Glenn's Book Notes

These in-depth, thought-provoking, and often funny posts are the brainchild of The Book Barn's very own Glenn. He never fails to make a great recommendation, grateful warning or entertaining suggestion!

October 11, 2019

#156: JOAN.  In 1910, Charles Peguy published a prose work, Le Mystere de la Charite de Jeanne d’Arc—The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc.  He was using the word “mystere” first in its medieval sense: a mystery play was a dramatic piece on a religious topic, usually filled with angels and miracles.  But to approach the life of Joan of Arc is to witness one of the genuine mysteries of recorded history.  Her work was of eno...

September 25, 2019

#155:  AN IDOL OF MONSTROUS ASPECT.  Anyone with the slightest feeling about Napoleon Bonaparte, either admiring or antagonistic, should read Pieter Geyl’s book Napoleon: For and Against, published in 1949, frequently reprinted, and beautifully translated from Geyl’s Dutch by Olive Renier.  It does require some knowledge of Napoleon’s life and of the period, but it’s not only an admirable, even brilliant rundown of the th...

August 20, 2019

#154. TOWNS, TRAINS, WILDERNESS, AND A LIFE.  In Denis Johnson’s 2011 novella Train Dreams (Farrar, Strauss) the elements work so beautifully together as to seem almost mysterious.  You can’t quite tell why it works, or how the entranced tone of remembering is so perfectly sustained.   Its hundred-odd pages tell the life story of Robert Grainier, a laborer in the northern Midwest; like most lives, the story is almost plotless,...

August 20, 2019

#153.  THE BIG BIG D.   In 1859 a small and anonymous book was published in England, presenting the translated quatrains of an eleventh-century Persian poet-astronomer: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. (“Rubaiyat” is the plural for “rubai,” a hemistich couplet we translate as a quatrain.)  The book was at first unnoticed, and started heading for the penny boxes in the London bookstalls; but it was discovered and then noised...

August 20, 2019

#152.  DIE, N-WORD, DIE!  A short while ago the actor Viggo Mortensen, who had acted in the race drama The Green Book, while talking in an interview about the lessening use of what is now usually called “the n-word,” made the mistake of speaking the word in its full, noneuphemised, unhyphenated form, and ended up at the bottom of a media pig-pile for his mistake—a signal example of the continuing power, in a supposedly vi...

August 20, 2019

#151.  AN INHERITANCE YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD LOST.  There is, famously, the letter of the law, and the spirit.  In his time as an Episcopalian minister, Alan Watts thought of suggesting an annual ceremony during which all of his parishioners would burn their Bibles—and, he added, everyone who did so had to have read it.  (For some reason the practice never caught on.)  Offered a pocket testament once by a wandering Gideon, I than...

July 10, 2019

#150:  HOW CAN I SAY SOMETHING THAT SHOULD NEVER BE SPOKEN?  Kenneth Rexroth wrote, in regard to (or in disregard of) Aristotle: “It never occurs to Aristotle that the three great tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, are, from his point of view, themselves philosophers…with insights into the meaning and end of life that have never been surpassed…their “tragic world view” is not subject to changes of fashion, but remain...

June 25, 2019

#149:  A PARTICULAR KIND OF ATTENTION.  Before he began to direct films, Jacques Tati had a proleptic role in Claude Autant-Lara’s romantic comedy Sylvie et le Fantome, in which he moved like a dancer, was beloved friend to a dog, created a certain amount of deliberate and inadvertent havoc, and was completely silent.  Much of this could be a description of his famous alter-ego, Monsieur Hulot, who figured in four of his...

June 4, 2019

#148. ON CONSOLATION.   One of the most famous passages in Gibbon is his description of the imprisonment and assassination of Boethius.  Simply put, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was a scholar, translator and politician of the sixth century, consul to the then-emperor Theodoric.  He was a scion of one of the most respected political families of the empire, universally thought to be a good and honest man, and was the autho...

May 14, 2019

#147:  THE SHAME OF THE STREETS.   Strange what you’ll run into:  Bubu de Montparnasse, by Charles-Louis Philippe, which I discovered on the fiction shelves a few weeks ago at the Barn.  I’d read it once decades ago in the original French, but here it was in an (uncredited) English translation, published in 1951 by Shakespeare House.  From the ads in the back I gather that Shakespeare House gravitated to writers...

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