the island of the week before: archives

category: blissbooks
In which there is a nest for reviews, notes, passages, and other bits related to books, comic books, graphic novels, and other bookish things.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

     “Look not at Time's events, which come from the
spheres and make life so disagreeable!
     Look not at this dearth of daily bread and
means of livelihood! Look not at this famine and fear and
     Look at this: In spite of all the world's
bitterness, you are passionately and shamelessly attached to it.”

- Rumi, Mathnawi VI, 1733-36. Trans. William C. Chittick

05:05 PM (link)

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Gene Wolf said that Magical Realism is fantasy written in Spanish. Then again, Gene Wolf's fantasy novels are so literate that I doubt most swaord-and-sorcery fans would recognize them as such.

But Magical Realism is still the closest thing I know to life.

07:45 PM (link)

Saturday, April 20, 2002 was held hostage by a squatter some time ago, and after Winterson went to court to to assert her rights to her name, she went ahead and made a website.

And what a site it's turned out to be. The same clear, focused intelligence that makes her novels and essays so vital distinguishes her columns, both for her own site and for the British press.

If you haven't read Art Objects, you should know going in that Winterson is a woman who takes art seriously:

Change begins in compassion. There can be no compassion without feeling another's pain.

Which is why art is not a hand-job. Which is why the luvvies and literary types, so easy to mock, so difficult to replace, have a role and a voice.
Actors, writers and artists, work at the interface between the real and the imagined. They coax us out of the numbness of the everyday — where life passes in a blur, — and into a heightened space where we can inhabit other lives and find ourselves in other circumstances. The mind opens, stretches, takes in more than it knows, and returns again to the ordinary world, richer.

This is not just relief — it is revelation.

If art has not that purpose — it is not art.


In an article written on September 18th, she writes:
Make no mistake. Plenty of people prefer the world as terror. The world as love is just too hard to take.

Her total lack of embarassment at her own passion is inspiring. Hope is so sexy.

As if these things were not enough to make me giddy, I discovered this evening that she has co-edited a new edition of Virginia Woolf's novels. Virgina Woolf is essential to me in a way that is difficult to explain (and which has more to do with her luminous experiments in prose than any academic predilection for her status in the gender wars). I am a jittery blur of delight.

(She also has a weblog, disguised as a “directory.” I recommend it.)

10:16 PM (link)

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is delightful. I got them for my birthday last month, and it had been awhile since I read a really good children's book.

The first few chapters of the first book, The Golden Compass, tickled my dodgy-children's-fantasy alarms...period setting, unusual spellings, dubious formality. Happily, my fears were unwarranted, and I read all three books in a long blur of short reads on the train and long evenings curled up with hot coffee in our fuzzy blue armchair. I'm sure I'll be re-reading them over the summer.

The trilogy's ambitious themes become more sophisticated from book to book, mirroring the development of Lyra, the young protagonist. The books are closer to Narnia than to Harry Potter: in place of simple magic, there is a fascinating collection of shaman-witches, murderous churchmen, armored bears, and theological physics.

Stylistically, they read like a steampunk fairy tale written under the influence of Madeleine L'Engle and Joan Aiken. It's lovely.

Still, the element that makes the series so successful is its honesty. Lyra's flaws and neuroses are neither excused nor romanticized — when she thinks about throwing mud at the poorer brickburners' children, she feels triumph, not guilt. It was enormously refreshing.

03:15 PM (link)

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Salon has a new interview with the most excellent Dan Simmons.

10:22 PM (link)

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Persian fairies and related searches

Thanks to MSN's tweaky search engine, a lot of people come to the Persian Poetry section of Blissbat looking for information about Persian fairy tales. I'm an obliging sort, and I'm on hold with technical support at the moment, so here are some tidbits for frustrated seekers:

The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian story from which we derive the word "serendipitous."

Simorgh, a Persian fairy tale about a damsel-rescuing, monster-slaying prince. Simorgh herself is a giant bird, and it's a pretty cool story.

A few notes on artist Abdul Rahman Chugtai, some of whose art deals with Persian fairy tale themes.

Finally, not really a fairy tale, but here's a recipe for Persian Wishing Soup. I'm going to try to make this with some kind of vegetarian substitute for the lamb, so I'll let you know how it turns out.

12:30 PM (link)

whatever the eye has beheld

A human being is essentially an eye;
the rest is merely flesh and skin:
whatever the eye has beheld, he is that.
A jar will submerge a mountain with its water
when the eye of the jar is open to the Sea.
When the interior of the jar has a channel to the Sea,
that jar will overwhelm a river as great as the Oxus.
In the same way whatever speech Muhammad utters,
those words are really uttered by the Sea.
All his words were pearls of the Sea,
for his heart had a passage into that Sea.
Since the bounty of the Sea is poured through our jar,
why should anyone be amazed that the Sea itself
should be contained in a Fish*?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

dami didast bâqi gusht o pust
har cheh cheshmesh dideh ast ân chiz ust
Kuh-râ gharqeh konad yek khom ze nam
cheshm-e khom chon bâz bâshad su-ye yamm
Chon beh-Daryâ râh shod az jân-e khom
khom bâ Jayhun bar ârad oshtolom
Z-ân sabab qol gofteh-ye Daryâ bud
har cheh notq-e Ahmadi guyâ bud
Gofteh-ye u jomleh dar Bahr buz
keh delesh-râ bovad dar Daryâ nofuz
Dâd Daryâ chon ze khom-e mâ bovad
cheh `ajab dar Mâhiyi* Daryâ bovad

*“The Perfect Human Being”

Mathnawi VI: 812-817
Version by Camille and Kabir Helminski
Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance
Threshold Books, 1996
Persian transliteration courtesy of Yahyá Monastra
My thanks to Sunlight for the daily dose of Rumi.

10:22 AM (link)

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

As promised, more Moore:

I burbled below about Promethea, and after I'd finished, I thought about what attracted me to the book and began to wonder if a straight-up book of magical instruction would be as interesting. I'm not a practitioner, so the aesethetics would be really important, but I decided that if Alan Moore were to publish, for instance, a grimoire, I'd probably buy it. Turns out that he beat me to it.

from Angel PassageI recommend:

Alan Moore's Ideaspace at, which has information on Moore's spoken-word performances Snakes and Ladders and The Birth Caul, and links to studio "re-creations" of The Highbury Working and Angel Passage.

The large, meaty, and mightily entertaining Idler interview, in which Moore discusses magic and culture.

The Edge interview, in which Moore touches on class in Britain, magic, and Voice of the Fire, his novel/interlinked collection of short stories.

There's more on Voice of the Fire in this Blather interview, and Neil Gaiman has this to say about it in Wired:

This book traces the development of language over 5,000 years through the history of a self-contained English town, Northampton. It's a huge journey, but you don't travel more than 10 miles in this historically accurate discursion on language in which, beginning with the Paleolithic period, language and consciousness mutate from crystalline fragments to demotic idiom, saturated with double meanings. The book is a hard find in America, but keep looking.)

The Alan Moore Magic Site also has Light of Thy Countenance (a brain-dump Alan Moore handed to someone in 1994), a bit about Glycon, and reviews of The Highbury Working and Moon and Serpent.

As special treats, you can listen to (legal) mp3s of some of Moore's spoken word performances here, and download the print for Angel Passage here.

01:08 PM (link)

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Promethea astounds me.

I started reading America's Best Comics after they'd been going for awhile, and League of Extrordinary Gentlemen won my heart immediately. Promethea, on the other hand, was intriguing but somehow off. The story seemed a bit uninspired, but the art was beautiful and there were moments of excellence, so I kept reading it. Since the first arc, the book has strayed further and further from a traditional plot and gotten progressively more involved in the symbols and magic of Promethea's journey through the mystical universe.

Which is what makes it so utterly different from Moore's other work — the story isn't the point anymore, it's just glue that holds together a beautifully-realized, highly-detailed set of magical instruction. That strategy could go either way, but the brilliant thing about the book is that the symbols that Moore breaks down for us are already familiar to a large section of the comic-reading audience. We've run into this stuff in Sandman and the Invisibles and in Moore's other work — maybe not the same symbols precisely, but we know the language. And Moore, now that he's gotten that pesky backstory set up, has dropped the plot almost entirely and is giving us instead a big fat series of gorgeous lessons on magic in the universe.

(Which is fine with me. I'll keep reading Grant Morrison's soap operas for trashy (yet satisfying) plot twists and Lone Wolf and Cub for sustained brilliance in storytelling. Promethea's differences are the reasons for reading it.)

Promethea still feels like an experiment, but it also feels important — and the further in I get, the more it feels like a foundation for expansion in the medium. It's not a Kabuki-style one-man revolution, but it's coming from Alan Moore, so it hits the shelves packed with potential energy.

01:29 PM (link)

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Tekkonkinkurito (English title Black and White), by Taiyo Matsumoto, is one of those encounters that seems really good at the time, and spectacular later.

These books altered the way I read, write, and remember my childhood. They're that good.

The art is unexpected, and when I picked up the first volume, it seemed off-putting and ugly. It's not. It's stunningly beautiful without being pretty. The story is bloody and deceptively simple and is probably the single best evocation of the raw, weird scariness of childhood that I've ever read. There's a little magic realism here, and you can see French and Japanese influence (particularly in the art), but the result is unique.

Some other people like it too.

03:00 PM (link)

Monday, October 15, 2001

“Choice of attention—to pay attention to this and ignore that—is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.”
-W. H. Auden, A Certain World

02:26 PM (link)

Monday, September 10, 2001

Salon has a very fine article that contrasts two recent books: The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War and Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power. Writer (and former Air Force officer) Judith Greer examines the intersection between a human, immediate view of the atrocities of war and distanced, businesslike view of the US's military history, and wonders whether our "...growing interest in honesty and truth about war could hamper our future ability to apply the ugly but pragmatic principles of our past triumphs."

12:56 PM (link)

Thursday, August 09, 2001

"Show your face, for the orchard and rosegarden are my desire;
open your lips, for abundant sugar is my desire."
              - Rumi, Ghazal 441
               trans. A.J. Arberry

01:29 PM (link)

Monday, July 30, 2001

I like Rumi a lot.

Unfortunately, the Rumi that most Americans are familiar with (if they're familiar at all) are the insipid, mealymouthed, new agey "interpretative versions" by Coleman Barks. Barks's versions are based on other people's translations (he doesn't read Farsi), and usually read like the second- or third-generation dubs that they are.

Be not fooled. Rumi, even with the inevitable degradation involved in translations of poetry, is far from comfortable new age pap:

These shells of bodies in the world,
though they are all living
by grace of the Sea of the Soul—
yet there isn’t a pearl in every shell.
Open your eyes and look
into the heart of each one.
Find out what is within each one,
for that costly pearl is rarely found.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

in sadaf-hâ qavâleb dar jahân
garcheh jomleh zendeh-’and az bahr-e jân
Layk andar har sadaf na-bovad gohar
chashm be-goshâ dar del-e har yak negar
Kân cheh dârad vin cheh dârad mi gozin
zânke kam yâbast ân dorr-e samin

     -- Mathnawi II:1023-1025
     Version by Camille and Kabir Helminski
     Rumi: Daylight
     Threshold Books, 1994
     Persian transliteration courtesy of Yahyá Monastra

Get ahold of a good translation (I like Chittick and Arberry's literal translations and Khalili and the Helminskis' poetic translations) and enjoy.

(More Rumi and translation comparisons can be found in my Persian poetry section, if this sort of thing interests you.)

12:27 PM (link)

Friday, July 13, 2001

    Should heartache enter your mind and ambush your joy, yet
it prepares the way for happiness.
    Quickly it sweeps all others out of the house so that joy
may come to you from the Source of good.
    It shakes the yellow leaves from the branch of the heart,
so that fresh leaves may grow continously.
    It pulls up the root of old happiness so that a new ecstacy
may stroll in from Yonder.
    Heartache pulls up withered and crooked roots so that no
root may remain concealed.
    Through heartache may extract many things from the heart,
in truth it will bring something better in return.

    -- Mathnawi, V: 3678-83
       Translated by William C. Chittick
       "The Sufi Path of Love - The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi"
       State University of New York Press, Albany, 1983

07:28 AM (link)

Friday, June 22, 2001

Mmmm. I've been soaking up good stuff all evening.

Matt Rossi, in addition to being a frequently brilliant crackmonkey, makes me want to job less and read more.

It's funny...reading things on the net is totally acceptable during pauses, lunch, whatever, but the few times I've opened a newspaper at lunch, the people walking by my desk look at me like I'm committing a massive workplace faux pas or wasting company time or something. I suspect that if I pulled out an actual book, they'd send security up to re-educate me. It's not a reason, but the unspoken workplace ban on printed reading material's contributed to my habit of reading too much onscreen and not enough in print.

On weeks when I'm not working late every night, I still get in a novel or so per week -- I've been going through the Gabriel Garcia Marquez lineup, rereading the Weetzie Bat books cause it's summer and I'm moving to California, reading Virginia Woolf's utterly astounding The Waves, and keeping track of a couple of H. Rider Haggard adventures in the bathtub, but I miss the meaty summer reading I used to do when summer meant no school and not as much full-time work as now. I want more time and a better library. In the meantime, as much as I love Salon and Slashdot, I need more book time and less link-hopping.

Libris ex Machina is Rossi's new thang, and I like it a lot.

10:22 PM (link)

Sunday, June 10, 2001

Powers, by Brain Michael Bendis and Mike Avon Oeming, is currently on issue 11. I don't pay much attention to the greater world of comics, preferring to find new stuff by word of mouth or by semi-random, cover-based selection — so I didn't realize that Powers was out there until now, despite the fact that it's been nominated for a passel of Eisner awards and has been getting excellent reviews for some time. It's great. It's exactly the kind of series I always hope to stumble across.

If you were going by genre, you'd find Powers somewhere in Superhero Crime Noir, but that disctinction would be a pretty meaningless way to approach modern comics, so let's say that you're looking for good dialogue, solid plotting, and skillful, interesting, appropriate art. In which case you should run out and pick up the complete run so far. There's even a trade of the first six issues, which should make it easier to catch up.

Bendis is an agile writer with good instincts and the chops to execute them successfully. The dialogue's surprisingly conversational, and his characters are fleshed out enough to be intriguing while still being, at the root, based on old-school genre type. The resulting scripts are fun as hell without being insulting.

The art, which seems to be handled partly by Bendis and partly by Oeming, is stripped down — big eyes, bold lines, distinctive shading. It's a big Mignola and a bit Batman-the-animated-series and it's a perfect antidote to the overwhelming mass of cluttered, airbushed-lookin', sloppily-computer-lettered, Spawnabee crap that I have to wade through to get to my monthly Alan Moore books.

Overall, Powers is a smart, pretty, well-made addition to my monthly very-short-list. Check it out.

04:01 PM (link)

Monday, May 07, 2001

I have a new stack of bought and borrowed novels and a backlog of thoughts, and I'm semi caught-up with work and email. Now all I need are laundry fairies.

I had a casual but enchanting conversation with an extremely literate salesman at a perfume shop in Harvard Square last week, and I haven't quite recovered. I have the haunting sense that I didnt't read enough at school. I frequently worked hard, and I wrote a lot of papers, but I never had that year of reading classics that I expected to happen. The obvious solution is to start again now...I've been reading lazily, mostly modern novels and entertaining non-fictional tangents. Time for a refresher on Woolf and Eliot and Proust and time to keep feeding my ravenous appetite for Marquez. (Yum, yum, yum.)

[Side note: I came across some Anaïs Nin when I was about eleven, and I suspect it influenced a lot of my future literary taste — stylistically more than topically, but still.]

I want to have more conversations with people who are as passionate about books as I am. I want to be challenged more frequently on topics that really intrigue me. (I'm unbelievably lucky to have the excellent company that I do, but of course, I'm greedy, so I always want more points of view and different sets of expertise wafting through my living room.)

12:47 PM (link)

Friday, April 27, 2001

Today's pseudo-Connection on public radio is about TV-turnoff week. I watch Buffy, the baby mammal shows on the Discovery channel, and sometimes Junkyard Wars or Robotica on TLC, so the TV debate's honestly not that important to my world.

More pertinent is one particular argument that surfaced when a caller stated that since TV isn't real, time spent watching or discussing it is necessarily less fullfilling, intellectually stimulating, and generally admirable than time spent reading about or discussing "real things."

The argument's familiar because my mother made the same one whenever I returned from the library with a stack of novels. I'd conquered the children's section and moved to the cavernous adult library by age nine or ten, and my appetite tended toward mysteries and big, heavy, historical epics. (My attention span has since been reduced by about 80%.)

My mother, believing that real things were more edifying and character-building, worked out a ratio: I would borrow and read a biography of some aadmirable historical figure for every two or three novels I read. She never knew which books I actually read (usually all of them, since the library trips were only once a wek), but she was determined to expose me to good (read: real) role models.

Perhaps unfortunately for my developing character, the aspersions my mother cast on the fictional world had an undesired effect. Stories were already deeply important to me. My early childhood was lined with lush, fantastic stories — my mother read me the wonderful Narnia books as a bribe to get me to take bad-tasting medicine — and when my mother found stories (not specific ones, but fiction in general) wanting, I felt a peculiar, ten-year-old need to defend and protect. So I read the biographies (mostly stuffy, occasionally entertaining), but I reserved my stolen late-night reading for novels — and I suspect I've never entirely recovered. (Hurrah for my mom!)

08:11 AM (link)

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Alan Moore's fascinating and gruesome graphic novel From Hell is being made into a movie starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

12:43 PM (link)

Friday, April 13, 2001

I finished reading John Sundman's Acts of the Apostles last night. The book itself, while it has some rough spots, is worth reading, but the story around the book is equally engaging.

The novel's a smart but ragged nightmare at the intersection between biocomputing and nanotech. A high level of technical detail provides a solid foundation for an increasingly bizarre set of events, and flawed, human central characters and a present-day setting keep the book from spinning off into a delusional futurist tract. Sundman assembles all the elements of a paranoiac's fantasy: omnipresent surveillance, mind control, spooky government-corporate alliances, and a brilliant, malevolent mogul who pulls all the strings.

It's self-published, and the lack of an experienced editor is quite detectable in the stiffer passages and fuzzier plot points (not to mention the boob-fixation). Several points need a more solid resolution, and some of the characters could use a tune-up, but there's something exciting about reading a novel in this raw state. (Perhaps because the process of writing is a little more transparent.)

If Sundman were a worse writer or if the book's main conceits weren't right up my geeky little alley, I probably would have dropped the book after the first stretch of sketchy dialogue, but if you're even remotely concerned with the ethics of modern biotech, the potential of nanotech, or just the creepiness of the Orwellian corporate scene, it's worth buying and reading. And even if you're not interested in the plot points, keep an eye open for a second novel (or even a well-edited second edition), because Sundman's got talent — all he needs is a good polish.

As for the backstory, check out Sundman's own bizarre life and struggle as a writer. The soap opera of the book's publication is interesting, but the relative success of the novel with no almost no mainstream media support is even more so.

Long live the small press!

10:45 AM (link)

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

There are certain distinct similarities between the tea that I'm steeping and the Persian and Kashmiri poetry I'm investigating. Something about complexity, tang, and unexpected combinations.

08:55 AM (link)

Saturday, April 07, 2001

In penance for yesterday's inadequate link to Buddhist stories, a few more: [1] [2] [3].

06:08 AM (link)

Monday, April 02, 2001


The Invisibles: Apocalipstick by Grant Morrison
I've been waiting for this collection for months — it collects issues 9-16 of volume one, which I don't have in single issue form. The hunt for Dane continues, Jim Crow does his spooky thing, we learn much more about Lord Fanny's upbringing and initiation. The sortof heartbreaking centerpiece is nothing more mystical than a brief and brutal life, but it balances well. Gory, really gory, but quite excellent.

Lone Wolf and Cub vol. IV by Koike Kazuo and Kojima Goseki
Gorgeous. This series, finally being printed in the US in the small, Japanese format, was originally printed in Japan in the 1970s and is far more clear, fresh, and immediate than almost everything coming out of the US comics industry now. Also extremely bloody, but also extraordinarily elegant and somehow honest. Ogami Itto and his small son, Daigoro, are Assassin, Lone Wolf and Cub. The series so far has reconstructed bits of Ogami's past while also following his bloody current exploits as ronin assassin. It's a samurai series, and it illustrates the best of the genre while also being ridiculously entertaining. Also recommended: the three movies based on the books in the 1970s. They're quite faithful to the manga and are startlingly beautiful.

Fierce Invalids from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
I really like Tom Robbins. His latest is whip smart, perkily dirty, and really goofy. It's also big enough to spend a few days on, which makes it a nice match for all the comics I've been reading.

11:00 AM (link)

Wednesday, March 28, 2001

I'm not sure why I'm so attracted to 19th century adventure/lost world style fiction. It might be because I grew up on a variety of tag-sale classics that ranged from Dickens to Edgar Rice Burroughs, or it might be because I've wanted to be Indiana Jones since I was wee. In any case, I'm currently reading H. Rider Haggard's She — Haggard's probably the most important author in the genre, and his influence on later works (like the Tarzan books) is quite apparent. (He's the one who wrote King Solomon's Mines, if you're having trouble placing him.)

A couple of connections:

Jessica Amanda Salmonson, fantasy author and essayist, runs Violet Books, an antique/supernatural/adventure bookshop which, like all good bookshops, is packed with strange and interesting bits of information. If you're remotely interested in the genre, her site's worth a visit.

The series that stirred my recent interest was actually Alan Moore's delectable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Check out the exhaustive annotations for a taste.

09:46 AM (link)

Saturday, March 24, 2001

I've just successfully culled three large bags of books from my shelves. And I've found a bookstore that will let me dump them, hallelujah. I can't throw books out, so I frequently wind up putting them back on my shelves, but these buggers are actually leaving my house this time.

Now there are only three freestanding bookshelf-units full, including the comics. Of course, I'll be getting store credit for dumping the others, so I'll have to use it on the smallest, prettiest, most expensive books at the store in order to prevent re-bloat. Excellent.

09:48 AM (link)

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

In a bold statement of ... something, the German covers of the Harry Potter books display a Harry who looks remarkably like a web designer, complete with trendy hair and expression of peevish ennui. (Compare the dorky US cover and the relatively old-school UK style covers of the third book.)

12:07 PM (link)

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Speaking of Narnia: turkish delight recipies. [1] [2] [3]. (I'd always imagined that it was something white and shiny.)

07:43 AM (link)

Neil Gaiman is keeping an online journal about the final stages of the publication of his new book, American Gods. Particularly interesting stuff for anyone who wants to publish...copyright and editing issues, fact-checking , etc. (Link via linkmachinego.)

06:08 AM (link)

Thursday, March 01, 2001

I woke up this morning with a nosebleed. I suspect the cat of having put sharp things in my nostrils while I was sleeping.

On a cheerier note, Colin Wilson's Atlas Of Holy Places & Sacred Sites, which arrived on my doorstep yesterday, is gorgeous. High-level, but really just lovely—I'm an archeology nut at heart, and the atlas combines ruins, cultural/religious context, and luscious photography. Yum.

11:55 AM (link)

Saturday, February 24, 2001

The new Harry Potter book has topped the bestseller list. The fact that it won't be published until 2002 seems to have had no affect on the frenzy. Number two on the list? The Harry Potter Schoolbooks (Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), coming out March 12th 2001. Hah. (Any crazy consumer trend that involves lots of small children reading books makes me happy.)

07:16 PM (link)

Thursday, February 15, 2001

Here's an Invisibles review at PopImage that makes me want to re-read the books. (Old news if you're serious about Grant Morrison, but I haven't been paying attention.)

02:22 PM (link)