For Nabokov

April 22, 2019

One hundred years ago today, on his twentieth birthday, Vladimir Nabokov arrived in Athens after he and his family had escaped from revolutionary Russia.  He would never see his homeland again.  Over the next 20 years, he and his family moved restlessly from Greece to England to Berlin, and finally to America, barely escaping the Nazis.

Nabokov’s amazing story is brilliantly told in the long read: “Vladimir Nabokov, Literary Refugee” by Stay Schiff. I will not reduce that article’s many charms by attempting a precis:  It is well worth the reading.

But this is a fine time and place to note that Vladimir Nabokov is one of the five authors I could not do without. As with each of the others — James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, John Dos Passos, and Joseph Conrad — I have read and reread all of his works in English, without tiring of them. There are times when other authors are my favourite of the day (Irving, usually, or Brautigan), but I always return to the Big Five.

It must be time again for Pale Fire or Ada, and then perhaps the USA trilogy. That would make for a fine summer.



Gabriel Garcia Marquez

April 17, 2019

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of the great writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Back in 2013 I wrote about the last book of his that I read:

This week’s book was the masterly novella called “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  It is a slim volume (just 117 pages) that I wolfed down in two return trips on the #20 bus to the library.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Written in the first person, Garcia Marquez tells the story of an unnamed 90-year old man, a writer of sorts who suddenly falls in love with a thirteen year old virgin whom he has procured from an ancient madame as a birthday present to himself.  His love is unrequited and unconsummated (his choice) but changes his world completely.

This is a remarkable paean to old age, to the process of ageing, to unexpected love, to music, to solitude and desire. It is the work of a true master of his craft and I loved it.

It is devastatingly sad to know that there will never be more books by this extraordinary artist.  However, with bated breath, I await the Netflix adaptation of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Books Read in Q1 2019

April 2, 2019

These are the books I managed to squeeze in this last three months:


Barrington Moore jr: “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”

Downing, Taylor:  “1983: Reagan, Andropov, and a World on the Brink

Laura Shapiro: “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America”

Ursula K. LeGuin:  “No Time to Spare

Jack Ashby: “Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects”

Fred Thirkwell and Bob Scullion: “Greetings From British Columbia

Richard Wrangham: “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Sam Wiebe: “The Last of the Independents

Sam Wiebe: “Invisible Dead





It’s Ferlinghetti Day!

March 24, 2019

Source: Stacey Lewis

Today is the 100th birthday of poet, publisher, and artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, possibly best known as the founder in 1953 of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco that was essentially the home of the Beat literature and poetry movement.  The City has declared today to be Lawrence Ferlighetti Day.

And The Rich Get Richer….

March 15, 2019

Back in January, I reported on an Author’s Guild report that showed the average income for a full time writer in the US in 2017 was just $20,300.  Of course, averages are a function of the highest and the lowest figures available.

Literary Hub has compiled a list of the high numbers over the last ten years. These are the estimated incomes of the top writers since 2008:

1. James Patterson : $836 million
2. J. K. Rowling : $546 million
3. Stephen King : $259 million
4. Danielle Steel : $231 million
5. John Grisham : $192 million
6. Jeff Kinney : $165 million
7. E. L. James (Tie) : $153 million
7. Janet Evanovich (Tie) : $153 million
9. Nora Roberts : $128 million
10. Suzanne Collins : $114 million
11. Dan Brown : $111 million
12. Dean Koontz : $101 million
13. Rick Riordan : $91.5 million
14. Stephenie Meyer : $75 million
15. Ken Follett : $68 million
16. George R. R. Martin : $60.5 million
17. Veronica Roth (Tie) : $52 million
18. Bill O’Reilly (Tie) : $52 million
19. Nicholas Sparks : $46 million
20. John Green : $45 million
21. Tom Clancy : $35 million
22. David Baldacci : $26 million
23. Paula Hawkins : $23 million
24. Gillian Flynn : $22 million
25. Michael Wolff : $13 million

Extraordinary numbers, I think. They prove the power of TV and movies to vastly expand the earning capacity of the novels, especially those in series.

And they show, as if we needed more evidence, that the inequality of rewards inherent in capitalism are just as prevalent in cultural industries as in any other.

Remembering Charles Bukowski

March 9, 2019

Twenty-five years ago today we sadly lost genius poet Charles Bukowski.  To remember him, here is an animation of his poem The Man With The Beautiful Eyes.

Time For Ursula K. Le Guin

March 5, 2019

While I have read a great deal of science fiction, fantasy, and poetry in my time, I have never read a single work by the late Ursula K. Le Guin.  No specific reason for that; I just haven’t.  However, a few weeks ago I read something that persuaded me to order what I think is her last collection of essays, “No Time To Spare“, from the library, and I just finished reading it. It was marvelous.

It is a collection of short essays — more properly, long blog posts — in which she covers a wide range of topics including ageing, her cats, breakfast, visits to the opera, the meaning of words, anger, the deterioration of imagination in swearing, the nature of belief, and the Great American Novel amongst many others. I enjoyed it all, but in particular her reminiscences of John Steinbeck, her essay on Homer, and the joys of answering fan mail from children.

She comes across as a thoroughly sensible and likeable woman and I feel certain I have missed out by not reading her before now.