Autodidact: self-taught


A Study in Scarlet

by V. L. Craven

A Study in Scarlet

I’ve recently undertaken to read all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories in chronological order.

The first is the novel A Study in Scarlet, (1886) wherein a doctor who has been through hell after being injured in the military decides to rejoin life and needs to find a flatmate in order to remain in London. He’s introduced to Sherlock Holmes—an unusual sort, but compatible in domestic affairs—and they go in on a flat together.

Odd sorts from all strata of society show up at all times of the day and night, much to Dr Watson’s bemusement, until Holmes explains that he’s a consulting detective. He helps people with problems the police can’t or won’t handle.

Speaking of the police, Holmes is summoned by Tobias Gregson and Mr Lestrade of Scotland Yard to assist on a case. Gregson and Lestrade are in constant competition to be the better detective, which Holmes lets them get on with whilst he continues his investigations.

In brief, an American man is found dead in an abandoned house—apparently murdered, but with no visible wounds. There is blood on the scene, but it’s not from the victim—and it has been used to write the letters RACHE.

The reader is introduced to Sherlock Holmes through John Watson’s point of view, who finds him intriguing, as one would do. In this first novel we learn about Holmes’ general approach to life and how his mind works.

The book happens in two sections—the first taking place in the present day (that being 1886) and the second section going back several decades to explain how the American man came to be on the floor of an abandoned house in London. The second section was a surprise—I’d expected to remain in Victorian England the entire time, so to spend quite some time in a very different climate was something of a shock.  To have that very different climate be populated with Mormons… well… I thought some errant pages had made their way into my copy. Trust Conan Doyle, though.

Still, it was excellently written and intriguing. I absolutely recommend it for fans of Victorian literature or detective fiction. Or that show with the guy with the cheekbones and the Hobbit.


S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

by V. L. Craven

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

S. is the name of the book that you purchase, which is in a slipcase and shrink-wrapped. The book in the slipcase, however, is titled The Ship of Theseus and is purportedly by ‘V.M. Straka’. It looks like a library book from the 50s or 60s completely with stamps and the paper even looks properly aged. A friend of mine (dragornaked89) pointed out the book doesn’t smell old, though, so it wasn’t 100% authentic, but it was still a marvel in printing. (Particularly for $35US.)

Part of the mind-bogglingness of the book is attention to detail. There’s a conversation being carried out in the margins between two university students—a male and a female. The book is left in the library for the other to pick up and leave further comments on both what they’re reading and what’s going on in their lives. The book is read three times by the characters (you only read it once) and it’s easy to tell by the handwriting and pen or pencil used which pass you’re reading. (It sounds complicated but I promise it’s not.)

And there are all sorts of bits and bobs between the pages—photographs and letters and hand-drawn maps on napkins and postcards that only add to the realism. Pro tip: I found the code wheel that was meant to be used right from the start near the end of my reading—it had got stuck to the inside of the back cover so I didn’t get to play along with some of the code-breaking. Check the inside of your back cover.

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

It’s that round thing. It was hiding from me.

The book, The Ship of Theseus reminds me of Nabokov in a way. That story is interesting on its own—a sort of nowhere but possibly European dream-state novel. I would like to discuss it specifically with anyone who’s read the book. I have some ideas of what certain elements represented but I’d like to discuss it with other people.

The overarching theme of the entire work is the question of identity and what it is—what defines us. This is embodied in S., who has amnesia and is trying to figure out who is he, much like the students—an undergrad nearly finished with a degree she took to make her parents happy but now doesn’t know what to do with her life; and a grad student studying Straka whose work has been taken from him, leaving him with nothing to show for his years of scholarship. Then V.M. Straka may or may not be a real person but whomever or whatever it was that wrote several incredible books still made a huge contribution to the world of literature—so does it matter if he was real?


Ghost Story by Peter Straub

by V. L. Craven

Ghost Story by Peter Straub

The Chowder Society–a group of older men who tell one another ghost stories–is having a bit of a problem that may or may not be supernatural in nature. Or they could all be going mad. Either way, a year after the mysterious death of one of their members, another dies, also mysteriously. In other parts of their small, New England town, animals are being killed in inexplicable ways–completely drained of blood. Some say it’s aliens. Others say it’s a ne’er-do-well in town.

The Society invites the nephew of the first of their number to die–a writer–to perhaps help sort out what’s going on. He tries to do so, but in the process he uncovers a secret the close-knit group thought they’d buried decades ago.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub

Straub’s descriptions are incredible and the story is multi-layered, the characters are well-rounded and believable. Ghost Story is the sort of novel that can be considered horror in the strictest sense, but I would recommend it to anyone. It’s the sort of book you want to read by candlelight with a mug of hot cocoa by your side.

It’s an excellent story for fans of American Horror Story looking for something to tide them over until the new series begins next month, as it’s spooky as hell and takes place over several generations. There’s something else going on in this one that is also very AHS, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

It’s also excellent for people in parts of the world where it’s currently ridiculously hot, as it takes place during a very snowy winter in New England. I was reading a chapter that took place during a snow storm and had to take the dog out and was genuinely surprised by the oven-like blast of hot air that hit me in the face upon opening the door.

The book was originally published in 1979 and a film adaptation was released in 1981. I shall be reviewing the film version next Thursday. See you then.


Freelancing and Notes from the Past

by V. L. Craven

As my regular readers know, Friday is book review day, but I’m currently wrestling with the side effects of some new medication–mainly the fact that my eyes want to be closed all the time–and launching a comic with my husband. Which is semi-autobiographical and very fun. Writing a comic is far more difficult than I would have ever thought.

Speaking of writing, I’m also starting to freelance. So if you have writing that needs doing and would like to give me filthy lucre for doing so, please see my author site for info or email me at my freelance email .

Freelancing and Notes from the Past

See how classy? Because I am classy & will write classy things for you. Or not. Your call.

For the above reasons, this week’s book review is notes from a previous blog that is no longer easy to find on the internet. The notes are still relevant, as books worth reading are still books worth reading. The original post date was September 27, 2006.

Here we go:

Freelancing and Notes from the Past I’ve finished The Art of Murder , which held my interest, but felt a bit forced at the end. I’m a notorious end-niggler (it’s not as dirty as it sounds) so it’s probably just me. If you enjoyed Never Let Me Go I highly recommend this, which I’ve recently discovered is called speculative fiction. Making History by Stephen Fry is another (excellent) example of this type. If you have read any of these three you should try the others.

In classic fashion, I picked up a book fresh out of the Baker and Taylor box (rather than one of the, you know, thousand or so I have at home I haven’t read). It’s Al Franken’s The Truth (with Jokes) which is exactly what I thought it would be: amusing, infuriating and depressing. I usually don’t read current event/political books because politics annoy/bore me–it’s amazing how something can be simultaneously boring as hell and annoying as shit, no?–but I do enjoy Mr Franken’s dry wit. I figured something amusing would keep me reading.

Freelancing and Notes from the Past And I’ve hit a wall. Every reader goes through it. Nothing compels you. It’s frustrating, I must say. Bizarrely, I’m just not in the mood for Victorian fiction so I’ve set aside The Meaning of Night because I’m tired of feeling guilty for not reading it. I’m no longer going to feel guilty, because it’s just not the right time for me. We’re in different places, you know? We should take some time off and maybe try again later… It really isn’t you, you’re like The Alienist , which I loved, you have all sorts of things I like about Victorian fiction, your pages even feel nice. For whatever reason, it simply isn’t happening for me right now. I’m truly sorry. Don’t give up on me.

End of post.

Clearly, I recovered from my reading slump, thank goodness, or this blog would have never been created. Next week, I promise a new book review if I have to sell my soul to the devil to make it happen.

I also dedicate all the work I’ve done today to Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans. I’ve accomplished quite a bit today and it’s about 35% love of writing and 65% these babies .


Excuse Me, is It 1880 Outside?

by V. L. Craven

Excuse Me, is It 1880 Outside?

I spent my three-day weekend cleaning. [Labour Day weekend, which is sort of the unofficial end of summer and one of the few bank holidays in the States.] But now that my house is practically immaculate I can really get some reading and commonplacing done. Currently reading The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Dalhquist, which is a steampunky sort of Victorian tome. I’m not very far in, but I’m enjoying the various points of view–I do like it when novels are told by different characters. The novel is sprawling and intriguing and all those good things, but it could do with a little editing.

Also still reading and loving Great Expectations and My Wars Are Laid Away in Books , which is a biography of Emily Dickinson. I read Tom Bedlam by George Hagen last week and enjoyed it very much–it was quite Dickensian. It’s rather Victorian around my house these days–it’s interesting how you occasionally get into reading … not ‘rut’ really, just when you wind up unintentionally reading quite a few books in a similar vein. Or perhaps that only happens to me.

[This is a post from a previous blog. Original post date: 4 September 2007]


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

by V. L. Craven

  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Title and author: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Dave McKean.

Genre: Fantasy fiction suitable for teens but equally enjoyable for adults.

What led you to pick up the book? It had ‘Neil Gaiman’ written on the cover.

Summarize the plot without revealing the ending . One night a man named Jack breaks into a house and kills an entire family…nearly. A toddler escapes and winds up in the cemetery at the end of the road, where he is taken in and raised by the resident Dead.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This is a Graveyard Book mousepad from It’s designed by Kendra Stout and it’s neat.

What did you like most?  Learning what ‘life’ is like for the Dead and what abilities they have. His relationship with Silas, his father figure, was touching. I also liked that the reader was left to work out the… race? of one characters–Gaiman knows his readers are intelligent.

What did you dislike?  That there wasn’t enough of it.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Graveyard Book illustration by Dave McKean

Thoughts on the main character : Each chapter has Bod (short for Nobody Owens) a few years older so we get to see his progression towards adulthood, which felt true.

Share a favourite scene.  The scene beyond the ghoul gate (Ghulheim) was particularly inventive–it put me in mind of Neverwhere. The bizarre physics and characters were pure Gaiman. The danse macabray chapter was great fun, as well. There was a suspense as to where the on Earth the chapter was going and why.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ghulheim — (poss. by Simon Dalton)

Opinion on the ending. It worked and didn’t bring a tear to my eye at all. Nope.

Overall rating: 10/10. If you’re a Gaiman fan and haven’t read it because it’s ‘for kids’ or something, read it anyway.


Poe & Pearl, The Beginning of an Obsession

by V. L. Craven

Poe & Pearl, The Beginning of an Obsession When I was twelve, we had to memorise a poem for English class and the teacher said if someone chose ‘The Raven’ they’d automatically get 100 percent. I was on it. It was a few months after I’d realised wearing all black meant never having to think about clothes reciting the entire poem–the class growing more incredulous with every stanza–solidified my status as creepy weirdo (now it’d be ‘goth’, I’m sure).

Aside from the grade (I got a 99 because I didn’t knock on the side of the podium when the titular bird did), I loved the atmosphere of the poem and carried around the book it was in [see the cover to the right] everywhere for at least a year like some sort of literary safety blanket. I may have been some sort of macabre freak who read too much, but Poe was on my side! My favourites were the gloomier stories (Usher, Red Death, and Silence: A Fable were my favourites). If it didn’t look like someone was going to go mad, die of some unnamed disease or just die horribly some other way I quickly lost interest.

I did reports on short stories in class the following two years (‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’) and freaked my classmates right out. It was brilliant. The second year we had to do something creative based on the story, so I made up an advert where you could buy tickets to the masque. I was a fun teenager.

Poe & Pearl, The Beginning of an Obsession Flash forward many years, and other macabre authors, and I came across Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow , which hypothesizes about the events of Poe’s final days. [Incidentally, I picked it up because I'd loved Pearl's The Dante Club . You should read it. It's very good.] While writing this post, I came upon a page on Pearl’s website with bonus content for his novels. Now I want to re-read the book, and I may do once I’ve finished the two Poe bios I’m reading.

Reading Pearl’s book reminded me of the man who’d started me on my journey into the dark corners of literature and I picked up (read: got from Amazon  for free) all five volumes of Poe’s fiction. I’ve now read all of them and my favourite quotes are  here . I’m still adding some, but that’s a good portion.

Though I still prefer his horror stories, I can now appreciate his descriptions of nature in ‘The Landscape Garden’ and Arnheim, as well as find the humour in ‘Never Bet the Devil Your Head’ and ‘The Angel of the Odd’ amongst others.

Some of his short pieces were baffling, however, and I found  this Wikipedia page with information on most of his short fiction to be very useful.

Once through the man’s work, I wanted more and began looking for novels and stories that featured Poe as a character. I’ll begin reviewing those next week.


The Trial of True Love

by V. L. Craven

The Trial of True Love

Once again, William Nicholson has written a book that makes my mind spin. He wrote Shadowlands as well as a truly excellent, philosophical novel called The Society of Others . His books are the type where it seems he’s telling a simple story, but there are layers upon layers of other things happening. The one I’m reading now focuses on love, but seems to me to address any feeling people have at all.

I’m currently reading The Trial of True Love (about halfway through) and it’s made me consider the times I’ve thought I was in love with someone. Looking back, I would now term it ‘obsessed’ or that I was bored with my life and needed something to focus on and so was in the frame of mind that would allow me to pick out some random woman and say I was in love with her. If she doesn’t return the love that’s even better, as I didn’t really want a relationship–I just wanted something to obsess over–and it’s more romantic if it’s unrequited. Then you get to suffer for your love.

The book is about a writer who is writing a book about true love and love at first site. He’s thirty, broke and has never been in love. While working on the book, he falls into love at first site, which he takes to be a coincidence. I think it’s that he was thinking about it and writing about it and so he wanted to experience it and so did. It’s written in first person, so to hear him talk about the way he feels about this woman reminds me of how I ‘felt’ about one woman in particular. I put that in quotes because I had convinced myself I loved her and would do anything she asked, but that’s not what was happening in reality.

Another book I’m reading right now [Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert] addresses this sort of thing—how we define emotions we’ve experienced in the past. What is the true emotion? What we feel at any moment, which is influenced by if we’ve eaten/got enough sleep/our childhoods/our cultural background or how we view those emotions two days or a month or a decade later, when we can see the picture most clearly? I cannot remember if I was aware that I was lying to myself—I don’t believe I was. I recently found a large notebook’s worth of papers devoted to this woman. If she’d’ve returned the sentiment, it would have been romantic, but when it’s one-sided it’s creepy.

This also reminds me of the times men have told me they loved me when they didn’t really know me. One man was particularly adamant and we talking to one another enough (I never spoke to my inamorata) that I heard his side of things enough to see that he’d never accept that I simply didn’t love him. He seemed to take it that I was intentionally trying to be alone and that if I’d only try we’d be happy for ever. His ‘love’ for me was based purely in his mind, as my ‘love’ was. Even though he and I interacted and I had no real contact with the woman I was enamoured with I think our experiences were the same. I just knew if I had the chance she’d realise we were meant to be together. Ironically, these two experiences, which lasted several years, over-lapped by a considerable time and I did not see the similarities. We are blind to our own ironies, I believe.

Back to the novel, the protagonist (in his bid to get this woman to let him into her world) has explained to her why he believes in true love (she does not) and why he believes he could meet his true love and never stray. He says that true love is just that. Love that has to do with truth. His true love would know everything there is to know about him and still love him and if he were to have an affair he’d have to tell his wife about that affair to keep their love anchored in truth, which would be unthinkable. I find that idea simple yet interesting. Do the people who cheat NOT believe in true love—do they believe in keeping secrets from the person to whom they are supposed to be closest?

Personally, I really lucked out in finding someone who is my best friend and got to know that person over a long period of time. It wasn’t a being-struck-by-lightning sort of thing, but from my own experience, while being struck by lightning is dramatic and makes every second of every day beautiful or terrible it’s also painful as hell and one is never quite the same as before and not in a good way.

[I found this when going through some old files. It must have been written in May/June 2006, but I thought it was worth posting.]


The Monk Covers

by V. L. Craven

A great book for October is Matthew Lewis The Monk . It’s attributed with being the first Gothic novel, and it’s a classic in its own right. It has the best ending of any book I’ve yet read.

It was written in 1796, before the author was twenty and over the course of ten weeks. It’s about a man who was found on the steps of a monastery and is thought to be the most virtuous person–completely virtuous in every way–and the story is about his downfall. No one has ever fallen so far. This one is fantastic for fans of Titus Andronicus because there’s rape, incest, murder, sacrifice. Unlike Titus Andronicus, there’s no cannibalism (bummer, I know), but there is a Faustian deal that ends… If you want the ultimate plot spoiler, check the Wikipedia article . I’m just going to say that I have a very dark, cynical sense of humour and the end made me laugh and clap my hands with glee.

Now, this is the cover of the copy I read:

The Monk Covers

However, when I was looking for that cover, I discovered that several other covers were wonderful. And some…not so much.

This is the image used on the updated Penguin Classics version:

The Monk Covers

This is the cover of the Broadview Press Edition:

The Monk Covers

It’s all right. Gloomy and stark, which works.

This one is Vintage Classics:

The Monk Covers

I’m not usually a huge fan of a lot of red on book covers, but this one is evocative.

Then, the Most Boring Cover for a Rip-Roaring Book goes to…

The Monk Covers

Oxford World Classics, I would have expected more of you.

I’m going to finish this post with the covers most likely to turn on the people who’d love it most, but turn off the literary types (who would also love it).

The monk on this cover would appear to be a woman…possibly wearing nothing beneath her robe, which is not a super accurate representation of the book…

The Monk Covers

I don’t remember the character in this next one… Though it could possibly show up in the last few pages. I hope no one’s reading this for the red-eyed scary thing…

The Monk Covers

This one… I don’t even know… They took a great font and title piece and put… things on it.

The Monk Covers

And for the vintage, available at the grocery store feel:

The Monk Covers


Hell With the Lid Taken Off Book One: River of Mud

by V. L. Craven

Hell With the Lid Taken Off Book One: River of Mud

Lee Adam Herold draws/writes Chopping Block , a wonderfully twisted webcomic about a serial killer named Butch. Butch is a cross between Dahmer, Bates and Gein.

And now he’s written a full-length novel set in Victorian-era Pittsburg (the original spelling). It concerns a young boy who is sent to Hell to run an errand for his uncle, who has made a deal with a demon of some description. The boy has a very rare coin that everyone in the Underworld would love to have.

The writing is superb, the characters engaging and the plot inventive. The atmosphere is palpable. It’s perfect for fans of Dickens, Gaiman and Dante.

This was the first book in the series and I’m looking forward to the next.


Apparently no longer available from Smashwords, you can get it through Barnes and Noble .


Dexter Part Trois

by V. L. Craven

Dexter Part Trois

If you’re a fan of the Dexter Morgan books by Jeff Lindsay and you haven’t read the third book then stop reading now.

In the third book we find out that Dexter is possessed by a three-thousand year old demon. Right. I’d like the books so much (prior to this one) because Dexter seemed like a real sociopath. Perhaps Lindsay really needed a third book and this was his only idea–to blame Dexter’s homicidal feelings on an evil that flits from one being to the next, as it has been doing since the dawn of time. Nice. This is up there with explaining Hannibal Lecter away by his childhood trauma. Monsters just need to be monsters. Leave my monsters alone, dammit!

At least Lindsay didn’t make him a normal person by the end, something that looked likely and frightened me more than anything Dex had ever done to anyone. I did like that the intense pain that he had to feel before getting his evil back was the realisation of what “normal” life would be like. It is rather terrifying.

And as a sidebar–The cover should have been my first clue. Just look at that travesty up there. How did we go from this:

Dexter Part Trois

and this:

Dexter Part Trois

to that thing up there?

[2012 Update: I stopped reading the novels after this one. It wasn't a conscious decision, I simply lost interest. I still watch the show, which seems to be Lindsay's way of fixing all of the problems in the books.]

[This post is from a previous blog. Original post date: 7 Dec, 2007]


Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

by V. L. Craven

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

[This post is from a previous blog. Original post date: February 24th, 2008]

On page one we meet the narrator, Ruby Lennox, the moment she is conceived and follow her (and the preceding two generations of her family) through key moments in their lives and the history of the modern world, including wold wars and coronations. The relationships between most of the characters are complicated as our own relationships and the moments of high comedy during tragedy happen just as they do in in real life.

The first Atkinson book I read was Case Histories and Atkinson’s signature is populating a living world with breathing characters and giving the reader a taste of those character’s lives as true as their own experiences. Funny and bittersweet, Atkinson has crammed an entire life into 400 very quickly read pages.


The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer

by V. L. Craven

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer

I read this one just after reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum , which was interesting, because both stories begin just before the birth of the narrator. In this case, Max Tivoli. He’s born an old man of about 70, meaning he’s young on the inside, but looks old on the outside. As he ages internally, he grows younger externally. This is the story of his life. It’s well-written and interesting, tying in historical events (the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, for one) and capturing the world through the eyes of a man who isn’t seen for who he is by the world.

About a day-long read, a fun and occasionally thought-provoking distraction.

[This post is from a previous blog. Orig. date: March 11, 2008]



by V. L. Craven

H The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
001. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable.
002. What I feel towards them is blankness. What I feel is that I must not feel.
003. Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual.
004. My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.
005. But I won’t give it away, this eagerness of mine. It’s a bargaining session, things are about to be exchanged. She who does not hesitate is lost. I’m not giving anything away: selling only.
006. What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise there are only two dimensions. Otherwise you live with your face squashed against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-up, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.
007. how easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.
008. No mother is ever, completely, a child’s idea of what a mother should be, and I suppose it works the other way around as well. But despite everything, we didn’t do badly by one another, we did as well as most.
I wish she were here, so I could tell her I finally know this.
009. It’s like Janine, though, to take it upon herself, to decide the baby’s flaws were due to her alone. But people will be anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning.
010. There’s a certain consolation to be taken from routine.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky
001. Not everything the protagonist does is a lesson in wisdom, and advice offered my darker characters may be untrustworthy or dangerously doubled edged.
002. [Harry:] ‘If you want to win this argument with Dad, look in chapter two of the first book of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. There’s a quote there about hos philosophers say a great deal about what science absolutely requires, and it is all wrong, because the only rule in science is that the final arbiter is observation–that you just have to look at the world and report what you see.
003. Magic was a disgraceful thing that only stupid people believed in; if his father went to far as to test the hypothesis, or even watch it being tested, that would feel like associating himself with that…

. Harry opened his eyes and stumbled to a halt, feeling vaguely dirtied by having made a deliberate effort to believe something.
. Okay, so either (a) I just teleported somewhere else entirely (b) they can fold space like no one’s business or (c) they are simply ignoring the rules.
. [Regarding Quidditch] It’s like someone took a real game and grafted on this pointless extra position just so that you could be the Most Important Player without needing to really get involved or learn the rest of it.
. ‘If you try to be nice to them, it just means that you end up spending the most pushy ones. Decide who you want to spend time with and tell everyone else to go away. People will judge you by who they see you with.
. ‘I’m so completely going to be in Ravenclaw, thank you very much. I only want power so I can get books.’
. Harry glanced away uncomfortably, then, with an effort, forced himself to look back at Draco. ‘Why are you telling me that? It seems sort of…private.’
Draco gave Harry a serious look. ‘One of my tutors once said that people form close friendships by knowing private things about each other, and the reason most people don’t make close friends is because they’re too embarrassed to share anything really important about themselves. Draco turned his palms out invitingly. ‘Your turn?’
. The same could be said of Draco’s clever use of reciprocating pressure for an unsolicited gift, a technique which Harry had read about in his social psychology books (one experiment had shown that an unconditional gift of $5 was twice as effective as a conditional offer of $50 in getting people to fill out surveys.) Draco had made an unsolicited gift of a confidence, and now invited Harry to offer a confidence in return…and the thing was, Harry did feel pressured.
. A pause to reflect could go a long way in defusing the power of a lot of compliance techniques, once you learned to recognize them for what they were.
. ‘Not that I wish my Dad was a flawless instrument of death like Lucius, I only mean taking me seriously.’
. All right, if this guy just took advantage of a natural accident to sell me twenty-four cans of green soda pop, I’m going to applaud his creative entrepreneurial spirit and then kill him.
.He was feeling a deep-seated desire to run away screaming at the top of his lungs until he dropped from lack of oxygen, and the only thing stopping him was that he had once read that outright panic was the sign of a *truly* important scientific problem.
. ‘Hey, Draco, you know what I bet is even better for becoming friends that exchanging secrets? Committing murder.’
‘I have a tutor who says that,’ Draco allowed. He reached inside his robes and scratched himself with an easy, natural motion. ‘Who’ve you got in mind?’
. ‘Are you kidding me? That’s even worse that Muggle journalism, which I would have thought was physically impossible.’
. When the conversation can’t go forward and can’t go back, zig it sideways.
. ‘Are you nuts?’
‘Quite the opposite, I’m so sane it burns like ice.’
. Charming, happy, generous with his favours to his friends, Draco wasn’t a psychopath. That was the sad and awful part, knowing human psychology well enough to *know* that Draco *wasn’t* a monster. There had been ten thousand societies over the history of the world where this conversation could have happened. No, the world would have been a very different place indeed, if it took an *evil mutant* to say what Draco had said. It was very simple, very human, it was the default if nothing else intervened. To Draco, his enemies weren’t people.
. So the world is broken and flawed and insane, and cruel and bloody and dark. This is news? You always knew that, anyway…
–‘Well, like Father says, there may be four houses, but in the end everyone belongs to either Slytherin or Hufflepuff. And frankly, you’re not on the Hufflepuff end. If you decide to side with the Malfoys under the table…our power and your reputation…you could get away with things even *I* can’t do. What to *try* it for a while? See what it’s like?’
— [Harry] ‘I don’t want to rule the universe. I just think it could be more sensibly organised.’
— [Hermione] Aside from helping people with their homework, or anything else they needed, she really didn’t know how to meet people. She didn’t *feel* like she was a shy person. She thought of herself as a take-charge sort of girl. And yet, somehow, if there wasn’t some request along the lines of ‘I can’t remember how to do long division’ then it was just too *awkward* to go up to someone and say…what? She’d never been able to figure out what. And there didn’t seem to be a standard information sheet, which was ridiculous. The whole business of meeting people had never seemed sensible to her. Why did *she* have to take all of the responsibility herself when there were two people involved? Why didn’t adults ever help? She wished some other girl would just walk up to *her* and say, ‘Hermione, the teacher told me to be friends with you.’
–‘Not unless you can name the six quarks of tell me where to find a first-year girl named Hermione Granger.’
‘Up, down, strange, charm, truth, beauty, and why are you looking for a first-year girl named Hermione Granger?’
It was hard to tell from this distance, but she thought she saw the boy grin widely under his scarf. ‘Ah, so *you’re* a first-year girl named Hermione Grange,’ said that young, muffled voice. ‘On the train to Hogwarts, no less.’ The boy started to walk toward her and her cabin, and his trunk slithered along after him. ‘Technically, all I needed to do was *look* for you, but it seems likely that I’m meant to talk to you or invite you to join my party or get a key magical item from you or find out that Hogwarts was built over the ruins of an ancient temple or something.
–That’s called *consequentialism*, by the way, it means that whether an act is right or wrong isn’t determined by whether it *looks* bad, or mean, or anything like that, the only question is how it will turn out in the end–what are the consequences.
–Smart kids in Ravenclaw, evil kids in Slytherin, wannabe heroes in Gryffindor, and everyone who does the actual work in Hugglepuff.


The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
-001- In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work.
… Every morning the two friends walked silently together until they reached the main street of the town. Then when they came to a certain fruit and candy store they paused for a moment on the sidewalk outside. … In the late afternoon the friends would meet again. Singer came back to the fruit store and waited until Antonapoulos was ready to go home.
… For, excepting drinking and a certain solitary secret pleasure, Antonapoulos loved to eat more than anything else in the world.
…They shared the upstairs of a small house near the business section of the town. There were two rooms. … Sometimes in the evening the mutes would play chess. Singer had always greatly enjoyed this game, and years before he had tried to teach it to Antonapoulos. At first his friend could not be interested in the reasons for moving the various pieces about on the board. Then Singer began to keep a bottle of something good under the table to be taken out after each lesson.
… After the first moves Singer worked out the game by himself while his friend looked on drowsily. If Singer made brilliant attacks on his own men so that in the end the black king was killed, Antonapoulos was always very proud and pleased. … The two mutes had no other friends, and except when they worked they were alone together. Each day was very much like any other day, because they were alone so much that nothing ever disturbed them. Once a week they would go to the library for Singer to withdraw a mystery book and on Friday night they attended a movie. Then on payday they always went to the ten-cent photograph shop above the Army and Navy store so that Antonapoulos could have his picture taken. These were the only places where they made customary visits. There were many parts in the town that they had never seen.
…..But the two mutes were not lonely at all. At home they were content to eat and drink, and Singer would talk with his hands eagerly to his friend about all that was in his mind. So the years passed in this quiet way until Singer reached the age of thirty-two and had been in the town with Antonapoulos for ten years.
…Then one day the Greek became ill… Singer nursed his friend so carefully that after a week Antonapoulos was able to return to work. But from that time on there was a different in their way of life. Trouble came to the two friends.
… Antonapoulos was not ill any more, but a change had come in him. He was irritable and no longer content to spend the evenings quietly in their home. When he would wish to go out Singer followed along close behind him. …
-002- [Singer] ate meals at a restaurant only two blocks away. … The first day he glanced over the menu quickly and wrote a short note and handed it to the proprietor.
Each morning for breakfast I want an egg, toast, and coffee– $0.15
For lunch I want soup (any kind), a meat sandwich, and milk– $0.25
Please bring me at dinner three vegetables (any kind but cabbage), fish or meat, and a glass of beer– $0.35
Thank you.
…Each evening the mute walked alone for hours in the street. Sometimes the nights were cold with the sharp, wet winds of March and it would be raining heavily. But to him this did not matter. His gait was agitated and he always kept his hands stuffed tight into the pockets of his trousers. Then as the weeks passed the days grew warm and languorous. His agitation gave was gradually to exhaustion and there was a look about him of deep calm. In his face there came to be brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise. But still he wandered through the streets of the town, always silent and alone.
-003- …Blount was not a freak, although when you first saw him he gave you that impression. It was like something was deformed about him—but when you looked at him closely each part of him was normal and as it ought to be. Therefore if this difference was not in the body it was probably in the mind. He was like a man who had served a term in prison or had been to Harvard College or had lived for a long time with foreigners in South America. He was like a person who had been somewhere that other people are not likely to go or had done something that others are not apt to do.
-004- [Regarding Singer] The fellow was downright uncanny. People felt themselves watching him even before they knew that there was anything different about him. His eyes made a person think that he heard things nobody else had ever heard, that he knew things no one had ever guessed before. He did not seem quiet human.
-005- Singer looked as though he could not be surprised at anything.
-006- One by one they would come to Singer’s room to spend the evening with him. The mute was always thoughtful and composed. His many-tinted eyes were grave as a sorcerer’s. Mick Kelly and Jake Blount and Doctor Copeland would come and talk in the silent room—for they felt that the mute would always understand whatever they wanted to say to him.

H Hell with the Lid Taken Off: Book One: River of Mud by Lee Adam Herold
001. Under low clouds, sky and city seemed to be made both of the same material, grey and hard. Somehow, afternoon sunlight managed to filter through the thick mass of clouds and smog. It was neither bright not warming, but it helped to differentiate day from night, at least, The buildings—made of wood, brick, granite—thrust their peaks toward the murky canopy overhead, the city taking on the aspect of a cold dark fortress. Those were not mere clouds perched above, but a perpetual dome of smoke and smog generated by the city’s industry. It was there always, making every day grey and ashen. There were days when the noon hour was indistinguishable from midnight. This dubious peculiarity had earned Pittsburg the nickname ‘The Smoky City’ and had inspired some snob from Boston to dub it ‘Hell with the lid taken off’.
002. He cut a dangerous, powerful figure, if indeed a monk then a warrior-monk. If Brother Koval was representative of the brothers of this Order, I imagined their ministry must exist to simply frighten the Devil into submission.
003. Brother Koval stood militarily like a statue at the door and did not appear inclined, if even capable, of sitting at all. Ever.
004. Finally we reached a chamber which Brother Koval himself unsealed. It was black within but felt cold and cavernous, the smell of fresh-turned earth rolling over me as it seemed to exhale with eager relief at being opened.
005. Echoes seemed to chase themselves like whispers across the spaces of the room. It seemed to me as though the air itself flickered, vaguely over-laying the scene with staccato strokes like an impressionist painting.
006. The monk sounded mad, but there was truth audible in his tale, whether it was literal truth or merely the false truth of one who believes what they say so completely that their delusion has become their reality.
007 Brother Ragar sighed. ‘The Clan of Phorcys,’ he began deliberately, ‘is a society as old as any in existence. They take their name from their worship of an ancient sea god. The Greek poet Hesiod holds Phorcys to be the father of the Gorgons, Medusa being the most famous of those… the snake-haired woman whose gaze turned men to stone. But the Clan does not subscribe to the view of their deity as the character from quaint tales of mythology. They will make references to this incarnation, but the Phorcys they worship is of a far darker, and more primordial origin. They worship the ancient demon Phorcys, created by Lucifer himself out of the ether as one of many minions to serve him after his fall from God’s service. The demon was given dominion over the waters, and some Men, in all their foolishness and ignorance, fell to their knees at the very diea of him. The mythos of the Clan holds that Phorcys, also known by any number of other blasphemous names, is an alien god from deepest outer space, having come to earth hundreds of millions of years ago to now lie sleeping deep beneath the sea.
008 I blinked my eyes, hard, and shook my head, overcome by the strangest momentary sensation that the space at the landing was filled with water, like a giant aquarium tank but without the glass barrier of the tank itself. Something waited up there. Some nothing. The same nothing that had been there all along.
009 Pardon me for being flippant. Matters of mortality used to weigh much more heavily on me, but I find myself tending rather toward the detached these days in that regard.
010 They talk of evil as though it’s some abomination, while laying their heads on its lap and feasting on crumbs from its table. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all this, it’s that there is no Good versus Evil. There is only Foolishness versus Expediency.
011 An evil thought skittered through my brain just then, like spindly-clawed shadow, scurrying like vermin from the light. I pursued it, pulled it back out to examine it.
012 Each door, you see, each gateway to the Underworld is referred to as a Locus of Confluence…a point where the Netherworld and the physical realm actually meet, interact, flow together.
013 …for what are rules really but arbitrary assignments of situational preference, benefiting the one who is in position to lay them out…
014 For what seemed an hour we wound up and down the curving paths beneath the gnarled boughs of great old trees, and in the faintly moonlit darkness around us I could make out the vague glowing shapes of tall crypts and myriad headstones. The taller grave markers rose up like the timeless monuments they were, proud and haughty. Many of the smaller stones were weather-worn, and learned or had fallen over completely. Avenues of grass ran between the stones, roads straight and true, beneath which lay this macabre neighbourhood’s wormy denizens. Neighbourhood? The cemetery was a small city unto itself. It was far from quiet and still though, this city where the dead slept. Deer, startled by our approach, would bound through piles of dead leaves collected around headstones. Golden eyes would wink out of the darkness, conjured by the shrouded moon: raccoons or dogs or perhaps even wolves. Owls hooted from the trees, and from time to time in the distance the anguished shriek of some poor prey meeting its end in merciless jaws would reach us before being strangled out. It was surprising that in the midst of Pittsburg, this city of advance human industry, these acres of wooded lands could still turn feral, a self-contained Wild, after night fell.
015 Surely she had come to devour me. I wondered abruptly, though, why she had bothered to re-light my candle before eating me.
016 Remember all who pass me by
As thou art now, so once was I
As I am now, so wilt thou be
Prepare thyself to follow me.
017 …and I pried my eyes open to peer into the darkness beyond the ephemeral torch light. There was movement there, distant, and the sound of water lapping. A boat approached from somewhere out in the middle of the Abaat. It came slowly, preceded by delicate, curling fingers of mist but with a full grey fog bank in tow.
018…and I could not define with any certainty what sort of being he might have been. He seemed part spirit, part patchwork monster. The fog around and behind the boat slithered up over the sides from the water beneath, tendrils of it, and these streamers appeared to coalesce at the being’s feet and take the shape of its robes, which solidified into a coarse dark grey fabric as they climbed higher on his form. Mist emerged like smoke from the front opening of the robes, from the holes and frayed patches worn through it, from the ends of the sleeves and from the raised cowl.
019 The boatman’s head too was made of the fog, swirling up out of the robe’s neck to fill the large hood. A long sharp nose protruded from the cowl like a beak, and mismatched eyes balanced in the hood’s shadow on either side of the nose, one iris dark, the other light, unblinking orbs set in black sockets. There were teeth visible beneath the nose, but no lips, no cheeks, no bottom jaw.
020 ‘Readle-eak!’ sounds the cry of a bird. A grackle. Smaller than a crow, feathers black with an iridescent sheen, especially about the head…shimmering combinations of green, blue, purple, depending on how the light strikes. The cry repeats. Others answer. Grackles everywhere. Crows are a Murder. Ravens an Unkindness. Grackles are a Plague. A Plague of Grackles.
021 They are the shimmering of the Northern Lights in the Underbelly, Plagues of them circling open spaces in the nether sky. Purple, green, and blue dance in the air, undulating in patterns formed by their micro-formations. They are moving in synchronous whorls, poison brew in a cauldron stirred by a witch’s ladle.
022 They are a black wind. Black. Endless black, until the colours bleed out and the black with the colours split, sprout, separate to take the shape of feathers, and the wind they make and the visitants are delivered into the sphere of their inhabitance. Out of the darkness they are brought forth.

H Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
01. One of the things Ford Prefect found hard to understand about human beings was their habit of continually stating and re-stating the very, very obvious, as in: “It’s a nice day”, “You’re very tall” or “So this is it; we are going to die”. At first, Ford formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. ‘If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips’ he thought ‘their mouths probably seize up’. After a while he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one. ‘If they don’t keep exercising their lips’ he thought ‘their brains start working’. In fact, this second theory is more literally true of the Belcerebon People of Kakrafoon Kappa. The Belcerebons used to cause great resentment amongst neighbouring races by being one of the most enlightened, accomplished and above all quite civilizations in the galaxy. As a punishment for this behaviour, which was held to be offensively self-righteous and provocative, a galactic tribunal inflicted on them that most cruel of all social diseases: telepathy. Now, in order to prevent themselves from broadcasting every slightest thought that crosses their minds to anyone within a five-mile radius, they have to talk loudly and continuously about the weather, their little aches and pains, thee match this afternoon and what a noisy place Kakrafoon has suddenly become.

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham
01. We become the stories we tell about ourselves.

H “A House to Let” by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell and Adelaide Anne Procter
001. “Good gracious, goodness gracious, Doctor Towers!” says I, quite startled at the man, for he was so christened himself: “don’t talk as if you were alluding to people’s names; but say what you mean.” “I mean, my dear ma’am, that we want a little change of air and scene.” “Bless the man!” said I; “does he mean we or me!” “I mean you, ma’am.” “Then Lard forgive you, Doctor Towers,” I said; “why don’t you get into a habit of expressing yourself in a straightforward manner, like a loyal subject of our gracious Queen Victoria, and a member of the Church of England?”
Towers laughed, as he generally does when he has fidgetted me into any of my impatient ways–one of my states, as I call them
002. Trottle, who just then came in with the coal-scuttle, looking, in his nice black suit, like an amiable man putting on coals from motives of benevolence.
003. I never travel by railway: not that I have anything to say against railways, except that they came in when I was too old to take to them; and that they made ducks and drakes of a few turnpike-bonds I had
004. my sight is uncommonly good for my time of life; and I wear glasses as little as I can, for fear of spoiling it.
005. “Sophonisba!” Which I am obliged to confess is my name. A pretty one and proper one enough when it was given to me: but, a good many years out of date now, and always sounding particularly high-flown and comical from his lips.
006. “How do you do? I hope you are pretty well.” “Thank you. And you?” said Jarber. [PN: He didn't answer the question, which was the done thing. 'How are you?' was often met with, 'How are you?' It was merely a way of acknowledging the other person.]
007. Jarber had brought from under his cloak, a roll of paper, with which he had triumphantly pointed over the way, like the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father appearing to the late Mr. Kemble, and which he had laid on the table.
008.  He rather enjoyed the change of residence; having a kind of curiosity about London, which he had never yet been able to gratify in his brief visits to the metropolis. At the same time he had an odd, shrewd, contempt for the inhabitants; whom he had always pictured to himself as fine, lazy people; caring nothing but for fashion and aristocracy, and lounging away their days in Bond Street, and such places; ruining good English, and ready in their turn to despise him as a provincial.

H How I Became Stupid by Martin Page
-01- He had already realised that intelligence was just the word people used for stupid remarks that were well presented and prettily pronounced and that intelligence itself was so corrupt, there was often more to be gained from being dumb than from being a sworn intellectual. Intelligence makes you unhappy, lonely, and poor, whereas disguising it offers the possibility of immortality in newsprint and the admiration of those who believe what they read.
-02- Drunkenness seemed a good way to suppress any tendency his intellect might have to reflect on life.
-03- He had every intention of becoming on alcoholic. It keeps you busy. Alcohol occupies every thought and provides a goal in times of despair: getting better. Then he would go to Alcoholics Anonymous, would tell his story, would be supported and understood by creatures like himself applauding his courage and his will to break free. He would be an alcoholic—in other words, someone with an illness recognised by society. Alcoholics are pitied, they are cared for, they are thought of in medical terms, humanely. But no one thinks of pitying intelligent people: ‘He watches human behaviour, that must make him unhappy.'; ‘My niece is very intelligent, but she’s a really nice girl. She’s hoping to grow out of it.'; ‘For awhile there, I was afraid you might become intelligent.’ Those are the sort of well-meaning and compassionate words he should have been entitled to if there were any justice in the world. But no, intelligence is a double curse: it makes you suffer and no one thinks of it as an illness.
-04- ‘I think too much, I can’t help overanalysing myself and the world around me, trying to [??] understand how this whole crazy circus works…It makes me incredibly sad to know that we’re not free and that even each conscious thought or act is made at the cost of a wound that will never heal.
‘Kid, what you’re saying is that you’re depressed…’
‘That’s my natural state. I’ve been suffering from depression for twenty-five years.’
-05- As he had never really felt that he was living, he was not afraid of death. He was even happy that, in death, he would find the sole proof that he had been alive.
-06- The reason he would do anything rather than end up in that hospital was that he ran the risk of meeting his uncle Joseph and aunt Miranda there. Antoine was kind-natured, but he could not stand them; in fact, no one could stand them. It was not that they were dangerous, only that they never stopped complaining, moaning and making a fuss about the least little thing. A group of delightful Buddhists had been reduced to joining the ranks of a paramilitary force as a result of spending too much time with them. Every time they travelled abroad they created a diplomatic incident. As a result they were forbidden to visit several countries: Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan and the United States. The IRA, the ETA and Hezbollah had published bulletins stating that they would execute the couple if they set foot in their territories again. The authorities in the relevant countries said and did nothing that implied any opposition to this stance. Perhaps one day the army would have the courage to use the destructive potential of this couple and would deploy it when atomic bombs were discovered to be ineffectual.
-07- My life’s a disaster. But that’s not the worst of it. The real problem is that I’m so aware of it…
-08- [About the game Splitting the World in Two] This consisted of finding the true great divisions in our worlds, those that really matter, because the world always, invariably, can be split in two…
-09- Men simplify the world with words and thoughts, and that’s how they create their certainties; and having certainty is the most potent pleasure in this world, far more potent than money, sex and power all combined. Renouncing true intelligence is the price we have to pay for having these certainties and it’s an expenditure that never gets noticed by the back of our minds. In this instance, I actually prefer those who don’t huddle behind the cloak of reason, and come out and admit the illusory nature of their beliefs. Like a believer admitting that his faith is just his own belief and not pre-emption on the truths of the world.
-10- At the same time—because he lied to be as objective about himself as he was about others—he saw that in trying to understand everything he had learned not to live and not to love.
-11- I knew plenty of people who are really dumb, ignorant, stuffed full of prejudices and ideas, complete morons, and they’re happy!
-12- After a few self-interested visits to the apartments of a number of neighbours who he deemed to have excellent immune defences against intelligence, he made notes on what constituted a perfect décor for his new life. A neighbouring couple—comprised of a teacher named Alain and a journalist named Isabelle—struck him as being an edifying example of a life entirely devoted to a renunciation of intelligence. He had been watching them for a long time and, deep down, he admired them: they were so wholly involved in life, and had so absolutely [missing words?] every last nuance of a dazzling stupidity, a pure idiocy, full of innocence, happy and replete, a lack of awareness that was pleasant for both them and for those around them, not in the least bit nasty or dangerous. With a kindly sincerity that was quite charmingly ridiculous. Alain and Isabelle advised him on how to fill his studio. He picked up an old television, which he installed in the middle of the room as the sovereign symbol of his resolution. He taped up posters of The Lion King, sports cars and pneumatic young women; photographs of actors and actresses with their penetrating, I’m-a-genius expressions, and of immortal intellectual personalities such as Alain Minc [?] and Alain Finkielkraut.
-13- On a particularly fruitful day of despair Antoine had once told himself that to believe in the truths that force us to bow our heads is to form alliances with the reality they derive from: whoever wants to find proof of his unhappiness will find it, because in human affairs you always find what you’re looking for.
-14- Antoine had lived in a rainy autumn for twenty-five years.
-15- ‘And another thing, if you ask me, the big divide in this world (well, apart from the whole second-class thing), the big divide in the world is between the people who used to go to parties and the people who didn’t. And this split in the human race, which goes back to junior-high days, goes right through life in different guises.


Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

by V. L. Craven

Gravitys Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon


I’ve recently read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and I can see why Pynchon is so divisive. This is the first book of his that I’ve read but I’m guessing that his style is train-of-thought-y, which gets right on some people’s nerves. I have a high tolerance for interesting writing with very little plot, so I like it fine.

Gravity’s Rainbow reminds me of Catch 22 if it were written by Hunter S Thompson. It’s set during (and mostly just after) World War II and features characters from both sides of the equation. One of the main characters is Slothrop, who, due to some Pavlovian training as an infant, gets erections when in proximity to bombs. The military then wants to study him to see if they can use that information to figure out where bombs will be dropped and then to find a highly secret and dangerous bomb that’s still floating around after the war is over.

There are several other plot lines happening, none of which could I describe presently, but plot really isn’t the point of a Pynchon novel. That’s what I’m taking away from this one, at least.

Oh, and just for fun, Zak Smith has made one illustration for each page of Gravity’s Rainbow. It’s pretty impressive.

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