Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 27, 2009

Budd Schulberg reading

PS. Don't forget April 10th is the Friday for forgotten stories. Please tell me a couple days ahead if you're posting and please include the anthology, or magazine or the site where you found it on your post. I have mine picked out.

Dave Fuller is the author of the Edgar-nominated first novel, SWEETSMOKE. Visit him here.

WAR MUSIC, Christopher Logue

An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s Iliad

I set before you a translation. No, not a translation – the author does not read Greek – an account, of Homer’s Iliad. How tame that sounds. How shall I convey to you the roaring language, the rousing intensity, the sudden, vivid visuals? Among extraordinary versions of The Iliad, Christopher Logue’s is my favorite; it is alive, lively, and athrob in my hands.

I was first introduced to Mr. Logue’s work as I read Guy Davenport’s The Geography of the Imagination. In the essay “Another Odyssey”, Davenport compared Homer translators, mostly of The Odyssey, but in a quick detour to Mr. Logue’s Iliad, Mr. Davenport sang his praises and included an example of his power.

Mr. Logue immediately caught my attention in his introduction to the text, as he quoted a translator’s inspired bit of profanity: “—Chapman had tried to abort the charge that his translation was based on a French crib by calling his judges “envious Windfuckers.” Logue continued on, discussing the response to the first portion of his published account: “After Patrocleia was published I began to get critical support not only from those connected with the composition and publication of verse but from those whom we may choose to count among the hopelessly insane: the hard core of Unprofessional Ancient Greek Readers, Homer’s lay fans.”

I count myself among the hopelessly insane. I am a particular fan of Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, and I quite enjoyed Robert Fagles’ more recent version as well. I quoted from Alexander Pope’s translation in my novel Sweetsmoke, which takes place in 1862. As a writer I have been decidedly influenced by Mr. Logue -- in Sweetsmoke, I named a character after him.

To give you a feel for Mr. Logue’s language, I must share. I have limited myself to the moments when Gods unexpectedly appear. Even now, knowing the work as I do, I still encounter moments that elicit delighted gasps of appreciation. I catch myself staring off, holding the book aside as his words settle in my brain.

Early in the narrative, Apollo has brought plague to the Greeks as a recently captured female slave was the daughter of one of Apollo’s priests. Agamemnon, forced to return this slave to save his men, insists she be replaced with another female slave, this one belonging to Achilles. Enraged, Achilles leaps 15 yards to push push-push push, push Agamemnon’s chest with his fingertips, then grabs the mace from the king’s hands, and as he is about to strike a death blow, Mr. Logue writes:

But we stay calm,
For we have seen Athena’s radiant hand
Collar Achilles’ plait,
Then as a child its favourite doll
Draw his head back towards her lips
To say:

“You know my voice?
You know my power?

“Be still.

Sudden swift violence, as God grabs man by the hair and wrenches back his head, stopping time. Gary Wills, in his introduction to War Music, compares Mr. Logue’s version of this moment to Chapman and Pope: “those great poets, make Athena’s intervention in Book 1 a symbolic checking of Achilles’ passion with the voice of reason. But Athena grabs him by the hair and jerks him around. It is as if his father’s ghost tackled Hamlet as he railed against Gertrude. Only Logue catches the weird interplay of god and human at that point.”

Later on, Greeks and Trojans agree to end the war, its outcome to be determined by a one-on-one battle between Menelaus and Paris. Menelaus quickly gets the upper hand. and it is at that moment Aphrodite steps in.

Menelaus shatters his sword on Lord Paris’ mask:

No problem!

A hundred of us pitch our swords to him...
Yet even as they flew, their blades
Changed into wings, their pommels into heads,
Their hilts to feathered chests, and what were swords
Were turned to doves, a swirl of doves,
And waltzing out of it, in oyster silk,
Running her tongue around her strawberry lips
While repositioning a spaghetti shoulder-strap,
The Queen of Love, Our Lady Aphrodite,
Touching the massive Greek aside with one
Pink fingertip, and with her other hand
Lifting Lord Paris up, big as he was,
In his bronze bodice heavy as he was,
Lacing his fingers with her own, then leading him,
Hidden in wings, away.

What power in that one pink fingertip! This is no gentle Goddess of Love. A 2006 article about Mr. Logue by Liz Hoggard in The Observer refers to his modern references as “cheerfully anachronistic.” For some, those references may take a bit of getting used to, but Gary Wills makes a case that the spaghetti shoulder-strap is true to Homer.

And now to Logue’s treatment of Apollo’s sudden rage against Patroclus. You may recall, as the Trojans pressed the Greeks back and began to burn their ships, that Patroclus, friend and lover of Achilles, begged to disguise himself in Achilles’ armor to bring hope to the Greeks and push the Trojans back. Achilles reluctantly agreed, but warned Patroclus to do only that; he should not to try to take Troy. But deep in the heart of battle, successful Patroclus heeded not the words of his dear Achilles. His bloodlust was up and he pressed on and on, at first amusing Apollo, who flicked him back three times, then four.

Patroclus fought light dreaming:
His head thrown back, his mouth – wide as a shrieking mask –
Sucked at the air to nourish his infuriated mind
And seemed to draw the Trojans onto him,
To lock them round his waist, red water, washed against his chest,
To lay their tired necks against his sword like birds.
--Is it a god? Divine? Needing no tenderness?—
Yet instantly they touch, he butts them,
Cuts them back:
--Kill them!
My sweet Patroclus,
--Kill them!
As many as you can,
Coming behind you through the dust you felt
--What was it? –felt Creation part, and then

Who had been patient with you


The power bursts through the page, head thrown back, shrieking mask, sucked at the air to nourish his infuriated mind. The Trojans cannot resist him but are no match for him, with their tired bird necks aching for the blade. When Creation parts, that APOLLO! covers two full pages. You have been waiting for it, sensing it, and when it comes, Mr. Logue does not disappoint, Apollo who had been patient with you. Struck. From there, the death of Patroclus concludes brilliantly, and I could (and do) go on and on, wishing to share Mr. Logue with you over a glass of dark red wine, enthusiastically reading and exploring more favorite passages...

And so I urge you to rediscover the genius of Homer through the prism of Mr. Logue, and I envy you your first time.

JUDY LARSEN-I'm the author of ALL THE NUMBERS and a former high school English teacher. I live outside of St. Louis, MO with my husband, kids, dog and cat. I'm hard at work on what I hope will be my next novel.

CROSSING TO SAFETY by Wallace Stegner

Stegner's novel, Crossing to Safety is one of those books I think everyone should have to read. It's lyrical, evocative, honest and speaks of adult friendships with a powerful truth. His writing is exquisite and always makes me want to crawl into his pages and nestle among his words. The story spans decades as it explores two couples who forge a friendship that weathers family changes, job loss and success, health emergencies, estrangement and ultimately achieves an understanding that is deeper than words, stronger than death.

For the first few years after I read this (the first time) it was my "go-to" book for presents for friends and family. I can open it to almost any part and fall into spending an hour or two rereading and rediscovering the narrative. Consider this quote:

"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

Okay, so go read it . . . and then let me know what you think.

Ed Gorman is the author of many books in the crime and western genre. His latest is SLEEPING DOGS. Also check out his yearly anthologies of crime fiction.

The Best 100 Crime & Mystery Books by H.R.F. Keating

From time to time I see complaints on various blogs about how too many modern mystery readers (as well as some writers) seem to have no sense of--or much respect for--the writers who've gone before.

H.R. F. Keating is a distinguished novelist (the Inspector Ghote stories for just one example) and critic (for years he reviewed crime novels for the Times of London) who has written a book that is a graduate study course in the history of mystery. In one hundred thoughtful--and sometimes brilliant--short essays he traces the mystery from Poe to the late eighties and P.D. James.

This is a sleek, witty, rich travel guide through examples of every kind of mystery, from Christie to Wambaugh. With pieces on, G.K. Chesterton, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, Margaret Millar, Ed McBain and many, many others Keating touches on the themes, styles, trends of every decade from 1868 to 1986. You may not want to read every single book Keating recommends but the essays will give you a helpful, historical sense of the mystery's evolution over more than a century.

I've mentioned before that Keating is so good a stylist, he's fun to read just for how he shapes his sentences. He also has his own slant on writers. Much as I admired Julian Symons his own collection of opinions (Bloody Murder) cost me a couple of molars from grinding my teeth. Keating is more gracious; he finds the most interesting book in a writer's bibliography--not always the most popular. He never offers us a bad book just so he can score points.

"Indispensable" is rarely used appropriately but it certainly applies here. If there is one book that belongs on the shelf of every mystery reader, this is it.

JERRY HOUSE lives and plays in southern Maryland. He wrote this on the eve of his 39th anniversary. He can be reached at


August Derleth is probably best known today as the co-founder of the specialty press Arkham House and for his role in bringing H. P. Lovecraft to prominence; in the mystery field, one can cite the Solar Pons and the Judge Ephraim Peck series. Back in the day, however, Derleth was well-regarded as a regional writer; his Wisconsin Saga and Sac Prairie Saga incorporated novels, short stories, poetry, journals and non-fiction. Certainly one of the candidates for his best work is the series of ten juveniles about the Mill Creek Irregulars.

Steve Grendon (Derleth's fictional alter-ego) and his best friend Simoleon Jones (based on one of Derleth's life-long friends) are growing up in a pre-war (but ageless) Sac Prairie, Wisconsin. Steve's curiosity and hard-headedness draw the pair into numerous problems and mysteries.

Mysteries, shmysteries. The real draw in this series is Derleth masterful evocation of his small-town youth, the assorted characters who people Sac Prairie, and his love of the area and its history. Many of the characters also appear in other works by Derleth, often under the eye of a slightly older Steve, but this series has a magic of its own. Think Fred Dannay's The Golden Summer (as by "Danny Nathan"), many of the better Manly Wade Wellman juveniles, and a (somewhat less-lyrical) Ray Bradbury.

All ten books in the series are currently available in paperback from The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box. The books are The Moon Tenders, The Mill Creek Irregulars, The Pinkertons Ride Again, The Ghost of Black Hawk Island, The Tent Show Summer, The Irregulars Strike Again, The House by the River, The Watcher on the Heights, The Prince Goes West and Three Straw Men. Highly recommended.

Randy Johnson
Joe Barone
Cathy Cole
Martin Edwards
Bill Crider
Cullen Gallagher
David Cranmer
Todd Mason
George Kelley
James Reasoner
Kerrie Smith
Paul Bishop
Scott D. Parker
Matt Hilton
Steve Myall
Craig Clarke

Sandra Ruttan
Michael Carlson


Randy Johnson said...

Patti, I've got a book posted.

Charles Gramlich said...

I regret not having time for Forgotten books friday recently but I'm thinking about it. I will definitely take part in the forgotten story. Man but I've got a million of those.

Todd Mason said...

As Jerry House probably knows, Derleth actually published fiction as by Stephen Grendon, as well, in WEIRD TALES, at least, and at least one collection under that name (MR. GEORGE AND OTHER ODD PERSONS). Derleth also published some nonfiction on labor issues, along with the regional fiction and nonfiction that was his major claim to fame in his early career (his non-HPL-pastiche fiction for WEIRD TALES was also quite good, on balance).

Todd Mason said...

Juri Nummelin has an interesting Raymond Chandler curio in Finnish translation up today on Pulpetti that could count as his FFB entry.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iren said...

I will also have a forgotten short story....maybe two (I am thinking a classic and a recent), however I am going to have to take a pass on next firday.

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I forgot to let you know I was going to try a forgotten author. I don't do book reviews well so I've listed an author and her works: Janet Dawson.

PK the Bookeemonster