A Really Good Book

So. I missed “yesterday,” as stated in my previous post. And I missed yesterday, as in relation to this post (I hope) as well — meaning that I also missed posting on Pi Day (preferably known as Einsteinʼs Birthday), as well. In both cases we must blame the computer (and somewhat my own sloth — but mostly the computer: bless you Apple with all sanctimonious and cynical sarcasm). Even today, with a new update for Mountain Lion, I have spent most of the day with the iMac frozen and (seemingly) forever restarting (fortunately, The Lovely One asked me to clean the house in preparation for some guests, who called last night to indicate illness all week was undoubtedly going to prevent their visit; so I could at least go away from the detestable device and do something worthwhile today — as yesterday I determined to not just sit and fume at spinning gear images and what not but read instead).*

Clearly I should keep this brief before the computer interferes with working successfully yet again.

KindlleHere it is: I love my Kindle (not so fond of the Kindle app for Mac, however, as it now takes a full five minutes to start and run, when not in “safe” mode when it loads perfectly fine and fast, and also apparently caused the most recent system freeze and forced hard restarts). It is really cool to be able to carry a full library around with me in one little, thin device. And I do mean a full library. Although the Kindle Reader only counts 437 books downloaded and included, a huge number of those are the cheap and usable “complete” collection available from various packagers of royalty-free material, meaning that about 50 of the “books” include from twenty to fifty books each!

However, the best thing about the amazon.com device is that I really get into reading things on it — new, old, reread for the umpteenth time and utterly fresh. I have always been a lover of the actual, old-fashioned book — the scent, the feel, the comfort of real pages in a real binding (paper or otherwise). But on the Kindle, reading works just as well, and I get perhaps even more lost in the stories. In my contemporary state of increasing joint pains (sometimes desperately excruciating), holding the Kindle beats trying to keep a hardbacked book open in my lap (not to mention the utter delight for My Beloved to be able to make the font just as large as necessary for her post-surgical eyeballs to perceive readily).

wolf-hallAnd one of the best things that I actually read (new and complete) thanks to the electronic reading machine has been Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall, a brilliant book that thoroughly captured me and kept me up late, late (intolerably so when it came to arising sometimes less than four hours later to get out and work out), unwilling to pause at any story break and go to sleep.

I had first encountered her text in portions published in various literary magazines before the book was actually published (at least here in the U.S.) — in the TLS for certain and I also think in the New York Review of Books and possibly The London Review of Books** as well. Although I read the material each time (and also the subsequent glowing reviews), I wasnʼt entirely whelmed at the third-person present-tense imprisonment in the protagonistʼs perspective.

I did eventually buy the hardback at a Borders going-out-of-business 80%-off price a couple of years ago, but I never got further than the first fifty pages. Maybe, for an old man weened on the hagiography of A Man for All Seasons, it was too hard to imagine a Thomas Cromwell not utterly wicked and venal (although one can clearly perceive his hardening character in Mantelʼs telling, once I did read the book).

In October or November (I donʼt now remember just when I bought the e-book version), with the next volume in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, well reviewed and winning Mantel her second-in-a-row Man Booker Prize, I sprang the nine bucks for a Kindle version. And have been devouring it since (spaced judiciously for other reads, particularly various research items for Sepharad and other books I whimsically have afforded to create the massive library that fits into my pocket).

Wolf Hall. Wonderful stuff. Incredibly well written and easy to read voraciously.

Now I am postponing the start of Bring Up the Bodies (also on the Kindle for some time now) in order to enjoy other things — The Moonstone for the fifth time and for  second time Anthony Burgessʼs Earthly Powers, which became available in January. And triter trifles, too (like Jack Vanceʼs Demon Princes series again and a pleasant discovery from a dead favorite — a mystery by Roger Zelazny, The Dead Manʼs Brother, already completed and archived). And more to come.

* And even now Spotlightʼs incessant cataloguing keeps taken over from my typing and leaving me with not a cursor but an Apple-effing spinning beachball.

** That periodical did publish the text of the speech the author gave recently about the royals which got her into trouble for (not really) disrespecting the expectant mother of the heir-to-become.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Technological Frustrations (4)

I had intended to detail the many frustrations and hours of hangs and freezes and days of re-installation of MacOS 10.8.2 Mountain Lion. But I have begun to bore even myself, and after the not-just-offline-but-off-computer-altogether experiences of last week, I have begun to forget everything I had fumed inside and planned to write.

I think Iʼll just bring this recent thread of technological frustrations to an end — let us hope not just a temporary conclusion.

My wifeʼs laptop is operational but not up to snuff (meaning service pack 3 level and thereby able to support her bought-and-paid virus protection). My iMac remains always on so it doesnʼt have to restart (which Mountain Lion, at least on my computer, cannot do — boot reliably). We remain frustrated… by technology…

Joys of Technology

A glimpse at the Kindle Reader app in action (on top of this post in composition)

On a brighter note, we have new technological toys with which to play. The imminence and arrival of mine kept me distracted from any kind of real accomplishments for well over a week. And my wallet suffers not merely from the acquisition of these new devices but an addictive loading of information and entertainment.

I bought us both Kindles (our first — unlike her early-adopting boss, I thought I would save my cash and acquire my Kindle for well under a hundred bucks*). Mine is indeed the very (currently) cheapest, most basic, old-fashioned, ad-spewing version of the amazon.com product. In black, with the little buttons and square four-way steering tool at the bottom. And I adore having 200 books (many of those absolutely free or utterly the cheapest possible — and collections of dozens of books in each**) in my pocket wherever I go (no more deciding which books to take on vacation now!).

However, I mostly sought out electronic reading devices for The Lovely One. Ever since her emergency eye surgery in 2008 (for a detached retina) and the consequent reshaping of her eyeball, she has found it very difficult to read. With the Kindle able to present text in various sizes, it should make reading more pleasant and possible for her. And she has the new Paperwhite Kindle (again, I fear, the least expensive of those models), so she can even change the font (within the five available possibilities), not needing to tire of incessant Courier and Helvetica, as I apparently must too often endure. The Paperwhite also illuminates itself, so she can read in the evening, or in bed (as I seem always to do). She may still need her “cheaters,” but now she can read (we hope)!

Aside from my greedily filling about a quarter of my Kindleʼs drive with books new and old (and not all of them freebies or buck-or-two volumes as time has gone on), I have no gripes or qualms about this bit of technology, new to us…

…except…

Perhaps I am as stupidly ignorant as I suspect and suggest, but I find the Kindle Reader app for Mac rather ridiculously does not permit a user to copy the text he or she is reading. As I wanted to pass on to My Beloved (from an e-book travel guide I had purchased for Kindle use) a tidbit of information about our intended destination for this yearʼs approaching vacation, this limitation frustrated me (see, the titular theme does indeed persist) until I realized that I could snap a screenshot of the appropriate selection (now, through several software bundle purchases having no less than four screen-capturing programs***) and use PDF Pen Pro to OCR the several sentences into selectable, editable text.

Satisfactory? To be sure. (At least so far… )

And now for some Andalusian research in advance of NaNoWriMo, drawing nigh.

* I had the same attitude/policy toward the iPod — preferring to have my MP3 player for hundreds less than the original prices (and, until recent years, more and more file storage). Itʼs a lesson deriving from my late youth, when calculators were the cutting edge of novel technology (and which not I nor any of my family could originally afford) but which consistently halved their previous prices, while improving the device, year after year, buying season after buying season.

Being an elderizing codger, I still use a calculator — seems so much more direct and simple than booting a computer (assuming, of course, that such a procedure, starting up a computer, is even possible) and then opening a calculator program.  — Not quite aged enough for sliderule mastery, though…

** complete Sherlock Holmes, Lovecraft, Victor Hugo, H. Rider Haggard, James Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Dickenson, Poe, Shelly, Keats, Yeats, Walter Scott, Robert. E. Howard, the Babylonian Talmud in English… (I could go on — you know I could — but you have endured enough. For now.)

Besides, check my screen-capture illustration for todayʼs post to see some more of my recent reading.

***  — I still choose Voilá for constant menubar presence and use, although SnagIt, Clarify and Skitch remain in the Dock (and I would appreciate any input or feedback on othersʼ program preferences and insights).

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Books

I mentioned last week that I havenʼt thought in print about what I have been reading lately. So I will do so today. As if anyone is actually interested. I have been indulging in a lot of nonfiction.

First off, I still dabble in the fascinating (and well written) Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by María Rosa Menocal, which I originally picked up at Borders in St. Charles, Illinois, back on March 14 and have mentioned a couple of times on this forum already. I have been reading it not so much because its message is so perfectly apropos in these hysterically Hitlerian paranoid days. (Did everyone hear about how, over the past weekend, Rightist-inspired arsonists attacked, predictably really, the Murpheesboro, TN, new mosque site? And I was supposed to feel abashed at lumping fundamentalist maniacs of every religious stripe together, huh? I hit that bigoted and partisan nail directly on the vacant cabeza.)

I did actually buy Menocalʼs book as research for the Judah-and-Søren story(-ies). I read two more chapters over the weekend, encompassing Sephardic Golden Age Hebrew poets (Samuel ha-Nagid in particular), Ibn Hazm and the origins of the medieval Cult of Love, and Andalusian qiyan (and their “ring-songs”) as the stimulative influence on troubador music and poetry. As a history fan of that period and of courtly love in general (via Arthuriana, Dante, Joseph Campbell — the second and fourth books of The Masks of God [“Amor” versus “Roma”] — and Denis de Rougemontʼs Love in the Western World), I was amused to connect back to familiar things to me (although having read about the Islamic influence on European rhyming verse and Sufi poetry on courtly love, I did vaguely realize the importance of al-Andalus already).

Thanks to her book, however, I may even have finally pinned down the era in which the two swordsmen live — as my sister Margaret had suggested a long time back, the taifa age after the fall of Cordoba. I have deeply enjoyed reading this book when I pick it up, which is very pleasant as I really only purchased it as a reference, to learn about the time and place in which I wanted to set my sword-and-sorcery adventures.

On the other hand, recent mosque nonsense has gotten me interested in information versus propaganda (particularly the insanely paranoid and terrifying ravings of the Fundie haters that permeate the Web). I think I mentioned that I used some Borders bucks to buy a 1934 translation with notes of the Qurʼan, and I have been reading it (along with, more particularly, a reorganized Penguin Books edition I had purchased in 1980). I have been amused and interested to check citations from other books against the Qurʼan (and against “the Koran,” although I mostly have just been reading that book), and to get the translator/annotatorʼs insights on passages and translations into English. It is fun (as my brother Paul learned way back in high school), even when you donʼt know a language (as I do not know Arabic, not even recollecting how to recognize Coca-Cola in Arabic nowadays, which I once learned while we were in Morocco), to compare translatorsʼ versions. For Paul that early scholarship has worked into his theological/Biblical studies becoming a Methodist minister. For me, it is still intriguing.

A few weeks earlier, poking through the cutout/discontinued books displayed at the Dubuque Borders (I really do shop at Barnes & Noble, too, just not so much recently, I guess — no trips to Cedar Rapids or Davenport), I found the large-format, softcover book, The Complete Illustrated Guide to Islam by Raana Bokhari and Dr. Mohammed Seddon (which at the time seemed possible for at least some background on al-Andalus/Sepharad-or-Sefarad and which now provides a reasonable tonic to the web delerium that has so provoked me the past two Fridays). Although only less than a third of the way into it, I have been learning (and clarifying) a lot. Its two-page spread format makes for easy reading now and then when I decide to pick up the book and peruse for a half hour. Every two open pages is one essay on a particular topic (i.e. the childhood of the Prophet, “Marriage to Khadijah” or “Applying Hadith”), with the book organized mostly chronologically but with chapters on beliefs, practices, life in the ummah and other issues/topics. Having covered chapter one, “Muhammad: Man and Prophet,” I am tackling “The History of Islam” next, including one single spread on Islamic al-Andalus (and from what I have read already, I am going to need a lot of supporting research to reach some understanding).

I have also gone to my ancient Time-Life series, picking out the Early Islam volume from the Great Ages of Man. Last Friday and Saturday, I read chapter one and the subsequent photo essay on the Life (and Legends) of Muhammad as verification and further reading on what I gleaned from the Bokhari/Seddon book up to then. Reading it made me check other T-L series, and I have pulled out What Life Was Like in the Lands of the Prophet and Crescent Booksʼ The Moors (probably the most on target for Søren and Judah) to read soon.

Lest the shade of my departed mother think I am now contemplating a recitation of the shahada (“la ilaha illa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah” — “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet” — or “Messenger” as Bokhari/Seddon would have it; or click the link to see the various Wikipedia translations) instead of the conversion to Judaism she once feared back in the late Seventies/early Eighties, I have also been reading other books (and magazines and websites). I acquired Giles Sparrowʼs The Stargazerʼs Handbook from the cutouts, and I was skimming in that (love the pictures!) on some afternoons, although it hasnʼt been the source for my astrophotos illustrating the various pieces of Stars in Heaven. I also brought out the Norton Annotated edition of The Waste Land on a whim two weekends back to reread the poem and dip into some of the critical essays. The new Smithsonian still has a couple of articles I want to finish, as does Archaeology (which, along with Time, I have to renew now). I also have had The White Goddess out again, having worked through the first two chapters back in March.

Furthermore, I have been reading some fiction. First, having been inspired by the TV series that weʼve been watching Sunday nights, I am on chapter five in I, Claudius by Robert Graves (yeah, he keeps cropping up in this blog). I started Samuel R. Delanyʼs Nova, but then switched to his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, which is about half done, set aside for the spate of Islamic nonfiction briefly/sometimes. Leiberʼs Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are still in the stack by my bedside (I have moved on to Swords Against Wizardry, rereading the very fine “Stardock” so far), and Iʼve still got The Dain Curse to reread out of the complete Hammett. Plus Fred Hoyleʼs Ossianʼs Ride sits in my interior vest pocket for entertainment, if necessary, when I am out and about — just about half reread or a bit more. But maybe I will discuss the fiction some other time.

N.B. All my own scans today, and although begun and mostly written on Monday, I slated it for today to complement the previous Friday rants…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Whence Wakdjunkaga

I have been perhaps overusing old poetry to create posts, but I have enjoyed an interesting time looking back through the old stuff, both reminiscing and reading things I haven’t even remembered to think of in literal decades. You may have to endure more verse tomorrow (I don’t know yet) as I have at least seven poems already saved for the addition of commentary and scheduling. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

For today I do intend to explain the source of the pseudonym Durwood Wakdjunkaga. It won’t be as long as the first part last Saturday because I don’t have a whole novel idea to summarize in explanation, and I already explained that I have used Durwood Wakdjunkaga as a pen name for a long time—right back to the very beginning in Andrew.

Where did the name come from? That’s the question for today. Whence “Wakdjunkaga?” (And you will all be happy to know I bothered to double-check my word skills to know for sure that I am using whence correctly.)

Once again, let’s trek back in time to the 1970s—directly to the middle of the decade. I had graduated from Iowa Wesleyan in May of 1975, having already—after a none-too-lengthy job search (involving only four interviews, I believe, but about a hundred letters of application)—accepted a teaching position only thirty miles from college and home, at Ft. Madison Senior High School. I would teach English, assist with yearbook production, and direct the senior class play in the spring. I was at the time of graduation still with my college-era girlfriend, who had gone off herself to college that year and who would find her own future later that coming autumn, cascading a tumult of poetic inspiration for me (perhaps because after that I had a lot of free time to sit around, get moody and write—somewhat like retiring from teaching but with no computers or internet yet and much less personal history to review and revise). The issues prompting “Busy Music” occurred that spring, and for the summer we got back together (thanks I have always felt to my beginning to express my sense of silly humor and acting skills—ah, André the lovable Frenchman—no more on that for any of your prurient interests). Amusingly, for the silly sense of humor, I would discover Monty Python’s Flying Circus on Iowa Public Television (whatever it was called in those sainted days of yore) while living on my own for the first time that fall and winter.

I found a furnished apartment in Ft. Madison, high in an old house, partway up the hill that descends to the Mississippi in town (later the top of that hill would develop serious significance for me, but that was the next bicentennial summer and after). The living room in the front of the house loomed out over Avenue D from very high above, and sitting there, looking out and down at the distant ground beneath, I frequently felt like I was in my own personal starship heading off for galaxies unknown (such is the nature of the influence of what we read and one’s naivete and the potential energy unleashed by arriving within one’s destiny). The place was genuinely dismal, but I didn’t know or really care.

My brother Paul headed off for a year in Spain, so I took over his aged Chevy—fated to lose its brakes one winter Friday night en route to the former favorite professor’s married-student-housing apartment in Coralville as he restarted his career after IWC in social work (I still remember gliding in neutral across Iowa City, scoring success with the lights for the most part and avoiding arrest on the questionable intersection passages, to reach a halt at last by bumping with pretty solid force into the building which was my destination; strangely I don’t remember how I got home after the weekend or how the brakes got fixed—probably via my father in the garage on Green Street in Mt. Pleasant).

Iowa City’s Old Capitol, as I have never seen it

…which is the long way around of saying I settled in to live and teach in Ft. Madison as of late July 1975. That winter, on one of my nearly weekly excursions to Iowa City (ah the old days of snow fence, Bushnell’s Turtle, and the temporary buildings in the streets), I was looking at books in Book and Crook on its corner not quite across the street from the Old Capitol (not yet in those days regilded on its dome) when I discovered The Trickster by Paul Radin. I bought the book and devoured it immediately over Christmas break 1975.

I have been intrigued by Native American cultures since we read about that Fifties-perfect figure Fleetfoot in elementary readers (no Dick and Jane for me: at the primary level I learned phonetics, and in Rock Island, at Denkmann, we had whatever bland whitecake boy and girl were Fleetfoot’s prominent friends). Radin’s book was an easy addition to my (then still moderate) library.

Not only did I start my continuing interest in Jung (and Karl Kerényi), who have essays in the book, but I learned all about the Winnebago Trickster deity—Wakdjunkaga. As the links (do any of you actually click on those and learn some things?) should tell you, Tricksters are mythological divinities that screw up frequently (sometimes deliberately, often maliciously), demonstrating little true self-control, behaving clownishly and sometimes even creating reality or devising cultural advances—generally by accident. Radin’s whole book is available through the link. Somehow, Wakdjunkaga appealed to me.

Thus the immortal surname arrived in my life. It was weird (as most who have encountered the word through me have determined for themselves) and it was appropriate. It was perfect. Like any true WASP American I acquired the Native American property without qualm or hesitation to make it my own (listen, tightie whities: “immigrant-go-home” should mean YOU and our ancestors). And when I searched “wakdjunkaga” on Google just now, I turn out to be the first hits.

“Durwood” is a little more obvious, coming from ”durwyrd” via Graves’s The White Goddess (a druidical word which he translates as “oak seer”)—a book which I also purchased and read that same winter. Thus the name combines a mass of true and (probably) false ethnology, archaeology and anthropology in my own alter ego (actually the character from the future who turns out to be identical with, though older than, my alter ego in The Book of Seasons). A tricky, selfish, cunning, mischievous, malicious, generous, comical, wise and magical being: myself. (Yes, you may feel free to laugh aloud along with me.)

So now you know both why and whence came Wakdjunkaga’s Blog. Interested to explore Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd. S.A. next?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.