Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Who's in (to) The Red and The Black

So some friends and I decided to read Stendhal's The Red and the Black--some good old fashioned beach reading. That's right, it's durn near a book club. I now see what all those people saw in having Oprah give them assigned reading.

Melody picked it out of a list we came up with. I think I suggested it for the list because of James Wood's references to it in How Fiction Works. I had actually avoided reading it in the past. I guess because of what I thought it was about. Which isn't really what it's about. What did I think it was about? Class, I guess. Which it is. Damn, I'm contradicting myself. Oh well, I contradict myself. Someone said that. But not about class the way I fear fiction is sometimes about class.

First I had to pick a translation. Damn foreigners writing in some other language. If you're going to be a famous author of classic literature, write in English! Preferably American.

So turns out translations are complicated. I settled on Burton Raffel's for The Modern Library because of this but have reservations because of that. I felt better about my choice when I went back and saw that Wood uses what is generally considered the "bad" translation.

I've just begun, but I'm already happy to see Stendhal take on some of my favorite topics, like spite and anger. Here's a couple character descriptions that I could apply to several people I know but won't name here, so if I know you, then it's probably you:

"...by clear signs of self-satisfaction and conceit, topped off by who knows what limitations, what lack of originality. Finally one is aware that his talents are confined to making sure he is paid exactly what he is owed, while paying what he himself owes only at the last possible moment."

Or

"...he was a tall young man, strongly built, with a florid face and great black whiskers--one of those coarse creatures, shameless and loud, that they call, in the provinces, good fellows."

Try these two as well:

"...he had learned by heart the entire New Testament in Latin; he also knew Monsieur de Maistre's On the Pope--and had no more belief in the one than in the other"

Or

"He thought that making a stop at church would be important to his hypocrisy."

Good stuff.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Me on Wigleaf's Long Shortlist

So stuff apparently happens when you're gone. For example, The Wigleaf Top 50 came out, a list of great online [very] short fictions, this year judged by the amazing Brian Evenson. The list had the likes of Matt Bell, Aaron Burch, Dan Chaon, Dennis Cooper, William Gibson, Barry Graham, Brad Green, Stephen Graham Jones, and Kevin Wilson.

I'm just happy that my story "Death Babies" published in Flash Fiction Online made it to the Long Shortlist.

Monday, June 7, 2010

There and Back, Again

So summer travel is mostly done. I can sit in one place for a couple of weeks at least. And get bored. I'm getting stir crazy already. The good thing about travel is that you learn stuff. Often stuff you didn't know. Or didn't even know you didn't know.

Like I'd been to Christ Church oodles of times (well three at least) and had not taken note of the heart relic. See that picture, there's a mummified heart, a human heart, in there. Some saint or other. Religious people are strange.

Or say you find yourself in Scotland only to learn it is the only country (let's not quibble over whether or not it is actually a country--viva la devolution!) where another soda outsells Coke. That soda is neon orange, stains your clothes if you spill it, and tastes...wait for it...like bubblegum, like Dubble Bubble bubblegum. That atrocious sounding concoction is called Irn Bru and I loved it.

While there I also learned that not all whisky comes from Tennessee and has to be drunk with Coke Zero. I was introduced to and fell madly in love with single malt whisky (what we'd call Scotch).

Those are only some of my learnings. I probably gained a greater appreciation of the world and its diversity. But I thought it more important to dwell on the drinking and disembodied heart.