Harper Perennial calls The Marbled Swarm, Dennis Cooper’s “most haunting work to date,” and it is impossible to disagree. Although this latest from Cooper is more psychological and subtle, in many aspects, than most of his other works, it is perhaps because of those reasons that it is even more effective. The book is disturbing, as is typical from Cooper. The narrator, a deeply troubled young man with fantasies of incest on the brain, is consumed by homicidal and cannibalistic tendencies. The layers of his mind are just as twisted, concealed, and misleading as the secret passageways and hidden rooms that encompass his father’s voyeuristic mansion. The book, at its core, is a mystery story, which parallels the physical reality with the narrator’s subconscious, and what the reader finds in both places is darkly troubling.
A narrator who refuses to identify as gay, but whose sexual perversions include raping and killing boys (particularly of the “Emo” type), then eating them; a father who spies on his sons, and who slowly and subtly persuades them to become sexually infatuated with each other; a boy who lies about being raped by his father to his brother, and by his brother to his father, with the hope that one of them will rape him; men who kidnap boys, alter them through plastic and bone surgery so they will look like their fantasy type, then sell them for sexual favors to men with twisted desires. These are just some of the characters in The Marbled Swarm. Individually, each is sick, twisted, and alarming in his own right; together, they create a world of psychological distrubia. The narrator and main character is the most interesting of the bunch, perhaps because the reader witnesses some of his secrets unfold chapter-by-chapter. His younger brother and father are also fascinating, in a “this car crash makes me want to vomit but I can’t turn my head” kind of way. Ultimately, the group serves to progress the story’s purpose, which is a commentary on language and communication, as well as Cooper’s modus operandi – exposing the terrible side of humanity and the evil side of desire.
Cooper’s writing style is nearly unmatched; he is a type of writer that has been unknown in American Literature since William Burroughs. Although his themes are twisted and hard to stomach for most, his ability as a writer are laudable to say the least. His mastery of language, his ability to advance a plot seamlessly, and the sickeningly playful way he messes with his readers minds are impossible to overlook, despite how unsavory the subject matter. In The Marbled Swarm, Cooper has accomplished all that his previous works attempted, which is saying much, because his previous works were groundbreaking in their own right. In retrospect, though, it is clear to see that Cooper has been developing over time, getting better and better; and this latest, his masterpiece, is proof of how hard he has been working to perfect his craft.
After admiring Cooper’s work for nearly a decade, I can say that, though I have loved and been fascinated by almost every book, poem, and essay the man has ever written, this is the book all previous works were helping to develop. It is, by far, Cooper’s most complex piece to date, and also his finest in craft, in theory, and in delivery. The fluid prose, disturbing subject matter, and psychological warfare (within the story and between narrator and reader) make this book a demonstrable work of genius. Had this been just a story about a disturbed young man who had sexual attractions for his brother and father, and who liked to eat human flesh, the book would have been sick, sad, and confusing; however, though that is technically what happens in the book, it is not what the book is about. This is a story about desire and depression; it is a story about cravings and theatrics; it is a story about the pleasure of playing “the witness” in horrifying situations and, most importantly, it is a story about story-telling.
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
As we wrap-up November and our latest classic, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, it’s time to start planning for December! This time, I chose a popular classic that I have read just once before, many years ago, but that was due for a re-read and seemed “just right” for a winter read: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë!
This is the last month of the Classic Book-a-Month Club for 2017. I have not decided whether to bring this club back again in 2018. There didn’t seem to be much participation or interest this year, so at the moment it doesn’t seem like it would be worth it. That said, I am certainly open to doing this again next year if there’s enough interest. I have already thought of about 6 out of the 12 books I would like to have the club read, but would take suggestions for the other 6.
In addition, whether or not this Club returns, I am hosting The Official TBR Pile Challenge again in 2018, as well as a year-long Bible As Literature challenge, where we will read the Christian bible cover-to-cover and from a secular, literary perspective.
About the December Selection:
Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father.
After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.
The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.
- December 1st: Begin reading
- December 15th: Mid-point Check-In
- December 31st: Final Thoughts
Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat. Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Welcome to the Sign-Up Post for the 2018 Reading the Bible Event!
About the Event: The Christian bible is one of the most influential texts in western literature. As someone who reads literature for pleasure/edification and who teaches Literature in English at the college level, I frequently re-familiarize myself with many historically rich texts from a variety of mythologies and cultures.
As such, I’ve read the Christian bible many times, but only twice from cover-to-cover. I usually revisit specific passages depending on what I’m working on at the time, or which political/philosophical debate I’m getting into, etc. For 2018, I thought another cover-to-cover read through, with company this time, would be helpful and fun!
As a special note, I will be reading the bible as literature and crafting my posts as such. This challenge is not specific to nor exclusively meant for Christians; instead, it is for readers who are interested in learning more about a very important text in the western canon. As such, I invite anyone and everyone to participate, regardless of faith or lack thereof. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, Hindu, Agnostic, Mormon, Humanist? Come along!
What I would love is a lively and spirited discussion of the stories, philosophies, history, and cultural issues. We might discuss allegory, parables, comparative religion, metaphor, and symbolism to name just a few topics. The text will be treated respectfully and the discussions will follow in that same spirit — disparaging remarks about anyone’s beliefs will not be tolerated (and therefore all comments will be moderated). We’ll do our best!
I’ll be reading from The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV), illustrated by Gustave Doré and published by Barnes & Noble, but you can feel free to read any version you’d like. There are many newer editions that are much more “readable,” in my opinion. Keep in mind, of course, some textual changes have resulted in meaning changes as well, and of course the contemporary versions lose some of the poetic qualities.
The Reading Plan
- January: Genesis 1 through Exodus 40
- February: Leviticus 1 through Deuteronomy 4
- March: Deuteronomy 5 through 1 Samuel 17
- April: 1 Samuel 18 through 1 Chronicles 2
- May: 1 Chronicles 3 through Esther 10
- June: Job 1 through Psalms 89
- July: Psalms 90 through Isaiah 17
- August: Isaiah 18 through Ezekiel 8
- September: Ezekiel 9 through Zechariah 14
- October: Malachi 1 through Luke 18
- November: Luke 19 through 1 Corinthians 8
- December: 1 Corinthians 9 through Revelations 22
I will be reading the above list of titles during the months given. Furthermore, on the last day of each month (so, beginning December 31st 2017 for January 2018), a list of passages will be given for daily reading. This is really just to make it easier on myself; I find I can keep up with reading the bible, especially the rather dull bits, if I do a little bit every day. So, I’ll share this list with all participants every month & will base my weekly and monthly check-in posts on those daily goals.
Every Sunday: I’ll post my thoughts on the passages that I read that week, with some discussion questions, favorite quotes, questions, literary references that come to mind, etc. I hope these Sunday posts will encourage discussion among those who are also reading along at a similar pace.
Month’s End: I will post an update with the books/verses that I read during the previous month and list the readings (chapter and verse) for the upcoming month in a “readings per day” format. My goal is to read about the same amount each day, week, and month, but you can do whatever you want! I hope these monthly posts will be another place for everyone to discuss their experience with the readings.
- Comment on this post if you’d like to join in.
- Read along with me in a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule (whatever works for you) and participate in discussion as much or as little as you like.
- Post your thoughts on the bible readings somewhere on your blog, Tumblr, Goodreads account, or in the comments on any given post.
Though I enjoyed this book overall, the biggest complaint I have is its lack of character development, depth, or description. The reader spends most of his time with the three Drew children, but I for one never really got a grasp on each of their individual personalities, or even the simple things like what they look like (aside from Barney’s light-colored hair) or how old they are. Even by the end of the book, I honestly felt like I had to create their images and personalities almost entirely in my head. The mysterious Uncle Merry, too, only gets a decent description in the last few pages, though he’s had many “on page” moments. The parents are nearly entirely on the periphery, as they tend to be in many of these YA Fantasy books where the kids are the heroes, and while I felt I had a small understanding of the father, there wasn’t much for the mother (who, as an artist, could have been a wonderful opportunity). Bill Hoover Jr. and Mr. and Miss Withers were okay, as was Hastings and Mrs. Palk. Still, these were characters who were all, in some way, antagonistic toward the main characters, and only as effective as in relation to the Drew children, who were sadly under-developed.
Fortunately, though the book lacked depth and growth in its characters, it was very well written. The prose is engaging and a bit challenging (in a good way); more so than, say, the Chronicles of Narnia series, which is likely written for the same age group and for readers of similar interests. Dialogue is spot on, too, and Cooper does a nice job of linking characters’ thoughts or dialogue with facial expressions, body movements, etc. When Rufus the dog is scared or angry, for instance, it is described both in the physical manifestations, as well as the sounds and actions the dog makes. There is a bit more “telling” than showing, where human characters are involved, but not so much so as to be distracting or to detract from the enjoyment of the plot in action.
What completely surprised me about this book, because it was not hinted at in the book’s description, was that the crux of the fantasy element and good v. evil power struggle in this book is the Arthurian legend. The legend of Merlin and Arthur, the quest for the Holy Grail and its disappearance, etc., is something I am fascinated with in general. So, when I discovered that this is where the book was leading, the plot became suddenly much more interesting and enjoyable. Having this legend as the driving force for the story also added a deeper level of meaning for the fantasy itself; battles between good and evil, with supernatural elements, magical beings, ancient languages and all, can be and often are very interesting motivators for a fantasy plot, but when those elements are interwoven with another ancient legend, and those specific elements of the legend start to play out in the new story’s plot (which takes place centuries later), it’s a different kind of magic. It reminds me of what Riordan does with his mythology series’ (Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, etc.) – using modern places and events + contemporary storytelling to retell the ancient Greek and Egyptian myths. Susan Cooper is doing the same with the Arthurian Legend, and it’s groovy.
Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 4.0
Back in October, I shared that The Folio Society had at last completed their complete Jane Austen collection, with the publication of the illustrated Mansfield Park. As I mentioned at that time, my friends at The Folio Society were gearing up for a big holiday release and, as a “thank you” to the readers of my blog, who have always been big Folio Society fans, they wanted to return this week and offer you all something special. (More on that at the bottom of this post!)
First, though, I thought I would share with you some new treasures I discovered in the Holiday Catalog. If you are still thinking about gifts for the special bookworms in your life, I have to recommend these beautiful editions of classic literature (they also have texts from philosophy, science, religion, etc.) What is special about these editions is not just the fact that they are illustrated with stunning work by some of the most talented artists today, but they are beautifully bound in illustrated covers and come in sturdy slip-cases, which is important for protecting the look (and value) of these books, especially for long-time collectors. One of my favorite features, though, is that each edition comes with a new introduction. Take The Folio Society’s new edition of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, for example; it is introduced by the incomparable Margaret Atwood!
Anyway, my perusal of the holiday catalog led to my acquiring 4 (technically 5!) new editions from The Folio Society. (Side note: there is also a Children’s Gift Ideas guide, from which I was VERY TEMPTED to get a few more items, but I had to restrain myself). The texts I picked-up for myself are: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; John Steinbeck’s East of Eden; Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner & Three Other Poems; and a dual edition from Philip K. Dick, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and A Scanner Darkly. I have to say, even though I have collected a fair number of Folio Society books over the years, I was absolutely stunned by these new editions. The cover art, especially, is beyond beautiful. I keep my books in their slip-cases in order to protect them, but someday I hope to purchase a display cabinet where I can put all of these out, front cover forward, because they are so beautiful.
As for the interior illustrations, well, take a look for yourself:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
“I think that the book which I put down with the unqualified thought ‘I wish I had written that’ is Moby-Dick” -William Faulkner
Following the huge success of their 2009 limited edition, Folio has reproduced Moby-Dick in a new collector’s edition. Featuring Rockwell Kent’s illustrations and bound in rich cloth, this is a fine presentation of what is regarded by many as the greatest American novel.
Herman Melville’s tale of the hunt for the white whale, Moby-Dick, is a sublime work of the imagination, an American Odyssey. It is at once an adventure story of the high seas, and an exploration of the uncharted regions of the soul.
It is difficult to measure the impact of Philip K. Dick’s work. Not only did his stories and novels win awards and influence an entire generation of science-fiction writers, many of his works have been adapted into film and continue to inspire directors to this day.
Alongside Ridley Scott’s genre-changing Blade Runner, inspired by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the films Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and the recent television series The Man in the High Castle all owe their existence to his imagination.
For this special edition, The Folio Society have brought together two classic titles in an appropriately mind-bending format: read one, then turn the book upside down to enter the altered reality of the next.
“It has everything I have been able to learn about my art or craft or profession in all these years,” wrote John Steinbeck of East of Eden, the novel he considered his magnum opus.
Coolly received when it was first published in 1952, it has grown in stature and popularity ever since, and is now recognized as the author’s most ambitious and accomplished work.
This magnificent edition, published to celebrate the winner of Folio’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Fiction Competition, and produced with the highest design and production values, is a fitting testament to Steinbeck’s remarkable achievement.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the most innovative and influential of all the English Romantic poets. This beautiful edition emulates our popular limited edition, with four immortal poems superbly illustrated by Harry Brockway, one of the UK’s leading wood-engravers. A striking binding design by the artist and a blocked slipcase make this the perfect vessel for Coleridge’s fantastical journeys.
This supernatural ballad was conceived as Coleridge walked in the Quantock Hills with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. From this initial inspiration Coleridge labored for five months, changing a traditional ballad stanza into an astonishingly flexible and musical unit of varying length. Lyrical Ballads, his collaboration with Wordsworth, opened with ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. It became the keynote of the book, indeed of English Romanticism as a whole.
The poem is a gripping tale of death, damnation and expiation. But it is also an allegory of sin and repentance, a mystical account of man’s fall from Grace through the symbolic killing of an innocent creature. For some critics, the mariner represents the poet himself: Coleridge wrote of his “Mind shipwrecked by storms of doubt, now mastless, rudderless, shattered, – pulling in the dead swell of a dark and windless Sea.” Just like the wedding guest, halted by the mariner and unable to break away, the reader is entranced by this visionary poem.
- The last day to order for holiday delivery is December 8 (midnight EST).
- The last day for express delivery is December 14 (midnight EST).
Now for the really fun part! The Folio Society is saying HAPPY THANKSGIVING, and wishing you all early luck in your holiday shopping season by offering up one copy of their new edition of MANSFIELD PARK to a lucky winner. What do you have to do to be entered to win?
- Be a WordPress or an e-mail subscriber of this blog (click the thingamajig in the side-menu).
- Leave a comment on this post, including your e-mail handle in case you win, sharing what you are most looking forward to this holiday season! And let me know how/where you subscribe to or follow this blog.
- Follow me on Twitter @RoofBeamReader. (1 bonus entry)
The giveaway will close on “Black Friday” (this Friday, November 24th) at 11:59pm Pacific Time. All valid entries will be counted and winner will be chosen randomly via Random.org. Winner will have 72-hours to respond to e-mail notification with request for shipping information before new winner is chosen. Roof Beam Reader is not responsible for items lost in the mail, damaged, etc. Item will be shipped from the publisher. Folio Society editions are available exclusively at http://www.foliosociety.com.
Welcome to Dead House by R.L. Stine (3.0 out of 5.0)
Welcome to Dead House is the first book in the infamous Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. This one tells the tale of two young siblings and their parents. The family move to a new town after mysteriously inheriting a house from some long-lost family member. The book is typical Goosebumps: fast-paced, thrilling, a little spooky, and a little silly.
I used to read this series all the time as a kid. In fact, these books and The Hardy Boys books are pretty much all I read as a kid (with some of those Choose Your Own Adventure novels thrown into the mix every so often). I was actually not much of a reader at all when I was young (shocking to consider, now!) but the R.L. Stine books always kept my attention. Although I’ve read a number of the series, I somehow missed this one, which is a shame because it is good fun and it is the inaugural tale.
For younger readers especially, those in the Middle Grade range, this book is bound to be a favorite. At the center of the action is a pair of curious and brave siblings. The primary antagonists are also kids, so the battle of “good versus evil” in this strange new town is, for the most part, taken up by children. What could be more fun for young readers?
Boy by James Hanley (3.5 out of 5.0)
I do not even know where to begin with this book. It is some remarkable work of melodramatic modernism, which really should not work, but does. According to the book’s introduction, this book was suppressed for more than 50 years. The publisher was prosecuted for obscenity, and readers will not find it hard to understand why that would be (considering the original publication was in the 1930s). I was torn throughout reading this between loving it and hating it, between being rather enthralled and being completely bored. These feelings remain unresolved even now, weeks after having finished it.
That being said, there are a few points that are without dispute. First, Hanley is a wonderful writer who can turn a beautiful phrase and who is far bolder than many of his contemporaries were at the time. His modernism is the bold and brass American type, tackling difficult issues in a bleak and straightforward style. This, contrasted against the British modernists, is a kind of relief. Hanley often fails, too, in his story-telling. He overloads the pathos of nearly ever situation. Yes, certainly many of the scenes should evoke pathos. The “boy” at issue in this story is, after all, raped on numerous occasions, by older boys and older men. His plight is that of the age-old plight of the lower class: he is a brilliant young man with ambition and potential, whose parents force him into near-servitude, which breaks his spirit even despite his best efforts to free himself and find a new path. Throughout it all, he keeps his awful parents in mind and tries to make it for himself, and for them.
As a narrative, Boy, is not the most compelling read. But as a critique on caste systems, poverty, child labor, and the abuses of the poor, it is a rather remarkable accomplishment. It seems Hanley experienced a similar life and put much of his general biography into the novel, though he denies that anything that happened to “boy” really happened to him. One has to wonder if Hanley was being truthful about that.
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (5.0 out of 5.0)
Having finally finished the original Pullman trilogy, called His Dark Materials and including The Golden Compass, The Amber Spyglass, and The Subtle Knife, I was thrilled to learn that Pullman was at work on a new trilogy called La Belle Sauvage. The first book in the series, The Book of Dust, released just a month ago, and I got my hands on it as soon as humanly possible!
What I could not anticipate about the new series, or at least this first installment in that series, is how much more enjoyable I would find it than the originals. I honestly do not think that has ever happened before, but Pullman manages it. I found Malcolm Polstead to be an incredibly interesting young narrator, and his relationship with his daemon, Asta, was as beautiful and touching as the relationship created between Lyra and Pantalaimon.
This new series seems to have a bit more action than the originals, and it still walks that delicate walk between fantasy and realism. There are witches and magic, mythological creatures and underworlds; there are also lovely relationships between Malcolm and a science professor, and Malcolm and Christian Nuns who live across the river. This book, like those in the original series, continues to explore themes of physics and theology, philosophy and science, humanism and myth, and it is, like the originals, a good old-fashioned coming-of-age tale. According to Pullman, this series specifically tackles the idea of consciousness, and what are we, underneath it all. Matter? Spirit? Neither? Both? I look forward to seeing how the rest of the series continues to address the questions posed by this first installment, which tackles highly relevant and topical issues of totalitarian theocracies, the right to free thought and speech, and the dangers of a militant religious force in control of government and politics. It is reported that the next book in the series is titled The Secret Commonwealth. All I can say is, bring it on, please!