have been low as I am guessing that what is catalogued so far represents about 5% of the total. (But maybe that is misleading because it represents 5% of the shelving space, not all of which is so fully occupied as the shelves in the family room.)

Perhaps I am pessimistic and I'll still come in around 20,000. But the easy part has been done and now it's title by title with much hand entry. Perhaps this catalogue will not be so extensive as otherwise might occur.

Also, I have to go through a proof to make certain that I didn't include Rex Stout titles three and four times. (A common problem given my cataloguing method.)

And given the recent spate of mysteries TSO has been knocked out of first place of similar libraries and now is about third. I'm sure that is a source of enormous heartache to him, so please drop him a note of consolation. :-D

Given what I have left to index, my suspicion is that Miss Woodhouse and Eurydice are likely to increase dramatically in the similarity index pushing poor TSO lower. (But don't tell him, he's very sensitive to these things you know--and I'm certain that he was so devastated by the last revelation that he's left off reading.) The bulk of the remainder are non-Carmelite religious texts and the "classic works"--Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Hardy, Fielding, novels of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Then of course there's the unseemly large collection of H. Rider Haggard.

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Billy Collins

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TSO uses a bit of Billy Collins (for a caption) that perfectly encapsulates my major difficulties with his work:

Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.

The problem here is merely that there is nothing new--there is no insight or surprise. These are perfect as the lyrics of a love song destined to be a hit--but as poetry they suffer from overuse of the images. What is more ingrained in the mind of modernists and postmodernists than the "stream of consciousness?"

Billy Collins appeals to a great many because of his accessibility. And perhaps that is part of what disorients me. Poetry SHOULD be accessible, but it should also be coy--alluring on the surface and rich in depths and surprises for the person who stays around after the initial courting. Mr. Collins's work doesn't do this for me, and I so much wish it would.

On the other hand, if he opens a door to people, then there must be something I'm overlooking--some pleasure that comes from hearing something just as we ought to hear it, without being startled, shocked, or drubbed into insensibility by the poet's cleverness. One tires of the overwrought, the "shock of the new," the constant attempts to up-the-ante on the part of some poets. Perhaps Mr. Collins's work is merely a form of understatement a rebellion against the insistence that everything needs to be worked and overworked until we have a lump of coal we call a diamond because we're so impressed with what we've done to it. I need to consider and respect that as well. And so my reaction to Mr. Collins is really not a reflection on his work, so much as it is an ingrained reaction--a reaction that is perhaps provocative on its own--asking me what it is that cause me to kick against the goad.

Note: language revised in deference to a note from a friend. And apologies tendered to those inadvertantly disturbed by the original.

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Break, Blow, Burn

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I really like Camille Paglia. I can't think of a single person with whom I disagree more in nearly every walk of life that I would so much like to have a conversation with. She's sharp, incisive, witty, often fair-minded. In fact, she can be brilliant (as in Sexual Personae--a book filled with things I disagree with, remarkably and capably argued and presented.) As a result, I picked this book up at the library and I've dipped in at a few places.

I must say that I'm somewhat disappointed. I'm disappointed with the selection, and I'm disappointed with some of the readings. I haven't read enough to know the complete content, and so this is not to judge the whole book. But while retaining her stunning prose clarity and polish, the majority of the analyses I looked at failed in one of two ways.

The first failures were simply unremarkable. Into this category fell the commentary on Wallace Steven's "Disillusionment of 10 O"Clock". It's a poem that doesn't really NEED a reading. The surface is the substance, and it is a fine substance. We don't need the brilliance of Camille Paglia to come in and tell us that it is about ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary ways and the despair that can entail when looked at in that way. This is probably one of those places where she should have chosen a different poem--"Sunday Morning" with its ambiguities and multiple possible interpretations (I see it as presaging the great atheist's conversion); or "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"--that convoluted, intricate, imagist dismantling of haiku, tanka, and other imagist standards. Now, I suspect that one of the reasons for not choosing such poems is that Ms. Paglia wished to maintain her approximate structure of about four pages of explanatory prose for each poem. These latter poems would require a great many more pages to even start an explanation.

Another example of this failing came with the reading of Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress." Surprisingly, there was nothing new or of note here. Ms. Paglia notes the carpe diem nature of the poem and then goes on to make several other unremarkable observations about structure, oratory, and imagery. I suppose that this might come as news to college freshmen who had no previous introduction to poetry, or perhaps even to some of the St. Blogs audience who have no particular liking for poetry, but for those of us who have lived with the poem, Ms. Paglia offers nothing startling, or, other than her fine prose, even interesting.

The second category of disappointment is in overwrought and high-flung interpretations. Into this category falls both the readings of William Carlos Williams "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "This is just to say." Williams was a great poet, perhaps one of the finest imagists of the twentieth century. But to say that immediately indicates his relative importance in the field of poetry. Yes, he's top rank, but he's a top rank imagist--the most non-committal of poets. Kind of the "scientist" of poets--recording for posterity without much in the way of guideposts for interpretation or hooks for an emotional entanglement.

Of the latter, Paglia takes a simple communication between husband and wife--if lovely and charming--and turns it into a kind of mini-Paradise Lost, with Williams intruding upon the Eden of the refrigerator and waging battle in heaven. Honestly, this slip of a poem doesn't support the weight of interpretation. Similarly with "The Red Wheelbarrow," which depends for its effect on the ambiguity of "So much depends on a red wheelbarrow." We are led to ask, "Such as?" When in fact, the dependency, while real, may be as simple as the image that it forms in the poet's mind and in ours.

The third, and most notable failing comes in the choice of poetry to represent the modern age. Of course, any such choice is likely to be idiosyncratic and debatable, but one must question the inclusion of Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" over "Lady Lazarus" or "Ariel," and the inclusion of two Roethke poems ("The Root Cellar" being one of them) in preference to "My Papa's Waltz" (If we're going with the "Daddy" theme) or the truly remarkable and frightening "In a Dark Time".

I've outlined the problems I have seen withthe readings, and yet, I suspect I shall read the remainder of the book, if only for Ms. Paglia's mastery of English Prose. As to selection, that can be forgiven easily, as any one of us would select poems to comment on that others would question. The other two failings might simply be the result of the fact that I am not the intended audience for this book. Ms. Paglia wants to recapture and reignite interest in our poetic heritage. She chooses interesting, short poems that people would be willing to read and accompanies them with a solid, simple, straightforward interpretive model that demonstrates that poetry is not inaccessible, distant, and far off. When one reads her interpretation of Steven's "Disillusionment," there is an almost palpable sense of relief that one didn't miss the point after all. When one engages some of the outre, bizarre, or outrageous interpretations, one can see the depth of the personal meaning possible for a poem.

I will read the book because Camille Paglia is a master of prose. She is also one of the foremost warriors on the cultural battlefield that would like to do away with the notion that there is a "Canon," a core of formative works that have affected civilization throughout the ages--a core of work from which other works are derivative or theme and variations, or "transgressive." (Good Lord, how I hate that term.)

In sum, the work is worth reading, not so much for its insights as it is for its solid, foundational, and level-headed approach to what many consider unapproachable. Ms. Paglia's prose is a marvel in nearly every sentence, and here and there the brilliance of Sexual Personae or Vamps and Tramps shines through. In short, Ms. Paglia's work is almost always worthy of attention because Ms. Paglia herself is a compelling mind and personality.

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Reading List


With the idea that there is simply not enough time for everything, certainly not enough for the merely good, I have turned my attention to the best, hoping thereby to improve my own circumstances.

Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy--In the gorgeous new translation. I have never managed to make my way through this book. The subject matter is unutterably depressing and uninteresting. I've never been much engaged by those who go about evil deliberately (Vronsky) applauded by society. But, unfortunately, that is a prevalent reality and Tolstoy chronicles it very well.

A Retreat with Pere Jacques--A retreat given shortly before the martyrdom of yet another Catholic during the horror of the Second World War. Pere Jacques was imprisoned for protecting and aiding Jews escaping from the Holocaust. He is numbered by the Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous among nations and his story is told in the film Au Revoir Les Enfants. He was deported to Mathausen Concentration Camp and survived until the liberation but died shortly thereafter. Being a Carmelite, Pere Jacques would seem to have a great deal to say to this lay Carmelite (even thought the retreat is given to cloistered religious).

Next up, More of Dom Columba's book. I've dipped into it here and there and if the whole lives up to the selected parts it will prove a really fine read.

Great business at work accounts for a diminished number of books going simultaneously.

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Christ the Lord--Redux

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I have finished Mrs. Rice's book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You might call it The Anti-Da Vinci Code in every respect--it is well written, well researched, well considered, well planned, and well executed. There does not appear to be even the slightest trace of axe-grinding or agenda pushing. In short, it seems a remarkable work of devotion by a woman of remarkable talent. I found it inspirational and beautiful. The ending, which I had half-expected to disappoint, did not. It was subtle, understated, and all the more powerful for its restraint. Overall a really great reading experience and a way to grow closer to the human person of Jesus Christ.

I'll repeat that I have not been a fan of Mrs. Rice's book since Interview with a Vampire, which should not be read as a reflection on Mrs. Rice's ability, but upon my taste. I sincerely hope that she brings her talent and vision to bear on continuing this series--because it is precisely to my taste. She's taken some interesting challenges and risks and I have been truly blessed in reading this particular work. In short, it is really a work of beauty and power. Art, properly focused, can do much to help us get in touch with God--Mrs. Rice's latest work does exactly this.

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Reading List

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Up Now--

Anne Rice Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt--I was first astounded by Ms. Rice reading Interview with the Vampire. I knew that I was reading something absolutely new, compelling, interesting. I have not been a fan since--something happened in the development of her style and writing that put me off--my problem, not hers. But once again, I am astounded by Ms. Rice's ability. This book is beautifully written and it takes big risks--for example writing from the point of view of Jesus. But every choice seems deft and sure, guided by prayer and study. What do I make of the inclusion of certain elements from "apocryphal" sources? I make that Ms. Rice uses them to show us the true humanity of Christ--the developmental awareness that every person comes to through time. I have watched my own son come to awareness of himself as a person. Ms. Rice proposes that if Christ is "like us in all things but sin" He might always have known who and what He is, but He might have had to come to an understanding of what that means. I believe the book portrays that dawning understanding beautifully. I haven't finished it yet, but I still recommend it to your attention. Even if the ending falls short, the journey has been worth it.

Up Shortly:

Christ, The Life of the Soul Blessed Columba Marmion--I mentioned receiving this yesterday and I am looking forward to reading it. It will be one of those long, slow reads because the prose is such that it will take some time to assimilate the ideas. The book is assembled from a series of talks and so has a more informal, looser structure, but still remains heady and profound. Just glancing at the first few pages showed that this would not be my usual duck-my-head-in-a-book-while-the wife-watches-CSI kind of thing.

Also yesterday I received the IVP new Catena volume for Revelations. This should prove one of the most interesting volumes as one can discover from it what the Early Church Fathers made of St. John's visions.


My christmas gift books:

The Moai Murders Lyn Hamilton
Literary Giants, Literary Catholics Joseph Pearce

and at the inspiration of TSO

Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary Scott McDermott--I had not looked closely enough to discover that this was, in fact, a Sceptre publication and thus a work of Opus Dei.

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This season has been very difficult for me in a number of ways. But a couple of notes from some on-line friends and the totally unexpected arrival of this book in the mail have really made my day.

The Blessed Columba Marmion is the author of a number of books in which I have been interested, but which have been out of my reach either because of cost or sheer availability in any form. Now, Zaccheus Press, a Press which just keeps getting better and better has produced an all-new translation of one of Marmion's key works. (I am reporting this more by reputation than through my own knowledge.) What a handsome and large book it is. I can't wait to get started with it. John O'Leary, the Owner and operator of Zaccheus Press has dedicated his efforts to reproducing some of the great, lost works of the past. I have noted that his previous efforts have been picked up and distributed by Ignatius Press (Abbot Vonier's Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist and Hugo Rahner's Our Lady and the Church. Each book is better made and more aware of some of the subtleties of the typesetting arts, and each is more ambitious. If you have the money, the time, and the inclination, you might want to look at Mr. O'Leary's site and invest in some of the handsome volumes. They are a magnificent addition to any library of Catholic Literature, and you will do much to help contribute to the restoration of some of the great old works that have been lost to us.

Mr. O'Leary, if you happen to stop by, thank you so much for your service to the Catholic community as exemplified by these beautifully produced, nicely printed volumes. May God prosper your efforts at this renaissance of Catholic Spiritual literature.

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Another entry in the gather around and protect the reputation of Pope Pius XII books. A worthy cause and a notable book in the cause.

Dalin traces documentary evidence that soundly refutes the detractors of Pope Pius XII as well as the generalized claim of anti-semitism on the part of the Catholic Church and the popes specifically. While I found some of his arguments in favor of the Church overly generalized to the point of inaccuracy, his generosity of spirit in the matter is to be applauded.

What Dalin effectively does do in the work (as well as clearing Pius XII's name) is to point out the strong Nazi roots of current Islamic antisemitism. Some time back in Crisis there was an essay titled, "Hitler's Mufti," and this comprises most of the end of Dalin's present work.

For those interested in trying to restore some balance in the presentation of Pius XII to the world, this work is invaluable. It is readable and well documented. It does have some small faults, but they are more than made up for by the wonderful historical insights offered throughout.

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Those who travel in the mystery circuits know that Erle Stanley Gardner, most famous for the Perry Mason series of mysteries, also published under a number of pseudonyms. Each of these was usually dedicated to a given series. The series published under the name A.A. Fair is Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.

Bertha Cool is a large woman who runs a private detective agency out of Los Angeles. In the earlier books in the series she contributes more to the story and the solution of the mystery. In this entry she acts mainly as catalyst and obnoxious obstacle. Lam does all of the footwork. And fancy footwork it is indeed. The mystery is multilayered and starts when a wealth young San Franciscan comes to the Cool and Lam agency looking for detectives to procure him an alibi for a night on which a notorious gangster was shot.

Well, that's only the beginning of a noir roller-coaster ride that uncovers a stock scheme, a double murder, a hit-and-run driver and other incidentally related crimes and criminal activities.

Unusally well-crafted for this series and available now in the new Hard Case line of classic and nouveau noir entries. Worth your attention if you need a light read.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from January 2006.

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