Alternate Nobel Writers

The Alt-Reality Nobel prize for literature, 2007, would have gone to J.K. Rowling?
Ted Gioia’s list is pretty good. He would have given the award to several genre writers. He has a different theory of aesthetics and less impressed with old canons of high art and literary fiction. His Great Books Guide site is informed by the same theories and is pretty good too.
He has some comments about Heinlein, Dick, Rowling, genre fiction and some good reviews.
On related topic, here is an essay about SF Out of this World from the New Humanist, reflecting on why people who take the magic of out real life like fantasy in books and performances.

Wonder Books

From The American Scholar, a review of the style of popular and literary fiction based on healing journeys: Brooklyn Books of Wonder, by Melvin Jules Bukiet. It’s a savage assessment of my least favourite literature, sentimental fiction. It has a good explanation of why this stuff sellsit works: narcissistic empathy. Read it, weep and perceive yourself as a nice, sensitive person.

They’re kitsch, which Milan Kundera defined as “the translation of the stupidity of received ideas into the language of beauty and feeling [that] moves us to tears of compassion for ourselves, for the banality of what we think and feel.”
Serious fiction, literature, even if it’s fabulist, sharpens reality. BBoWs elude reality to avoid the taint of anger or cynicism or the passion for revenge felt by real people in similar situations. Instead of telling a story of brute survival, BBoWs indulge in a dream of benign rescue.

And yes, another hit from AL Daily.

Sir Joseph Banks

Through the SciTech Daily site, a link to “Master of the Enlightenment”, Andrea Wulf’s review of The Scientific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1765-1820, edited by Neil Chambers.
Sir Joseph Banks was Patrick O’Brien’s model for Stephen Maturin, a leading character in the Aubrey & Maturin novels. O’Brien drew on Banks in two ways. In real life, Banks was 50 years old by the time Napoleon came to power in France, and a man of influence in European science. Sir Joseph Blaine, a senior man in British Intelligence who is as interested in Maturin’s entomological specimens as his information on political affairs. Banks’s journey with Captain Cook serves as model for Maturin’s scientific explorations during his travels a naval surgeon.
In the movie, Master and Commander, Maturin has one his scientific raptures in the Galapagos, implying that Maturin could be modeled on Charles Darwin. HMS Beagle was build after the end of the Napoleonic wars, and Darwin’s voyage (1831-1836) was specifically devoted to scientific and geographical information. Darwin was closer to Huxley and the practical scientists of the British Empire than to the scientists of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution.

The Wild Trees

Richard Preston recognized a good story when he heard about Steve Sillett, ninja climbs and the quest for the tallest tree. He told the story effectively in “Climbing the Redwoods”, written for the New Yorker (ninja version here), and republished in Best American Science Writing 2006. He has managed to write it again, even better, as a full book, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring. [Update – September 5/07. See “Upwardly Mobile” by Robert Macfarlane in the Guardian, September 1/07 for review of other books about climbing trees.]

Continue reading

Reading List

Randy’s point about the fall TV lineup is good. There is so much material, so little time. The days of 3 channels are long gone. I have the same problems with reading material. I have picked up several mystery or thriller titles, primarily serials, out of loyalty to the writer. I see them on the new release or Fast New shelves in the library so I am not throwing cash away on a one time read. I pick them up because the product is predictably entertaining, familiar characters acting in familiar situations. On the other hand, it isn’t always that good, and I find myself wondering why I bothered.

Continue reading

Starship Troopers

The Wikipedia entry of the day relates to Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers. I was impressed by the novel when I was 14, less impressed when I was 20, and more impressed today. Heinlein wrote a good story and rendered the didactic and tendentious as palatable. I have never been clear on whether Starship Troopers represented the real stream of his thought, or whether the altered consciousness hippie ethic of Stranger in a Strange Land was closer to his heart.

Coming Up for Air

After The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s next book was Homage to Catalonia, which was about the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, he published the novel Coming Up for Air, a first person narrative covering a few days in the life, and many years in the memories of George Bowling. Bowling is a 45 year old insurance representative, living in a London suburb. He lives on commission, he travels, he tries to enjoy life. The story is about Bowling’s decision to play hooky – from work and from his family – for about a week to visit the once-rural, once-small village where he grew up before the first World War. The story is the story of his life.

Continue reading

Wigan Pier

In 1936, British publisher, Victor Gollancz agreed to publish a book by Eric Arthur Blair on the imprint of the Left Book Club. Blair had been educated at Eton, but having failed to secure a University scholarship, had joined the British colonial service as a policeman in Burma. He came back to Europe as resolute opponent of colonialism and British snobbery. He was destitute and homeless for a period of time. He became a teacher, an assistant in a bookstore and a writer. His first full book, Down and Out in Paris and London, was published in 1933 under his pen name, George Orwell.

Continue reading