On Walks Through Autumns

Pico Iyer–journalist, essayist, unintentional (?) philosopher–quotes several thinkers in his book Autumn Light, an exploration of losses and other turning points in his life. Referring to Thomas Merton’s ‘Fire Sermon’ in response to death or estrangement among family and friends, he says life itself is a burning house. To what then can we cling? Merton’s answer: “Only the certainty that nothing will go according to design; our hopes are newly built wooden houses, sturdy until someone drops a cigarette or match.” An appropriate reference in the context of his return trip to his alternate home in Nara, Japan, where fires … Continue reading On Walks Through Autumns

Variations on It’s Greek to Me

In June of my high school senior year, we fourth-year Latin students prepared for our end-of-term celebration. Ms. J., our teacher, announced we were going to have a Roman banquet. In addition to the little speeches we were to give in Latin, Ms. J. would perform an oration as a character named Marcellus. On the appointed day, we arrived in class with ‘togas’ draped over our street clothes and began the celebration by toasting Marcellus with paper cups of grape juice. All conversation proceeded in our rudimentary Latin; we even attempted to pull off some corny ancient Roman jokes. The … Continue reading Variations on It’s Greek to Me


Nostalgia-Nostalgie Look at the list of current bestsellers and you will find an array of books about dysfunctional families, dystopian societies, global catastrophe, or protagonists living really screwed-up lives. The phenomenon is easy to understand. Many of us are coping with deep-seated anxieties about our world, our health, or even our survival. No wonder, then, that a little book, a collection of short stories, Le petit Nicolas (Nicholas) by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé, appeals. It offers the reader a refuge from such cares. A wistful but unsentimental fantasy about a little boy living with his bourgeois parents in a … Continue reading Nostalgia-Nostalgie

INVISIBLE PLANETS – Ken Liu, editor and translator

Having read Ken Liu’s PAPER MENAGERIE, a collection of his short stories, plus his bio and credits, I felt I’d had the good fortune to ‘stumble’ upon an excellent writer and translator whose work gave me a new perspective on speculative and ‘science’ fiction. So, I eagerly read his collection of Chinese scifi short stories he translated and compiled in the anthology INVISIBLE PLANETS. The included works vary in context, level of optimism/despair, characters, plots [of course], and themes, but they all expose the frailty of our species–self-absorption, self-destructive tendencies, depression, and greed. The tales’ settings may be “out there,” … Continue reading INVISIBLE PLANETS – Ken Liu, editor and translator

Lavinia, by Ursula LeGuin

A fan of Le Guin’s writing since adolescence, I appreciated the author’s effort to amplify and enrich the Aeneid. Her novel in a way completes Virgil’s epic poem by continuing the narrative after the hero Aeneas, a Trojan survivor of the war between his state and the Greeks in perhaps the 12th century BCE, defeats and kills his opponent, the Latin, Turnus. Le Guin is not the first to do so. From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maffeo_… “%5BMaffeo Vegio’s (1407-1458)] greatest reputation came as the writer of brief epics, the most famous of which was his continuation of Virgil’s Aeneid…Completed in 1428, this 600-line … Continue reading Lavinia, by Ursula LeGuin

Reading Time and Again, by Clifford D. Simak

Clifford D. Simak was an award-winning American science fiction writer, born in 1904 in Millville, Wisconsin.  Setting a story like Time and Again (1951) in rural Wisconsin characterizes much of Simak’s fiction. For example, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in Time and Again Simak imagines a University of North America, located a short distance from the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. Another pervasive theme in this novel and other Simak fiction is time travel, in his view rarely a good strategy for escaping contemporary woes. Asher Sutton, a human transformed by his deep-space planetary encounter with ‘symbiotic … Continue reading Reading Time and Again, by Clifford D. Simak

Channel Islands Intrigue

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (deceased) and finished by Annie Barrows is a strangely light-hearted interpretation of the the travails besetting Guernsey island residents during the Nazi German occupation of WWII. Although the narrative does describe the occupiers’ cruel and draconian measures against Guernsey’s residents, its epistolary form focusing on the career and romantic entanglements of its protagonist, Juliet Ashton almost trivializes the hard times and terrors her Guernsey correspondents suffered. Nevertheless, many of the characters in this entertaining novel (a feat, making Nazi occupation entertaining a la Hagan’s Heroes) are well drawn and … Continue reading Channel Islands Intrigue