Keep Your
God Waiting

Dynamic Health and
Great Sex

Michael Coleman
Coleman has a program for "moving sexual energy around the body," the theory being that sexuality is the most powerful force we have within, and that you and I were meant to live to age 120.

There are breathing exercises --- visualizing "the energy" entering and leaving the body --- and a "basic 60-minute program." This includes "a unique and very pleasurable mind-body workout" ... tapping the various body parts, self-stimulation that takes one to the edge of orgasm, and ejaculation "which can provide health benefits and may be practiced well into mature age."

All exercises begin with the cryptic instruction

    Empty bladder before commencing. Then because the brain is involved drink a glass of good quality water (not tap water) at room temperature.


City of Lights
Patrick Neate
I love detective stories; women detectives, midget detectives, doctor detectives, lawyer detectives and Indian chief detectives.

But I've never read a book in English before that needed to be translated into English. This Paki-Londoner hero speaks in English (not Paki) that I've never heard before.

I usually give a book to page 69 to convince me to read it. I gave this one to 75 and now I give up. Perhaps if I had an English to English dictionary.

But no, even that would be too much trouble.

Books should entertain, not be a bother.

Tracking the
Black Dog

Fairy Tales and Historical Legwork
From the Black Dog Institute's
Writing Competitions

Kerrie Eyers, Editor
(University of New South Wales Press)
Those of us who get so depressed we want to kick the dog will appreciate this one. It comes from Australia, and is a reprinting (as edited) by those wrestling (or explicating) the Black Dog Syndrome.
BDS is simple, down-home, non-stop, soul-scarring, mind-twisting, heart-stabbing, breath-snatching, eye-drooping, wit-melting depression. The phrase "Black Dog" was not coined by Winston Churchill, but he made it popular.

One of the correspondents reports that "Churchill did not like to stand near railway platforms or wharves and even admitted that he disliked sleeping near a balcony. 'I've no desire to quit this world," he said... "but thoughts, desperate thoughts come into the head.'"

The other famous Black Dogger appearing often on these pages was Samuel Johnson. He once told Boswell that he would give up an arm if the melancholia would leave him alone. He also said "Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment."

Towards the end of his life, so alarmed was he by the thought of his own mortality that he dozed in a chair so that he wouldn't have to up and die in his bed. He also stayed abroad on the streets of London until the early hours, because of the night-fears. Once,

    he became aware of the Black Dog crouching on the landing, the shadow of its lolling tongue lapping the staircase wall. The stench of its hateful breath seeped into the chamber. He wrenched up the window to let in the night air, but still the rank odor swilled about the room; he propped himself upright and dozed with his hand clamped over his nostrils.

This book is filled with bite-sized pieces of melancholia, but in general the writing is informed and upbeat, as upbeat as it can be when the writers know that All is Doom. The Black Dog folks can be found at

Daughters of
The Vicar

D. H. Lawrence
In the old days, D. H. Lawrence was known for one book, Lady Chatterly's Lover, because it got banned in both England and the United States by the Passion Police. Still, it received enough notoriety to make Lawrence famous if not rich, even though those of us who tried to make our way through it found Chatterly to be mostly mashed potatoes and ham hocks.

Lawrence wrote Daughters of the Vicar much earlier, when he was but twenty-five. It's the story of Reverend Ernest Lindsley, his wife and two daughters, and another poor family, the Durants --- the wife "peevish," the husband who was "already going dead." The Durants and the Lindsleys live in the coal-mining village of Aldecross, England.

It's a novel of class, and economic privation, but mostly, it is a story of inchoate people, stuck with emotions that can never be expressed in words. To communicate, one needs pots-full of anger, sullenness, martyrdom and religious pride.

Lawrence was just starting out as a novelist when he wrote this one, so he had to, as most young writers will, overstate his case --- in this, the chill-factor in these two families. On one page alone, I counted five uses of the word "cold." Vicar's daughter Mary is being asked to marry a Reverend Massy:

  • "She went cold as she sat, and impervious, almost as if she had become stone."
  • He asks if she will be his wife, but "her heart was hard and cold.
  • When she talks to her mother about her wedding, "she was cold and reserved."
  • "Everybody remained cold and shut off."
  • "She could feel the male in him, something cold and triumphant, asserting herself. She sat rigid and waited."

The key characters get stuck in doubts and the fear that they will not be able to express themselves, so they don't.

Despite all this, it's worth the candle because Lawrence has great power in creating the passion of wordlessness, making you want to strangle these dummies because they won't leave off their freeze-dried, ruinous, inchoate, non-expressive ways. These are the kind of people who show their anger by putting a fist through the wall; then they congratulate themselves on their quiet English reserve.

Bobbed Hair and
Bathtub Gin

Writers Running Wild
In the Twenties

Marion Meade
Lorna Raver, Reader

Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millary, Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber are the stars here, along with a supporting cast of dozens ... including Robert Benchley, Edmund Wilson, Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Harold Ross (of New Yorker fame.)

The writers and their husbands and lovers may be running wild, but they are (mostly) alcoholics, and in some cases addicted to morphine. They spend much of their time gossiping about each other and throwing up the bathtub gin and going off to France and (in the case of Parker) working their way, badly, through various attempted suicides.

Bobbed Hair is interesting, because it is name-dropping on a fairly large scale, a bound copy of The Gawker or Manhattan Media from eighty years ago ... an intimate peek at the dirty laundry and vile doings of many of those who framed American literature in the era of Prohibition.

Still, one suspects that Scott Fitzgerald's drinking habits, even his brutality towards Zelda, should not be the focus of our interest when we consider that he created, drunk or no, violent or not, one of the glories of American literature, The Great Gatsby.

Dorothy Parker may have tried to do herself in with sleeping powders and shoe-polish, but that should not affect our reading of her droll poetry and her sometimes wonderful short fiction. And the fact that Millay fell stupidly in love with a college student from Chicago --- much less the problems she had with constipation (!) --- mean little to those of us who, so many years ago, in our innocent college days, read her East Village-Staten Island Ferry wise-but-innocent poetry with such gusto.

The tone of this book is mostly sneering, sour, narrow, the reading is doubly sour. It is as if Meade has locked the characters down on a dissection table, and Raver is holding her breath, as well as her nose, as she delves into the corpses.

In other word, it stinks ... but we couldn't stop listening. Even when Meade starts in discussing ... holy shit! ... Zelda's suspected coprophilia.

A Reading Diary
Alberto Manguel
    In Turkish, the word muhabbet means both "conversation" and "love." You say for both, "To do muhabbet." I like the idea of conversation being a window into one's heart of mind.
    I've looked at two translations of Elective Affinities in English one by David Carradine, published by Oxford University Press, the other by Judith Ryan, published by Princeton. Neither is fully satisfying, but both, as the French say, se laissent lire. Goethe suggested, in one of his many letters to Wilhelm von Humboldt.

§     §     §

And thus you have it, the essence of Alberto Manguel. One who can fit in a Turkish word, two translations of a book (Oxford, Princeton), along with Goethe and Humboldt and "as the French say..." Crammed into seven lines. We claim that anyone who can do all this is bound to be an intellectual show-off.

Despite that, A Reading Diary has one thing that you and I can only love, proving that you cannot tell a book by its cover. This stuffy dilettante text has the most wonderful binding to be found in the world of books.

It appears to be stained, worn, torn, shabby (even in our case, bunched and ripped at the spine). Fake, totally fake: the cover is a work of art. Forget Manguel. Sing praises for Karen Horton, who designed this one.

The Village
Under the Sea

Mark Haddon
We say it is The Village Under the Sea. But a slider on the front cover allows us to change the title at will. If we want, it can be The Sad Girl or The Talking Horse. And the first poem, Go, Litel Bok, would stir images of Chaucer. "Lullaby" is just that, a song for children. Many poems cite the Odes of Horace. One contains an envoi.

Like A Reading Diary, it is all cover: tom-foolery and trickery ... and not all that creative. "Nuns' are

    out again,
    flocking on the esplanade
    like crows.

    Passing the nudist beach
    they giggle into cupped hands
    like smokers around the match.

Still. That cover. We can't stop fooling around with it. Turning it around and around.

Dancing in a
Distant Place

Isla Dewar
(St. Martin's)
If this book was a movie it would be a "chick flick." A good one though.

Woman is widowed by a secret gambler and all the money spender (unbeknownst to her before his death), left with two teenaged children and not a pence more. Goes to a country school to teach, problems with teenagers, mother-in-law, problems with residents of small country town in Ireland, meets two guys, ends up with one. Happily ever after.

Sweet. Love stories set in Ireland.

The Rainbow Trail
Zane Grey
Michael Prichard,

The fact that Zane Grey wrote eighty-five books, and sold over 100,000,000 of them is enough to make one weep for the past, present and future of world literature. The Rainbow Trail, somewhere around #35, is as bad as the rest, filled with those coincidences so beloved of the author.

In this case, Shephard, the defrocked minister, comes upon the lovely Indian girl, in her buckskin dress, in the process of being (almost) raped by --- who else? --- a preacher-man.

Later, as our would-be cowboy is camping out for the night in the rugged Arizona outback, a sinister half-breed comes bent on murder, but the Indian girl's brother chances on the scene --- there in the middle of no-where. Shepherd is delivered.

Potential rape, half-breeds, tough hombres, deserts, and missionaries loom large in the fiction of Grey, along with purple sage. Perhaps because the plant was also known as jimson weed, and it was known for driving you crazy.

If you long for the days when the West was wild and crazy and the missionaries were as bad as the half-breeds, this is your baby.


Christopher Bigsby
(Thomas Dunne/
St. Martins)
    Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
    Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
    Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
    Lull'd by the moonlight have all pass'd away!
    Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
    List while I woo thee with soft melody;
    Gone are the cares of life's busy throng,
    Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
    Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
James' father is accused of raping a white woman. A man who happened to be standing in the store at the same time tries to defend him, and --- after the lynching --- is captured and beaten, despite being white. Only a car coming on the scene prevents the letters --- "N. L." --- being carved into his chest.

When the malefactors return to murder him, James, black son of the lynched man, shoots them dead. The two of them -- James, along with the man who made a futile attempt to save his father --- take off, jump a train, try to escape. The whole story takes place in the Tennessee mountains.

There is an awful lot of blood trailing through these pages. Screams and curses, grunting and crying, bodily damage. Our unnamed hero not only gets tattooed (hot branding knife) and banged about with a tire-iron, he's shot in the shoulder, burned in the hand, almost drowned in a river, slammed in the jaw, banged in his wounded shoulder with a gun-butt, and otherwise greatly mauled about. He faints several times with the pain of it all, and I guess I would too.

Meanwhile, the young black James drowns --- is revivified by his companion --- and ow gets one of his arms popped out of its socket. To add to his misery, turns out he is not only an orphan with a martyred father, but a mute who is given to gran mal seizures.

The malefactors for their part are merely inbred, uncouth, with nasty ways and misshapen heads crawling with bad teeth. They are much given to the n-word and the f-word.

§     §     §

I remember once dawdling through Deliverance, My reaction to all the brawling, idiocy, blood, sodomy and death was this: the mountain-country people of the back woods of the South, where I grew up, are being led onstage in order to provide ready-to-eat villains for the novelist.

In Beautiful Dreamer, you can almost smell the plot shaping up in Bigsby's head: "I'll set it in Tennessee, sixty years ago, bring in the hint of inbred crackers, always screwing their own sisters and brothers, and probably mothers and fathers as well, foul-mouthed villains ... pitted against an innocent young black man and a mountain boy who turns from a drone into a believer in humanity." A sure show-propper. Or stopper.

Except for us who have heard it all before. The people at St. Martin's, the ones doing the publicity for this book, somehow find echoes of John Steinbeck in Beautiful Dreamer. Nonsense. Bigsby steals many of his stylistic tics from Penn Warren, others from Faulkner. You can tell by the run-on sentences, the edge of philosophy --- God, that is --- creeping in, like pismires in the pound cake at the annual office picnic.

As I was struggling through the pismires in this office, I happened to be reading, cover-to-cover, the newly released William Faulkner: Novels 1926 - 1929, from Library of America. For those of us who thought The Sound and the Fury the be-all and end-all, there is the pleasant surprise of Sartoris --- Faulkner not yet perfect, but shaping up. Here is, for example, a brief meditation on a railroad, and a death, and God:

    Two long blasts with dissolving echoes, two short following ones; but before it came in sight his cigar was cold again, and he sat holding it in his fingers and watched the locomotive drag its string of yellow windows up the valley and into the hills once more, where after a time it whistled again, arrogant and resonant and sad.... Now his railway belonged to a syndicate and there were more than two trains on it that ran from Chicago to the Gulf, completing his dream, while John Sartoris slept among martial cherubim and the useless vain-glory of whatever God he did not scorn to recognize.

Here, by contrast, is Bigsby's divine:

    [I]t made no difference. He still had the same problems. Indeed, if it were him, he would have been in despair as problem piled on problem, as though he were Job being tested by God who took pleasure in making each day worse than the last, each hour worse than the last.

Faulkner, Penn Warren --- even Steinbeck --- permitted the gods, but there weren't necessarily Jobian, nor Old Testament. There were few angels, but the bad guys, even the bastard in-bred bad guys with bad teeth and bad complexion, have something going for them. In the case of the Snopes, it is no more than a stiff, pitiable pride born of neglect and poverty, but, hell, it's something.

The song Beautiful Dreamer, is an awful ditty from the pen of Stephen Foster, who specialized in awful ditties. I guess the hook is that it is mentioned in the text, but it is as extraneous as the sinister hillbillies, has little or nothing to do with the plot. Unless one considers the whole stool to be but the "sounds of the rude world."

--- W. J. Wright
J. A. Shannon
B. R. Webber
C. A. Amantea
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