Little Better Than One of the Wicked

"In the Christian world, today is Michaelmas, feast day of the archangel Michael, which was a very important day in times past, falling near the equinox and so marking the fast darkening of the days in the northern world, the boundary of what was and what is to be. Today was the end of the harvest and the time for farm folk to calculate how many animals they could afford to feed through the winter and which would be sold or slaughtered. It was the end of the fishing season, the beginning of hunting, the time to pick apples and make cider.

Today was a day for settling rents and accounts, which farmers often paid for with a brace of birds from the flocks hatched that spring. Geese were given to the poor and their plucked down sold for the filling of mattresses and pillows.

Michaelmas was the time of the traditional printer’s celebration, the wayzgoose, the day on which printers broke from their work to form the last of their pulp into paper with which to cover their open windows against the coming cold — the original solution for those who could not afford glass yet had more than nothing — and the advent of days spent working by candlelight.

In the past, the traditional Michaelmas meal would have been a roast stubble goose — the large gray geese that many of us only get to admire at our local state and county fairs. Today, when most poultry comes from the grocery store in parts and wrapped in plastic, a roast goose can be a difficult luxury to obtain, but any homey, unfussy meal is a fine substitute — especially with a posy of Michaelmas daisies or purple asters on the table.

In folklore, it is said that when Michael cast the Devil from Heaven, the fallen angel landed on a patch of blackberry brambles and so returns this day every year to spit upon the plant that tortured him. For this reason, blackberries would not be eaten after today, and so folks would gather them in masses on Michaelmas to put into pies and crumbles and preserves. And they would bake St. Michael’s bannocks, a large, flat scone of oats and barley and rye, baked on a hot griddle and then eaten with butter or honey or a pot of blackberry preserves.

Whether you recognize Michaelmas or not, you can still greet what comes with the symbols of today: gloves, for open-handedness and generosity; and ginger to keep you warm and well in the coming cold.”
-The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor 9/29

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau- Beethoven songs

Bizet - Carmen - Act II prelude, ‘Les tringles des sistres tintaient’ & Gypsy Dance

La Scala, 2009
Daniel Barenboim
Carmen - Anita Rachvelishvili
Director Emma Dante

Currently reading: a glaring blank spot in my education.

But in all fairness to me, my sophomore AP English teacher and I loathed one another. I’ve always detested bullies and I have a strong inclination to not do anything they demand of me. Even if it’s a class assignment. Yet somehow I passed. Such is public school.

20+ years takes a lot of the stinging association out of a thing. More soon.

Currently reading: a glaring blank spot in my education.

But in all fairness to me, my sophomore AP English teacher and I loathed one another. I’ve always detested bullies and I have a strong inclination to not do anything they demand of me. Even if it’s a class assignment. Yet somehow I passed. Such is public school.

20+ years takes a lot of the stinging association out of a thing. More soon.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

What is this book?
Oscar Wilde’s only novel. It’s sort of about a man who finds a Dropbox for the effects of vice upon his physical body. It’s a meditation on art, morality, and personal responsibility from quite possibly the most qualified man of his time to reflect on such things.

Why did you read this book? First, it’s a blank spot in my education that needed to be filled in (I was familiar with the story, but had not read it). I’ve also been a bit rudderless in my reading lately and am considering reading through WIlde’s collected works (although if I am to do that, I am about to put that project on pause for at least one book).

Do you have any comments to make on the quality of the writing? Wilde was an excellent author, an excellent wordsmith, wit, storyteller, and thinker. He was a highly moral author and I find his observations on morality to be astute, which is a great deal of his appeal to me.

He is also a great builder of characters. All of them are just as convoluted as actual people. Basil, the artist, would seem to be the character rooting for good to triumph in Dorian, but, as we are reminded later in the book, he is also the character responsible for leading Dorian to fall in love with his own beauty. Dorian starts as an innocent and has moments of conscience throughout.

And then there’s Lord Harry who goes around saying things like “What a woman says about her hat is among the greatest lies they tell. But what a hat says about a woman is one of the greatest truths” (not an actual quote. That’s why Oscar was Oscar and I’m not). His “hands are clean” to any of the actual crimes of the book, but he dazzles the young Dorian with moral relativism, paradox, and fashionable cynicism.

At this point, perhaps unfairly in light of the chronology, I cannot help but think of Wilde himself, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Douglas’ father the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, all of whom ended their lives as repentant Christians, perhaps making them, if one cottons to Judeo-Christian theology, one of the most unlikely trios currently coram deo. 

Did you gain anything from reading this book? Are you a better person for it?
Yes, I think so, although I think I’ve already answered this question.

What is your chief complaint about this book? Not so much of a complaint as I dare not be so brazen as to suggest improvements on such a work as this. Nonetheless, I was moderately amused at the great detail in painting the rest of the story, but the extremely vague descriptions of Gray’s actual sins. Unfortunately, I think even noticing this brands me as the product of a far more morally seared age, one in which Gray or Mr. Hyde would be elevated to the heroic and whose codes are daily played out on websites such as this.

Would you recommend this book? Unreservedly.

Currently reading. Might do the whole thing.

Currently reading. Might do the whole thing.

Dubliners, by James Joyce

What is this book? A series of short stories about people living in Dublin at roughly the time in which the book was written. Although there seem to be other factors linking the subjects of the pieces (they long, they fail, they are frequently not entirely sympathetic characters, although that somehow might make us all the more sympathetic). 

Why did you read this book?  Well, 2014 seems to be the year in which James Joyce became my favorite author (or at least hovering near the top). Before 2014, I’m not sure I’d ever read anything by James Joyce. Now, in September, I’ve read all of his major works… and yearn for more. Fortunately there is more, but I’m through the major arcana. I suppose I’m in for plays and poems now.  

Do you have any comments to make on the quality of the writing?  Some of the finest storytelling I’ve ever read. Although, I would say that a comparison to a visual abstract artist whose early work reveal they could just as well have been masters of representational art, I would not share the opinion I’ve heard from others that people would do well to start here with Joyce. Rather I think I did it right and people should pick this one up at least after they’ve quaffed deep the strange, nourishing nectar from the abyss of Ulysses. I think people should read Ulysses with all urgency in case they get hit by a bus tomorrow.

Did you gain anything from reading this book? Are you a better person for it?
I think one of the great gifts of Joyce’s work is his humanity. In spite of the fact that characters included here are drunks, abusive fathers, fallen women, the timid, and the lost, the presentation is achingly humane and sympathetic. And modern! Joyce has preserved snapshots of the human experience, but specifically the everyday life of those in post-heroic times. The rewards of this book include the therapy of knowing we aren’t alone, as well as means by which to cultivate compassion.

What is your chief complaint about this book? Oh jeez, what a question! That I’m done with it, maybe. That I’ll never get to read it for the first time again.

Would you recommend this book?
If you’ve never read James Joyce, I would recommend that you do so immediately. Although, as I said, this would not be the first of his works that I would recommend, nonetheless I would advise everyone ot be sure they do not shuffle off the mortal without having read this treasure.

So… This’ll pretty much take a sledgehammer to your heart.

So… This’ll pretty much take a sledgehammer to your heart.