October 31, 2003
Looking for love

I have a piece up today at The American Spectator on the strange new world of dating:

Women will do anything to get married. At least that is the impression one gets watching television lately...[More]
If you visit the main page today, you can see the spooky graphic they used for the article.

October 30, 2003
Another birthday

For three years, out of key with his time,
He strove to resuscitate the dead art
Of poetry; to maintain "the sublime"
In the old scene. Wrong from the start—
Today marks the birth of the late American poet Ezra Pound. Of course he was an important poet in his own right. But perhaps one of his most seminal contributions (and he made many in his influence on and aid to other poets) was his work on his friend T.S. Eliot's masterpiece "The Waste Land." One of my fondest recollections of my time as an English major is writing a paper arguing for Pound as co-creator of the work.

October 28, 2003
Happy Birthday

Today is the centenary of the great English novelist Evelyn Waugh. He died at the age of 66, his powers undiminished. I'm a big fan of his work, often hilarious but tinged with sadness for a disappearing world.

You can find items I wrote here on Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy and the upcoming new adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.

I plan to write something longer on him soon. Until then, some reading elsewhere—

In The Spectator, W.F. Deedes echoes a recent column of mine:

‘But what was he really like?’ people ask tediously. What the hell does it matter? We have become obsessed with the idiosyncrasies of people who write good books and produce great music. What I do know about Waugh in all his moods is that his religion counted for much with him. He knew how awful he could be, knew he would be more awful without that divine grace. What more do we need to know? Why look into the crystal ball when we can read all the books?

Geoffrey Wheatcroft makes a similar point in an excellent article in The Times Literary Supplement in which he rehabilitates Waugh both personally and intellectually:

Anyone who wants to find evidence of casual bigotry won’t need to spend much time with Waugh’s published letters. But then the bigot-hounds, nowadays as zealous as the smut-hounds of old, are philistines at heart. They want us to join them in clucking censoriously over the nastier passages in Larkin’s letters, rather than reading High Windows ; we could just as well cluck over “Das Judentum in der Musik”, rather than listen to Tristan und Isolde.

Law professor Frank Buckley believes, "The greatest prose stylist of his generation was the satirist of the Fall." His Crisis magazine piece, published earlier this year, is a nice look at satire and politics:

With Quintillian, the conservative might almost say, Satura tota nostra est: Satire is all our own. The most acidic satires have come from the pens of conservative writers: Juvenal, Butler, Dryden, Pope, Swift, Johnson, Chesterton, Belloc, Mordecai Richler, Florence King, Tom Wolfe, P.J. O’Rourke, and Mark Steyn. A Walter Olson or Dave Barry simply reports on a piece of fatuous liberalism and exclaims, “I’m not making this up!”

Reading the quotations from Waugh's work in these articles reminds me of just how moving, how devastatingly moving, he can be.

October 22, 2003
How sad

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith has committed suicide at the age of 34. One of the most emotionally intense, beautiful, striking scenes, to my mind, of recent cinema is the suicide attempt in The Royal Tenenbaums, set to Smith's song "Needle in the Hay." The scene would not have been the same without this quiet, desperate song. I wasn't sure I really liked this movie on first viewing, despite being a huge fan of Wes Anderson. Then I heard Smith's song again and everything clicked into place. (via Maud Newton)

A request

Kevin Michael Grace (aka The Ambler) needs your help. He is facing serious financial difficulties after his former employer (and, years ago, mine), The Report newsmagazine, closed operations and left him without money owed. If you care at all about the future of the contrarian, I urge you to help Kevin and his family with a donation on his site.

He is the most talented writer and editor I know. It is something of a crime that he is not better known. But that seems to be the way it is these days for writers interesting and courageous enough to buck the status quo. On both the left and the right, editors seem scared to give space to truly original voices who may shake all of us out of complacency. As Jeremy Lott notes, Kevin could use work. I have known him for years and can think of no one I can more highly recommend. He is funny, a great stylist, and extremely knowledgeable about so many issues (especially American politics). You can easily see this from his work. What you might not be able to see is that he is also a very insightful editor. Editors, you will not be disappointed.

October 19, 2003
A booklover's heaven or hell?

My latest column for Brainwash is now online. I write about having ambivalent feelings about chain bookstores, despite my free-market credentials.

October 02, 2003
Tidbits

A Washington Post book critic takes a second look at the first great campus novel, Lucky Jim. Like all great comical writers, Kingsley Amis also had something serious to say. The piece excerpts a paragraph from the morning after a drinking binge that I am certain will never be dated:

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Newly released documents show that American officials felt that banning Graham Greene from entering the country because of his four-week Communist Party membership made the U.S. look bad.

The 2003/4 edition of The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs & DVDs was released this week. This, of course, is the bible for serious collectors of classical music. It marks the first major edition to include DVDs alongside CD rankings; the 2002/3 Yearbook also did so.

On a related note, the Penguin editors' recommended DVD recording of The Marriage of Figaro, which they say is "one of the handful of DVDs that should be in every serious collection," was finally released last month in North American format. Exciting news for those of us who have been waiting to buy the opera on DVD.

Speaking of DVDs, science fiction writer Bruce Sterling calls them one of the "Ten Technologies That Deserve to Die." His complaint seems to boil down to the fact that they are not perfect. Well, of course, but what technology is? I await the next generation of video technology as much as anybody, but he actually says that the worst thing about DVDs is that you can't always fast-forward through commercials on them as you can with videotapes. Heavens. I guess Mr. Sterling didn't have the epiphany I and so many others I know did when we saw our first DVD—the incredible picture and sound quality, along with before unheard-of extras and the ability to jump to specific scenes, was quite simply amazing compared to the old technology. How sad for him. (link via Bookslut)

October 01, 2003
Quotation of the Day

"How wonderful it feels to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century."

—Muriel Spark, Loitering with Intent