Endings are rubbish. They’re only the place where you choose to stop talking. — The Narrator in Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home
Come in, we’re almost ready for you to read this edition, but first have a drink. As always, this edition’s just one of many going back decades, which is why you’ll find material that appeared quite some time back, say a review of a book still beloved but then still to come out when the review was written from a galley provided by the publisher.
Back then, all galleys of forthcoming books and preview CDs were physical, none of these services like NetGalley existed, which is why we got delivered to us all ten hardcover volumes of Tolkien’s The History of Middle-earth, or that Fairport Unconventional box set.
Oh, we still get many deliveries, but I‘ll frankly admit that I do miss the days when our Mail Room brownies here on this Scottish Estate sorted through the weekly postal delivery and put things into staff postal boxes based on their somewhat eccentric beliefs of what should go where. Now let’s see what piqued the interest of the editors this time…For your winter reading pleasure, we have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets looked at by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’
Robert has a rather unusual book by Roger Zelazny — well, unusual for Zelazny, at least — Damnation Alley: ‘One of the key elements of Zelazny’s work was his complete disregard for the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream literature. Consider that, within a science fiction framework he frequently introduced mythological characters, not as mythic archetypes but as actual characters, and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable stylistically within the genre into more widely accepted literary conventions. And, having said that, I’m faced with Damnation Alley, a novel from early in his career (1969) that seems, on its surface, to undercut my points.’
And more Zelazny, again from Robert, this time Creatures of Light and Darkness: ‘Among his other virtues, Roger Zelazny was as willing to experiment with narrative structures as he was with thematic content. This wasn’t a constant thing — most of his writings fit into a standard naturalistic narrative framework quite easily — but one catches glimpses in, for example, the “traveling” passages in Nine Princes in Amber. Creatures of Light and Darkness, published in book form in 1970, shows Zelazny at his most inventive, formally and thematically.’
Scott has for us a review of Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings, a book that has some serious flaws. Michael Perry’s book is a mixed bag for Scott: ‘Perry intends the book to serve as a reference to The Lord of the Rings, enabling the reader to get a better sense of what events happened simultaneously in the story, where in Tolkien’s writings a particular event is described, and a deeper appreciation of the structural coherence of Tolkien’s work. Untangling Tolkien generally succeeds in these regards, especially the latter; this book is essentially an exposition on Tolkien’s attention to chronological detail. Unfortunately, the book also gives every appearance of having been put together in great haste, as though the publishers were more concerned with releasing the book by a certain date than with presenting the best possible book.’
Kage loved video with a fierce devotion that showed in her reviews, as we see here with her lead-in to the Bruce Campbell’s Jack of All Trades series that gleefully screwed historic accuracy royally in favour of a more entertaining story: ‘In the soul of every history geek, there is a hidden volume wherein are listed the names of History Geek Guilty Pleasures. Don’t try to deny it, fellow history geeks; you know it’s true.’
A writer by the name Elizabeth found something very much to her liking in Dean’s Sweets: ‘Portland seems to me one of the quintessential New England seacoast towns. With its long streets of red masonry buildings and its quirky alleyways, coffee shops, and squares, it’s a fine place to spend a wandering day. It makes sense to me that one of the best local New England chocolates I’ve tried should make its home here.’
I’ve got a whisky that I think you should try. It’s Toiteach, which is a wonderfully peaty single malt from the Bunnahabhain distillery. Served neat with neither water nor ice is how we do it, as there’s no single malts here that shouldn’t be appreciated that way. If you’re interested in knowing more about Scots whiskys, take a look at the review by Stephen of the late Iain Bank’s Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as I believe it’s simply the best look at single malts ever done.
Muzsikas’ The Bartók Album gets an appreciative look by Brendan, who also reviewed Bartok’s Yugoslav Folk Music which you’ll see connects intrinsically to this recording: ‘During a recent festival in celebration of the works of Béla Bartók — one of this century’s most important musical composers — at Bard College, the Hungarian tradition revivalist band Muzsikas discovered that many people were quite familiar with Bartok’s classical compositions while being quite ignorant of the Hungarian folk musical traditions that inspired much of those compositions.’
Of Many Languages, One Soul Gary notes that ‘If you at all like instrumental music from southeastern Europe, if you enjoy the sound and versatility of the clarinet, or if you just like wildly eclectic international music – personally, all three describe me – then this Balkan Clarinet Summit disc is a must-have.’
Gary also reviews a new album by American singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier. Rifles & Rosary Beads is a collection of songs co-written with service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their loved ones, through the auspices of a project called Songwriting With Soldiers.
An career-spanning tribute album to Captain Beefheart? Gary says Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas’s The World of Captain Beefheart is pretty good. ‘It’s great to hear these reverent but not by-the-numbers covers of Captain Beefheart tunes.’
Scott Allen Nollen’s Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 gets a superb look-see by Kate: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’
Robert picked Tummel’s Payback Time as his recommended recording this outing: ‘Think about the band playing on while the Titanic goes down. Think of some of Joel Gray’s bitchier numbers in Cabaret. Think of Josephine Baker at her most outrageous taking Paris by storm. Think of a bunch of crazy Swedes with no inhibitions whatsoever getting together and letting everyone have it, right between the eyes. That might give an inkling of the tone of Tummel’s Payback Time.’
Every s often we ask folks which work by Tolkien they liked best. Here’s how one writer, James Stoddard, responded: ‘Is this a trick question? The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece in so many ways. I recently listened to a reading of the trilogy on CD. Despite having read the book five or six times, I was amazed at how it kept my attention. Only the Council of Elrond chapter flags a bit for me. I see the work differently every time I read it. I thought Sam a silly fellow when I read the book as a fifteen-year-old; now his constant loyalty invariably moves me. But the best part of many excellent scenes is at the Crossroads–the thrown down head of the statue of the ancient king, garlanded with flowers, a single ray of sunlight shining on the shattered visage. ‘They cannot conquer forever,’ Frodo says, and my eyes always unexpectedly mist over. It is the book’s theme, captured in four words. Brilliant.’
For this week’s Coda, Robert brings us a clip from an artist who was new to him — ‘Although,” he says, “I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from him. I first ran across Sufjan Stevens in the soundtrack to Call Me By Your Name, in which he has three songs, two written for the film and one remix, which are compelling, to say the least — the combination of Stevens’ ethereal vocals and rich instrumentation, which seems to be a hallmark of his work, is immediately engaging. At the risk of introducing a spoiler, here’s ’Visions of Gideon,’ which closes the movie. I won’t say more, except to caution you to brace yourself.’