Paths Of Glory—Humphrey Cobb

A shortish novel from 1935.  Kubrick saw a theatrical version of it when he was a kid, and it evidently stayed with him.  For those who don’t know the story or film, three French WWI soldiers are scapegoated for an ill-fated executive decision; an attempt to capture an impregnable location leads to doom.  The out-of touch chain-of-command pins the failure on its own troops, who pay the price for the mistakes of their superiors.

It’s a great novel.  Descriptive passages are richly detailed, the plot moves along as you know it should, and Cobb’s hatred of not only war but of the higher-ups that force it comes through with a bite.  It might have been OTT for 1935, but it plays very well today.  If there is a flaw with the film, it’s a little top-heavy; you’re more interested in the corrupt brass than in the lower classes of soldiers.  In the book all things are equal.  There are minor differences too: in the book the Kirk Douglas character sleeps through the court-martial.

Humphrey Cobb appears to have been a curious case.  He died young.  This was his only book.  He did a stint in Hollywood, and the research I’ve done infers that he was a hack otherwise.  Also, Faulkner admitted, grudgingly, that A Fable borrowed elements from Paths Of Glory.

Recommended.

putting the area of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into perspective

A gentleman has fooled around with Google Earth allow a user to overlay the current size of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill over several preset areas, like Manhattan, San Francisco, and several other places. One can input other locations well. (For any of it to work, the Google Earth plug-in must be installed.)

I knew that the spill was massive and devastating, but seeing these overlays makes just a little bit more grim. And that area is from around May 2nd. Check it out now.

Tom McCarthy discussion on the relation of literature & film

Architectural Association site has a 70 minute video of Tom McCarthy discussing the relation between literature and film.

I haven’t watched it yet, and won’t be until next week perhaps, as this week is my finals week. Bill sent it to me two weeks ago, but i’ve been distracted.

Update: Have it running in background as i mess with Tech Writing assignment. It’s mostly readings from Remainder. Carry on.

Transparent Things—Vladimir Nabokov

A short novel from 1972, Transparent Things sketches the four trips that an American, Hugh Person, makes to the Swiss side of Lake Geneva during his lifetime.  I say “sketches” because that is what they are; it’s as if Nabokov threw together a bunch of his famous index cards in a nearly random order.  Narrative, characterization, and setting are mostly ignored in favor of a wealth of curious but extraneous detail.  Three of the work’s (large-print) 156 pages are used in describing a pencil.  This is fine with me, but Vlad also describes the same pencil in Invitation To a Beheading and Speak, Memory.

There is also the occasional narratorial intrusion which will intone “Let us begin” or “We are pleased” at the end of a passage.  There is no story,  There is a girl, but there is no love story.  And a couple of passages are indecent and unpleasant.  I was greatly disappointed with Transparent Things, because I want everything I read by Vladdy to be fantastic.

I don’t know if his pen was out of ink at this point.  Because of the book’s brevity, it feels more like an exercise/assignment than an achievement.  Or maybe it was a contract-filler.  For completists only.

Egyptian Blue Found in Romanesque Altarpiece

This discovery might turn into a cool piece of historical/archaeological detective work. A pigment of Egyptian origin that’s process of manufacture seems to have been lost after the fall of the Roman Empire is identified in an altar created in a 12th church in Spain. A good theory of how the pigment wound up at this place and time is offered in the article, but it still seems pretty nifty that a chunk of pigment is carefully hoarded through centuries to wind up being used in this particular altar. There might be no telling how far it really traveled through the centuries. Direct from Egypt to Spain for a villa never built? Egypt to Rome to Spain? Or something a lot more circuitous?

Penguin’s Central European Classics

Literary Saloon points to Penguin’s new Central European Classics, while noting some other great collections.1 A third of the collection are books that I’ve been intending to pick up for ages, especially Capek’s War with the Newts, which was part of Northwestern University Press’ other series, European Classics.

Penguin publishing these book is cool though. Not only do they have nicely designed covers,2 but Penguin’s is very accessible. In the craptastic chain bookstore that i’ve been working in for far too long, multiple copies of Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet and Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa turned up unbidden in those unassuming black trade paperbacks to change the world of a few of us working there at the time. Northwestern Press is wonderful for what they do, but i’ve seen what a few cheap, accessible editions of a neglected book can do.

I’ve been wanting Cioran’s A Short History of Decay for awhile, and am in the mood for more aphoristic writing than ever.3

If i could make any suggestions to Penguin, get Witkiewicz’s Insatiability back in print. Bill said that it’s awesome, and the damned editions i see online  are far too pricey for the likes of a peasant like me.

  1. I’m guilty of calling a lot of countries that are typically classified Central Europe as Eastern Europe. It’s annoyed some of my friends through the years. []
  2. Anyway, they do in Britain. I hope that they keep those when they cross the Atlantic. []
  3. I still have no attention span. []

The Black Minutes

As soon as i finished Reality Hunger,1 I’ll be reading The Black Minutes. It turned up at the bookstore a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been intriguing the hell out of me. Mexican author, nice design to the jacket, put out by Grove Press, a B Traven connection, possible analogies to 2666… and what little i’ve  read so far is compelling.

Bud Parr has a post up on Words Without Borders with more info.

  1. I have no idea what to say about it yet. []