Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Report: Dune

Trying something different. I don't do reviews often, but I find writing them helpful in developing a deeper appreciation and understanding for the item at hand. It's also good practice for keeping up my publication-writing chops.


I don't read much science fiction. Dune wormed its way onto my reading list via an enduring board game that was published to coincide with the 1984 film. Dune also comes up often whenever searching for quality fantasy-genre writing -- to which I'm more open.

So as with with many reads, this one started in the corner of a bookstore basement. What's a Gom-Jabar? I just had to find out.

But first, Dune had its warnings for this otherwise non-SciFi reader: 1) It's massive at 900 pages and 2) it's high-fiction with its own dictionary and appendices -- owing to its well-imagined universe. As I became more familiar with the Dune world, another warning became apparent: 3) There are heavy religious themes.

The main story arc isn't particularly compelling. What is compelling, however, and worth the read, is Herbert's ability to completely transport you into his imaginings: Mankind has recovered from a post-Armageddon dystopia and has left Earth to colonize the universe. And Herbert's universe  is so strange and curious. When events take place in that universe, your curiosity compels you to discover the outcome.

It's like when Google has a really fantastic doodle on its main search page. What happens if you start this little gizmo off over here, and then you press these other buttons over there. What will happen? Will the whole thing collapse on itself?

In the Dune universe, there are the Bene Gesserit, the Mentat, the Freman, Makers... the Gom-Jabar. What happens when they all interact? As with well-imagined and well-crafted things, the book doesn't collapse under its own complexity.

It's quite the opposite: A major episode in human history occurs, yet the universe just shrugs. There's a vastness and depth that invites further exploration. And yet the story told here is small: Two families vying for galactic influence. It is like a less-90210-ish Game of Thrones set in outer-space.

Disregarding the 1984 film (which, except for the awesome set pieces, is a disaster), in further pop-culture comparison, it is like the characters from Star Wars, Dances With Wolves, Avatar, and The Celestine Prophecy(!) all having a dance-off.

And, finally, to address my third reservation: Religion in Dune is handled with maturity. This is a messianic story in which the characters accept their roles with guarded skepticism. Dune is also a war story in which the characters are leery of religious conflict. If a there's a prophecy fulfilled here, it is manifest by mankind's genetic-engineering, psycho-actives, and pure cosmic timing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Missing


the morning 
following a great 
novel's finish
is like the wake 
of silence 
left by 
dinner guests
who've stayed the night

the wash 
of laughter 
settling into the ceiling

the flush of
semi-sweet wine 
passing while we slept

the tales to tide 
us over 'till 
new sleeves to bare

Friday, August 22, 2014

The 300

I finish reading a novel about once a month, according to my entries on Goodreads. That might seem light, but it's about as much as my current day-to-day routine can handle.

That got me thinking; If I extrapolate a book per month over the next 25 years -- at which time I'd be at retirement age -- that would come out to about 300 books. So I'll use that as a ballpark figure, 300, to say how much reading I have left in the tank.

Of course I'll have read tons more than that! But I like the number. It's very SPARTA! Thinking of it in finite terms helps romanticize what I want from future reading. Helps give it an agenda. It has to be top-notch -- new classics in contemporary lit, the canon I've yet to read, an occasional reread, and, of course the flat-out-fun reads. 

When I grow up, I want to be able to talk books, writers, good prose, and, yes, good literary criticism.

Here's the first batch of The 300:  


Of Mice & Men, Steinbeck
Moon Palace, Paul Auster
The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
Ask The Dust, John Fante 
Chronicles of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Fall, Albert Camus 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fog Meridian


1:15 in the afternoon
wisps of fog spill over
Sutro and Twin Peaks
bearing northeast down
Market Street flooding sidewalk
Indio stands selling
woolen cable knits in August

gusts of scrap-paper
blow past mid-westerners
caught in short-pants and hasty
long-sleeve drug-store fleece
pulled over hands,
collars pulled over ears

my City --

we'd yet made promises
all those years ago
under that bright
late-morning September sun,
standing atop Alamo Square
gazing eastward at rows
of Victorians pretty
as lace edging on cityscape
skyscrapers bleached white-gold
as ribbons of windows
glistened like inlaid marcasite stones

your warmth on my shoulders

it was all so easy to kid ourselves

that we could pay the shroud 
approaching from out west

its mist
its winds


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hustle & Flow


a lone sea bird
before dawn
keeps time
with trains 
above West Oakland 
sidewalks awash 
with gold grass
on thistle,
painted ladies
against purple
darkness of Tilden,
of Sibley, 
of Redwood's 
rolling crests --

while on headphones,
Chinese Ehru notes glide
above sea swell 
sounds from violins

our flights
at such
great heights --

before the train snakes
down its bay-floor tunnel,
before ears go pop
from changes in pressure
and the screams of steel
wheels on rail,
before the bustling stops
at Embarcadero,
at Montgomery,
before the song-change
to some 50-Cent hustle
and the swagger anthems
of Barbary pirates

the truth is,
i am one of them,
awake at 5 a.m.
the early bird
is all business,
all hustle for flow

i don't know what 
you heard about me

while on headphones
Chinese Ehru notes glide
above sea swell
sounds from violins


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Even the Bookstore

what is
to become of us
of no great art,
of no great will,
of squandered youth?

there's come
a point where
even the bookstore
leaves me with
regret for things
yet done
and reminders
of how little
time there's left.

it doesn't seem
so long ago,
stepping through
the entrance with a jingle
from the door chime
and a creek of the floor,
looking upon rows of top sellers
and staff recommendations,
their hand-written descriptions
across index cards --

it was as the record store
of my youth --

each shelf a new song,
each bin a new rhythm,
the rows of spine,
endless measures
wrapping 'round end-caps
singing and stepping,
beating the funk
out from everyday.

but now -- these books.
there are so many
of them!
they seem to
grow from shelves
like baby's teeth
of Great Whites.

all those stories to share,
places to visit,
dishes to taste,
crafts to learn,
technologies to test
our possibilities!

so many turns of phrase
so painfully gained
from all our great losses

from all our great leaps

art is for the broken --
the books, our rummage