Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Portobello

There weren't any Inspector Wexford Novels available so I took Ruth Rendell's Portobello. Interesting beginning. A man has a heart attack and drops an envelop of money which another man finds. The second man decides to try to find the rightful owner of the cash by placing flyers on lamp posts around the neighborhood as one would for a lost cat, announcing he found some money and provided a phone number to be called. A con artist sees the flyer and makes the call only to be told by the finder he wishes to meet the man who says he lost the money before asking the sum of money lost. What? The first exchange has to be how much money was lost. If the sum is correct then arrange for its return in a neutral place, not in the finder's home. Then the rightful owner calls and gives the amount lost before anything else happens and the finder realizes he has a problem. The finder considers paying both the amount of money he found. What?

I can't read anymore. This is ridiculous, unbelievable and just plain stupid. Rendell is obviously an acquired taste, juts not mine. Too much suspension of disbelief for me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bicycle Diaries


During my last trip to London, August 2010, I visited Foyles to find some bargains. I happened upon Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. I read the Introduction and felt as if I were reading about me. Like Byrne, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I lived on my old ten speed in NYC. I wasn’t new to riding in NYC. I did ride this bike here in the 60’s, too. I used it to visit girl friends, to go down to Roxy to roller skate, and to get to work. I had a lock and locked it up wherever I went. I explored NYC’s boros, exercised in Central Park, and avoided using cabs and the subway. The bike was how I kept sane in NYC. Eventually I traded it in for a mountain bike, a Rock Hopper, in 1985 when my daughter was born. The streets just tore up that poor old ten speed. Soon I put her on the back and transported her around NYC and then her brother who was born in 1993. In 2005, I eventually gave it to my twelve-year-old son when I bought a Cannondale road bike to Escape NYC into Jersey and now to Maryland. I ride constantly for exercise and to tour while doing an average 65 miles per ride in all four seasons.
I didn’t realize that the author of this book was the David Bryne of Talking Heads fame until I investigated on the Internet and it was confirmed as I read more. Bryne traded his three speed in for a folding bike so when he traveled he could take it along to get closer to the real cities he visited. The evolution of the bike since the 1980’s in America and beyond has been astronomical. With the advent of bike sharing in America and Europe and with the addition of bike lanes in many cities around the world, we are seeing more and more bikes on the road. But in 1980, there were few of us and cars and especially taxies weren’t kind as Byrne points out. As I begin this book, I find so much in common with him. He, too, grew up in a suburb of a big city. We spent our youth, in the 50’s and 60’s on bikes. As he continues his treatise, he explains how cities are built for cars, not bikes or pedestrians. It is difficult to ride in most American cities because of the number of connecting freeways. These cities were built by car companies and oil companies and by men like Robert Moses. Biking in America is not easy as Byrne tells us. Most of our roads have cars that drive too quickly with inadequate shoulders that are littered with garbage and obstacles making biking no fun at all. His trip to the amazing Niagara Falls first takes him through miles of a wasteland of chain restaurants, tacky honeymoon motels and derelict neighborhoods. This is America. On other rides such as in Rochester, NY he discovers many wonders just by accident. Riding the bike slows him down, allows him the appreciate the neighborhoods, see the shops, smell the towns and cities he is touring as a musician or as a photographer. The bike is a break for him in his otherwise busy day and life that brings him to these cities for business. These rides are cathartic for Byrne, they provide a life force to nurture his artistic side. He rides from the center of Detroit to its suburbs he is able to see the devastation of the city and its surroundings. This is similar for me as I cross bridges from Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens.
Byrne takes on the German philosophical persona as he glides the clean and smooth streets of Berlin, circumnavigating an Evil Empire visitor to find the Stasi. On his way he enters the surreal world of art and neighborhoods hidden away by a maze of buildings. The bike allows for this adventure. The wide boulevards remind him of other cities and when he gets to the Stasi museum he gets lost in the ramblings of a political prisoner speaking of reparations, Mugabe, Nixon, Hitler, Bush and on and on until he escapes. This is what bike riding is like for me, too. For miles I am waxing poetic, philosophizing, ruminating about things, working it all out, so when I arrive home I am cleansed and refreshed. Remade anew.
In Istanbul, Byrne reminds us that bikes mean different thin gs to people in different countries. For some it is a sign of poverty, for others a mean main of transportation. In America, bikes are for many reasons: exercise, deliveries, and main mode of transport. Those using for main mode as I’m discovering here in Maryland it is either a loss of license or loss of car. Not everyone has a bike for recreation of only for recreation. The bike was always one of those things I wanted to use in an interdisciplinary course. If a class were to study the bike, one would need a math teacher, a physics teacher, a social studies teacher, a business teacher, a physical ed teacher, an English teacher, an art teacher, and a music teacher. Think about how that thematic concept could change education from what we have to what we should have. But that’s me dreaming. People certainly love their cars as witnessed in too many over populated cities around the world. As Byrne points out, he gets from point A to point B faster on his bike than in a car. Whenever he is in a car in Istanbul, he is stuck in traffic that is not moving. As he confirms, folks think riding a bike in a city like NYC is dangerous. It can be, but keep in mind the bike is probably going faster than the car and is more maneuverable. Now we are seeing a trend in “cycles for Hire” which are bikes one picks up here and rides and drops off there for a very small fee. They are cheaper than cabs and quicker and more convenient than subways or buses on their fixed routes. Istanbul is an architectural marvel of old and new, east and west and Byrne is enjoying it all as well as out of the way locations made more accessible on the bike.
Byrne’s stop in Buenos Aires is reminiscent of other cities, bikeless. But this trip brings him to even more remote places, more interesting cemeteries, and unique historical venues. Here he is encountering more language, more music, and is in a true city that never sleeps. BA is a party town and reminds me of Reykjavik. Again he meanders into the realm of politics and how America influenced the dictatorships of South America and he is there in a post 911 times with the recent election of Obama. America is an enigma to them with the reelection of W as much as it is to Byrne. He witnesses the power of the World Cup while in BA. Being in a country, whose country is currently playing in the World Cup, the experience is unlike anything any American can ever know, not even on Super Bowl Sunday.  Like many of us, the departing experience is strange as we are captured o a plane filled with Americans returning home. It is sad.
After reading the chapter on Manila, I definitely don’t find anything compelling about this place. The little biking he did do was uninspiring.
Byrne begins his Sydney chapter with terrifying accounts of the deadly insects. Then he slowly turns it into a very romantic and lovely trip. Some biking but the part that most intrigues me is when he rents a 4 wheel drive and ventures into the middle of Australia and to Ayers Rock. This I must do. I also wish to get to Tasmania, sorry he neglected it. His adventure to the Rock reminded me of Iceland, a place Byrne would relish, I’m sure.
I’m not sure I’d like to ride in London. The other riders are very competitive as I noticed and the number of lights and mishmash of roads makes it impossible for good sightseeing. The bus system there is superb and one can disembark often to do a proper our. Also London is so expansive that biking might be unreasonable. If I lived there as I did in NYC, yes, I’d live on my bike, but as a short term visitor trying to get as much packed in a short time, the bus is my preferred mode of transport, then the tube for large expanses of distance. London is also a good walking city as is NYC and Paris. Bikes for visitors, maybe on a lark, for residences, definitely.  Yes, London is an interesting view of class as Byrne points out. He of course is on a different level than I am. In all his travels, I’m sorry he isn’t a football fan. He would have loved it in Istanbul, Buenos Aires, and London. He missed a true look at the people through these eyes. Again, I couldn’t be in more agreement with him about the horror of reentry into the USA. It is the effect of having so much water separating us from Europe and Asia. America is a classic example for Burroughs’ idea “that the oppressed become the oppressors.” It’s not just Israelis, but also Americans. America is made up of oppressed people fleeing their oppressors to become the oppressors. The melting pot.
David Byrne the artist is visiting San Francisco for the art. This is a terrifying city in which to ride a bike let alone walk. The hills are killer, Psycho Killer, haha. I was lucky to have been able to spend a couple of summers in Palo Alto in 1999 and 2000. I had a bike then. I took it into SF once to enjoy the city and some of the hills. It wasn’t that bad. I have an artist friend who lives in SF and has a studio in Sausalito. He takes his bike up into the hills of Marin County and finds remote beaches. He sends me pics of his rides. I send him pics of my rides on the eastern shore of Maryland.
Byrne concludes with a chapter on NYC a city in which I lived for fifty years and lived on a bike. Riding a bike in the 60’s in NYC was a trip. In the 70’s without brakes and clubbing was numbing. Then I became a parent and more responsible just as the city became more responsible to bike riding. Now it is so civilized, bikes are ubiquitous in NYC. I once got a ticket for going through a red light on Riverside. Yikes, time to lite out for the territory, which I did.
I would have loved to see a chapter on his bike and how he maintains it on the road. I would have liked a geeky chapter on the bike, his tools, what he took as spares, and about how many flats he got. Also has he been to some real bike cities in the lowlands?
I had fun with the Bicycle Diaries and enjoyed the ramblings that go on inside our heads when we ride for miles and miles.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Voices


Erlendur has developed a sense of humor. In the third installment in this detective series, he is joking with his colleagues now in Arnaldur Indriðason's Voices. It is Christmas time in Iceland and the hotels are filling up with tourists. Santa has been killed and Erlendur has taken up residence in the hotel, where the murder took place. He seems to be developing a friendship with a woman that has lifted the gloom from him. His daughter is clean and has a job. Who would have thunk I would be chuckling about a murder and its peculiarities in Iceland in the dead of winter. It is Erlandur's fault. Santa slain in his cave wearing a condom.
Beyond the mystery, Erlendur explores relationships. Fathers and sons. Family. Love. He reflects on his own father and brother. He struggles with his own daughter and absent son. He is dissecting the dead man, former choirboy, and his demanding father and what became of them after the accidents. Even Elinborg’s case of the abusive father with a son who broke a Drambuie bottle invades Erlandur’s space. And then there is his new female interest skirting the perimeter looking for a way in. Another important theme is HOME. Gulli sneaking back into his home at night without making contact with his father or sister until she accidently discovers him. Erlendur doesn’t go to his home and instead he stays in the hotel. Images of HOME from Clockwork Orange and Thomas Wolfe’s posthumous treatise come to mind as I sit comfortably in my new home. Throughout, Erlendur is probing his own psyche and allowing his daughter to open him up. In spite of the dark and dreary aspects of murder and Iceland at Christmas time, Voices is uplifting and redemptive.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Women


I’ve returned to an old friend when I picked up The Women by TC Boyle at the library. I haven’t read anything but short stories of his since finishing Inner Circle which completed my diet of Boyle’s novels to that point. Now I have picked up from where I left and will resume the Boyle diet. His prose is ambrosia, his plots surprising and sustaining. His quirkiness always makes me chuckle, sometimes laugh out loud.
The book is about Wright’s women. Women and relationship abound. Often I have to stop and reminisce about my own relationships. A book like this does cause self-reflection and when it comes to relationships, well this one is a great stimulus to the reader’s mind.  It is a heartwarming tale actually as I ramble through the saga on these frigid days, in the 20’s, in front of the fireplace in constant use providing the necessary heat to make me comfortable while snow outside reminds me why I want to stay inside and hunker down in my self imposed solitude. I say saga because of the humorous way Boyle uses one of those frequent footnotes, as seen in non-fiction, to share a moment when Wright is meeting one future Mrs Wright who is 45 and adjusting her hair and juxtaposing this scene with another future Mrs Wright now of 15 probably asleep with her hair spread out on her pillow in her Georgia, Russia bed. It’s always about the women. This tale reminds me that I know I have made the right choice as I saunter through Wright’s life and burdens. His curse was he needed someone to look after him. Young’s plaintive cry, A Man needs a Maid. Probably the wrong path as one considers a relationship. The women are lovers, mothers, apprentices, daughters, maids; they are all there to serve Wright. “Never.” Never say “never” Frank. Yes, we all have had a Miriam in our loves. “Sex was the curse of life, “ been there done that, haven’t we all.
The story is the classic one of man rising from the ashes over and over again, the perpetual phoenix. Taliesin is the metaphor for Wrieto-San, the moniker given by our narrator, a Japanese architect apprentice. Taliesin is Wrieto-San’s Wisconsin home that goes through many iterations, I, II, III, following fires brought on by his sins, so it isn’t a coincidence that the last three letters of the name of the house spell ‘sin.’ The image of ‘fire’ is so dominant in this book. Certainly the fires at Taliesin stand out. The fires in Tokyo after an devastating earthquake and of course the atomic bomb fires, the ‘sin’ of letting the fires die in Taliesin fireplaces to make the drafting rooms as cold as meat lockers, the fires that consume the dreaded hard pencils so that Wright must remind them that the ‘eraser’ is the most valuable tool to the architect (in his work and in his life), the ritualistic and symbolic fire at Stuffy’s, and most importantly the fires of the heart and how Wrieto-San always rises from the fires.
I am most taken by the use of footnotes and the use of referencing one footnote from another. A neat trick  by Boyle. Another important character in the novel is the newspaper or more precisely the newspaper reporters who doggedly hound Wrieto-San everywhere and are even used by other characters to harass Wrieto-San and to help keep track of him, the poor man, the poor poor man.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Monster in the Box


I stumbled upon my first Inspector Wexford Novel by accident even serendipitously. I was looking for another title and when I was looking for it, The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell fell to the floor.  I’ve always been intrigued by these instances in my life when a book falls into my hands, so to speak. I’ve always found those instances fortuitous. So I kept it and checked it out with another book I had come for.
Back in England again and back and forth between two times in the life of the inspector.  An early question keeps reoccurring if things are better now than then. Wexford and his pal Burden explore this idea often and Wexford even examines his buddie’s second marriage in that way, too.
“You’re saying things were better then?” Burden raised his eyebrows.
“Yes and no. In some ways and in some ways not. I expect that’s true whenever you contrast one period of time with another period of time.” Wexford continues to speak of forensics and DNA and the mobile phone as examples.
We are talking about Wexford’s first murder that may have occurred in the 60’s maybe 70’s. He has stumbled upon the man who he had a gut feeling was the murderer, but was too young and green and was new to say anything especially without any evidence or even a motive. But now he is reawakened and with experience to revisit this first case. He continues his tale with weird and strange encounters with Targo, the suspect, over the years in odd places and at interesting points in other murders by strangling. Coincidences are building and that raises the red flags for Wexford who unburdens himself to Burden. We are Burden right now.
So many incidents from the past are coming back now to be closed or to be revisited; former female interactions, an acquaintance for whom he was best man remind us of how he was so convinced about something and didn’t say anything unlike his colleague, Hannah, who is pursuing a hunch. So is it better then or now? Wexford simply goes inside and closes the door not wanting to hear or see anymore.
I need to read some more of this series.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Yellow Dog


Stepping back ten years to the very humorous and catty Martin Amis’ Yellow Dog. I need the chuckles provided in the four simultaneous stories told with great flair and understanding on these chilly rainy days of mid-January. I’m sitting by a constant fire that kills the chill and warms the bones in what would be a typical English summer day.  But I’m not in England, I’m here in Berlin, Maryland near enough to the beach to smell it, though today is not a beach day. It is a reading day and a go the movies day.
Yellow Dog has to be a ribald classic. It is hilarious, outrageously hilarious and bawdy. Joseph Andrews has me laughing so hard and out loud, I’m tearing. Fielding couldn’t have done better, though he does come closer with Tom Jones. Best line: “You’re giving this all up for forty-five pee?” The journey has Xan reviewing his life, his past, his present, what he can of the assault. In the end it is always about our children, why we have them, how we remember their births, and their first steps. We always want to be better than our own parents. We all have to wade through the muck and mire of life, through the porno of life to get to the moments, those rare moments when we finally understand why we have children.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Umbrella

No sooner had I left Smith’s Northwest London than I entered Will Self’s Northwest London in his short listed Umbrella. I’m suddenly trapped in this Joycean world of prose. I’m often reminded of TC Boyle’s The Road to Wellville. “And yet: sex begets more sex, VS he is massaging my womb what a pair. Umbrella is chapterless and just marches through the streets of London via bus or on foot in a Marx brothers amble or stumble neglecting paragraphing and natural breaks and navigating the corridors of a hospital. The antics of the doctors, be it rearranging the patients or romping about in sexual escapades or sipping the port, leads us to wonder whether we should just die at home, thank goodness it isn’t 1832 and the cholera. The umbrella, a central image takes on many forms, from the making of them to the use or lack of use of them, to the losing of them is a where is Waldo challenge. Even sexually as the pink umbrella beneath the foreskin. And of course the shop, Appleby’s fabulous collection is an eye full and probably littered with very expensive umbrellas. The book is hard to put down because of the story and the style of writing. It can’t be read quickly. It must be read wordbyword, and so often out loud just to relish and enjoy the words and even to understand them: “She was always, he sighed, such a dainy little fing, per-teet if you know what I mean, an’ now just look at her minced morsels!” The language is just deeelightful. Oh and the book must be read in solitude, not on the beach or on a plane or train or in a house with disturbances. Late at night when everyone is asleep. Audrey wakes up halfway through book to announce her name is Death not Dearth. What a roller coaster as Self bounces us around in time. Audrey making 50 pounders at the Arsenal. The trench warfare of soldiers and patients finally produce lucid post-encephalitic patient rebirths emerged in their own palililic verbigeration. Zachary in his hospital trench warfare. Rebirth is a beautiful thing, L-DOPA. The continued back and forth from a One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest images of the traveling post-encies to the King of Hearts images of the battlefield survivors. I only see in sepia throughout this tome, no color not even blood red, only a darker brown. Laughing isn’t laughing, it just isn’t crying or screaming. Charly revisited. Nothing comes of nothing and it all just becomes a luxury condo that can’t hide its past is even grey. I’m an ape man, I’m an ape-ape man, oh I’m an ape man. Umbrella is a prize.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NW



Zadie Smith’s NW. Not on Booker long or short list. On Beauty was. I don’t get the Booker choices. I’ve always been confused by the short list and especially the eventual winner. I always found those left on long list better. And where is Martin Amis? The Pregnant Widow was great. I sensed Bring up the Bodies would win. It’s not a piece of literature like the others, but it is so British.

-Hey Dad
-Hey son, good to hear from you.
-Are you eating well?
-Yeah

I know the settings of both NW and On Beauty, though not Northwest London as well as Boston. I want to know it better next time I’m in London by riding the buses more. I do know and like the Heath.

-Are you getting ready to return to school?
-No.
-What are you up to?
-Hangin with my friends.
-Are you exercising?
-No

I like the characters, Leah and Michel and how they interact. Their neighborhood is tough on them as they try to keep themselves together in spite of their environment. Are they spinning their wheels?

-I worry about you son.
-Thanks, dad.

I am looking at a bus map of Northwest London to follow the action. It is like when I read Ulysses before going to Dublin and wanting to follow Bloom’s path. Leah and Bloom are in a similar dilemma, surviving. The paradoxes. Being civil in a hostile world. Being hostile in a civilized world. Helping someone who comes to the door. Arguing at a dinner party. Finding themselves in the safety of home. A dog dies for their love. 

-Have you done anything fun?
-Yeah went skiing with Diana.
-How’d you do?
-Okay.

Fathers and sons are curious. Felix and Lloyd are curious. Role reversal. Then there’s Barnsey. I’m one of the silver tsunami. Great term.

-So what are you up to dad?
-Seemed to have gotten the flu when I came home. I’ve been in bed for four days. Felt better today  so I took short bike ride.
-I worry about you being alone, dad.
-I ain’t alone son. I’ve got friends and neighbors. Thanks. Come and visit.
-When I get my license.

Felix rides the Tubes like I do and I’m following him. I’m intrigued by Tom who prefers Brixton to Mayfair. Me, too. I lived in Roxbury rather than the Fens. Felix is a very interesting character, very accomplished, very smooth. He is his dad’s son. Poor Felix is trying to climb out of the hole when he meets those two thugs on the train, does the right thing to no avail. The paradoxes of life. 

-Have you read anything?
-No, just the Post. You know I hate reading.
-Yeah, one day that will change. You are such a good writer. That will lead you to reading.

When was the last time I heard “pluperfect” used in a sentence? The continued reminder of grammar throughout entertains me. I continue to have déjà vu as I read this book. I realize that I’ve read portions of this book previously published in The New Yorker. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. This third part, Host, is a gold mine. I wish it existed when I was a younger man. I’m learning so much about women. Natalie becomes more like Bloom. No you can never go home because it is always right behind you. RIP Felix.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blue Skies

I need these blue skies. I am living inside with a fire and curling up with books and medicine. I have the flu. I am stuck inside and I have read Arnaldur Indriðason's Jar City aka Tainted Blood which takes place in one of the rainiest darkest falls (2001) in Icelandic History. Iceland can be very brutish. Great story that deals with the importance of the Icelandic people in genetic study. For a diversion I'm tapping Victoria Robert's humorous illustrated novel After the Fall. I am now following up with Indriðason's Silence of the Grave.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I read past page 60, Joe

Not taking Queenan's advice I trudged on deep into his fanciful Alice in Wonderland tome, tripping over titles dropped as bread crumbs by Hansel and Gretel. Some I knew, others not, and some I want to know. It was more an intellectual curiosity of mine to keep going on over his path of self discovery from buying a house to visiting places he should have researched beforehand to the Paris cemetery I absolutely love to visiting author's houses. Visiting Shakespeare and Company is like that Joe, get over it. There is a funny snobbishness present throughout about being a Yankee fan, and I'm named Ted after Boston's Splendid Splinter; the name of a town in Westchester; and the curious likes and dislikes of authors.

I remember the great epiphany when I picked up a copy of Troilus and Cressida in the USO library in Quin Nhon, Vietnam in 1969 and was blown away by it, the story, the characters, and the relevance to my life at that time. It changed by whole perspective on life. I spent my first year of college at Babson and immediately transferred to Skidmore to do further study in Shakespeare and then to become an English teacher teaching Shakespeare and then became a Shakespeare scholar. Prior to reading that play, I wanted to be a lawyer.

I finished Ulysses in short order before my visit to Dublin. I wanted to retrace Bloom's path. I was unsuccessful, Dublin as changed. What I did find rather startlingly depressing was a proper museum to celebrate the Irish authors. The museum honoring these giants was pathetic.

Now I'm retired after 40 years of teaching high school English and I enjoy reading past page 60, whether I should or not, but because I can. Reading is a joy as you most eloquently show, Joe. I, too, am struggling with that Miles Davis quote as are you: "Genius is knowing what to leave out."