I Met John Scalvi!

It was so exciting, the day I met John Scalvi! It was quite by accident. Literally. I was minding my own business when a car came crashing across the sidewalk in front of me and through the window of a convenience store. I’d always heard about those elderly drivers who step on the gas instead of the brake, and here one was. And it was none other than John Scalvi.

Saying goodbye to Barsetshire

I’ve just finished the last two Anthony Trollope novels set in the ecclesiastical environs of Barsetshire: The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset. Repeating the pattern I found in earlier volumes, these two novels complement one another, although the Last Chronicle, as befits a novel by that name, does bring back some beloved (and not so beloved) characters from earlier tales. I shed a tear or two as I discovered heroes in unexpected places, felt for dashed hopes, and said goodbye to what felt like old friends.

I find myself quite satisfied with the experience of reading these books, and intend to continue with Trollope’s Palliser novels.

The Sons of Heaven

At long last, Kage Baker’s Company novels are brought to resolution in The Sons of Heaven. Threads of story from throughout the series are picked up. I loved having not only Botanist Mendoza’s story finished, but also those of Preserver Joseph and Literature Preservationist Lewis.

Great as the pleasure of the book was, it was touched by thoughts of my friend Barbara, with whom I began reading the series oh so many years ago. (In the Garden of Iden was published in the U.S. in early 1998.) We would borrow and trade the books with each other, comparing them to other time-travel novels, and other science fiction. As I’ve noted previously in this blog, I stopped reading for several months during and after Barbara’s illness, for no reason I understand. And while I’m once again reading, inevitably there will be times when the joy of reading carries also some sorrow at no longer being able to talk about it with Barbara.

A Handbook of Norse Mythology

While in Portland for the UUA’s General Assembly, I of course went shopping at Powell’s City of Books. I’ve been there once before, and what a treat it is. (They also do mail-order of new and used books.) Among the books I bought was a Dover reprint of Karl Mortensen’s 1912 A Handbook of Norse Mythology, translated from the Danish by A. Clinton Crowell. I remember D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths quite fondly from childhood, and I was looking for a good source of northern-European names and folklore for, erm, “inspiration” in Second Life. (Part of the modest role-play I engage in has me a part of House Heidrun. Heidrún is a goat at Valhalla that produces never-ending mead.)

This slim book lays out the basic mythology of the nordic peoples in a very straightforward way, including some assessment of the layers of mythology and the changes over time–like the promotion of Odin to the head of the pantheon following earlier focus on Thor. A happy purchase.

Crystal Rain

Tobias S. Buckell’s debut novel, Crystal Rain, ties together elements of steampunk, hard sf, and fantasy (or religion), all with a distinctive Caribbean flavor.

Set in the far future on another planet, the humans of Crystal Rain have been reduced to non-electronic technology. Flight is possible by blimp, but uncommon. There are a few train lines and telegraphy. The culture of the protagonist’s society reflects a distant Caribbean origin. Over the impossibly high mountains are the Azteca with their bloodthirsty gods, the Teotl.

The emotional momentum of the novel centers on John deBrun, an amnesiac. Through the course of the story, he discovers himself, and we come to understand the context and history of the culture. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to the author’s future efforts.

An elitist criticises the state of criticism

Via Arts & Letters Daily, I discovered a blog written by board members of the National Book Critics Circle. They have a guest post: Morris Dickstein on the Critical Landscape Today. I like some of the points he makes, and I too lament the falling-away of book reviews in major newspapers. I can’t help thinking it’s a very bad sign for the state of reading in America. But Dickstein betrays a basic elitism that I really can’t agree with:

But book reviews, to be of any value, demand a trained sensibility and real critical expertise; they need to furnish more than rough-hewn consumer guidance and the colorful peeves of the man in the street.

This kind of thinking, in any field, ends up producing reviews (and elevating creations) that speak only to a small coterie of insiders. Hardly the stuff that will save reviews in newspapers, which need to be aimed at a popular audience.

Teasing out Harry Potter’s Christian elements

I’d love to quote the conclusion of Nancy’s Apology: Harry Potter and the Eerie Silence, but that just wouldn’t be cool. It’s longish for a blog post, and worth every moment spent.

I don’t think it was the pagan or magic aspects of the Potter books that drove the conservatives nutty: I think it was the Christian elements.

Rowling, who is not a professed Christian, took 2000 years of christendom–in the form of symbols, legends, archetypes, allegories, and values–and put it into a new story.

(Hat tip to Johan Maurer and QuakerQuaker.org)


No, not trollop! I’m reading Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, in a very nice 1950 hardbound pocket edition from The World’s Classics, published by Oxford University Press. The binding is 3/4 red cloth with gold fleur-de-lys, with a cream spine and red title inset on the spine. And there’s a little ribbon bookmark. I have this fantasy of sitting on the T reading and having a church lady ask if I’m reading the Bible, so I can say, “No, Trollope.”

I’ve now finished Dr Thorne and Framley Parsonage. The Framley one finally begins to tie together major characters from the earlier novels (although I’m not sure if that continues). These two, certainly, form a sort of a pair, though not so much as the first two, which definitely have a complete story between them.

Next up: The Small House at Allington.