Friday, June 25, 2010

Reports of My Death (or the Death of This Blog) Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Contrary to what some of you out there must be thinking, this blog is not only about the work of Herman Melville. Nor is it only a showcase for Mutt's talents as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction (click the links to check out his latest efforts in both). And, lastly, ol' Duke is not dead, I am happy to say. Just quiet on the blogosphere. Lately.

Now before I go any further, one thing I want to make clear: I am huge fan (obviously) of Mutt's writing, and I am personally grateful to him for pretty much single-handedly keeping this blog going for most of the past year. He has consistently generated interesting and creative content, and even if it's not your bag all the time, the man is working - and that's saying something, trust me, if you know anything about his ridiculous personal workload and schedule!!

As for me, I suppose there are a million lame excuses I could offer, but it all basically comes down to one thing: I really haven't figured out a way to organize what little free time I have (as a husband, father of four children and full-time worker) so that I can contribute consistently to these pages. In the beginning I was better at it, but as my family grew and my responsibilities along with it, I have found it harder and harder. But then that's obvious, I suppose, from my lack of posts lately. (And yes, lest you feel the need to point it out: I am aware of how much more lame these ramblings sound directly after praising Mutt for his prolific output at TST despite an incredibly intense schedule. Duly noted!)

The desire has always been there. Believe me, there is always something I want to be sharing through this forum about great books I've read, movies I've seen, music I've been listening to, fascinating articles you might have missed, and all that good stuff. I try to use my Twitter page to share some of that stuff, so if you're a Twitter user and share some common interests with Mutt and I, I enthusiastically invite you to follow me! I'm not promising a constant stream of profundities, but I do know through experience that sometimes Twitter is a great way to catch up with something that may have flown below your radar. I've been turned on to numerous great links and articles since I started using it. (I've also dutifully tweeted about most of Mutt's Melville entries, in the hopes that more folks might visit these pages and have their interest ignited in this amazing writer through Mutt's thoughtful and entertaining reflections.)

Anyway, back to that desire of mine: because it's still burning strong (despite all evidence to the contrary), and because I believe that great books and one's interior life are still among the things most urgent to be writing and thinking about, this blog shall soldier on. There's so much of the good, the true and the beautiful out there left to explore... we have not even barely scratched the surface in this enterprise... "the world is charged with the grandeur of God... it gathers to a greatness," as Gerard Manley Hopkins so famously (and magnificently) put it. We cannot not continue this project, because as my man G. K. Chesterton once said, "if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

So then, in the spirit of "doing it badly" (as opposed to not doing it at all!), here are some items worth sharing:
  • I've finally added another quick film recommendation to the left-hand margin... Waltz With Bashir is an incredible movie and all, but really it was high time to move on to something else, don't you think??
  • I recently finished reading Ron Hansen's latest novel Exiles, and for my money it's yet another in a long string of underappreciated works from one of America's most overlooked and talented writers. I think part of the reason Hansen is not more widely read is his refusal to write about conventional or "hot button" subjects. Imagine being in the offices of whoever his publisher is when he told them he was working on a novel about the inner life of Gerard Manley Hopkins (two mentions, one post!) and the real-life sea tragedy behind his famous poem, "The Wreck of the Deutschland." I can practically hear the sustained, awkward silence... and yet somehow, against all odds and expectations, this is both a gripping account of a disaster at sea (some written scenes will powerfully remind you of some of the better moments of James Cameron's Titanic) AND a penetrating, profound exploration of a poet/priest struggling with the difficult question of how to best use his creative gifts and yet live out his calling as a servant of God. A combination like that makes this a book unlike 95% of novels ever written, and the clear, elegant prose also sets it apart. Hansen is a gifted and insightful writer who deserves to be better known. If you want to learn more about the book, I recommend Mutt's concise review, "Suffering the Storm," from earlier on this blog.
  • This week the New York Times published an illuminating article about the archives of John Updike, which I would recommend to anyone interested in the craft of writing. Of particular note is the way it reveals his revision practices, and how he went about editing and improving his own prose. I'm nowhere near the biggest Updike fan in the world (though I do admire many of his short stories, especially earlier ones such as "You'll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You"), but his productivity and precision as a writer are the stuff of legend, and it's fascinating to get a glimpse of his development and practices over the decades of a celebrated career.
  • Utterly random item of the day: you know what the symbols for the U.S. dollar, the euro, the English pound and the Japanese yen are... what about the Indian rupee? Give up? That's because there's never been one! But that's about to change, interestingly... what does this have to do with books, you ask? Absolutely nothing, but I thought it was mildly interesting.
  • I'm just about to finish Arthur Koestler's chilling novel Darkness at Noon, which may be the single most effective rendering of the brutality and cold logic of totalitarianism ever put to the printed page... and, book nerd that I am, I noticed recently that it means that I will have read all but one of the top 10 novels in the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of All Time list. How many of them have you taken on? (The one I haven't gotten to yet? Joseph Heller's Catch-22.)

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