* NOTICE: Mr. Center's Wall is on indefinite hiatus. Got something to say about it? Click HERE and type.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

East of Eden XLVIII -- chpt48: **sneeze**

As a reader  you can generally tell when events are winding up--when the author's pushing things slowly toward the cliff.  Though you can't see it, but it's there.  The sensation is a little like knowing a sneeze is on its way, though perhaps you don't know how strong it will turn out or if it will fizzle to nothing (so disappointing!).  If you look closely at the writing, you can even identify the specific symptoms in the narration indicating the coming sneeze--itchy sinuses, watery eyes, sudden and involuntary snuffling up from your gut....  Here in chapter 48, I think we can begin to point out that, yes, we are about to sneeze--or East of Eden is.  How do we know?

When else has Cathy made such consistent appearances?  When else has she been so rattled for more than a paragraph at a time?  When else has someone worked directly against her?  When else has she remained so consistently agitated?

Better yet--if a mighty climax you desire--Aron's home from college, Cal's under-appreciated, and Thanksgiving is coming when Adam plans, though indirectly and with typical oblivion, to shunt Cain--I mean Cal.

Storm's a'brewin'!

Reading Questions

  1. Why does Joe feel as though maybe somebody's come in to root through his stuff?  What's the devil over shoulder on about?
  2. Is Joe's instinct against Cathy is correct, is someone--a higher power--assisting him, or is he just bumbling and lucky (unless it all turns to pot!)?
  3. Is Cathy a "soup carrier?"
  4. What's in the capsule in her necklace?
  5. Why is she inquisitive after the goings-on of the funeral?

Monday, November 29, 2010


Some of you may have thought I've forgotten (and those of you who are really paying attention will notice the given "announcement" is now missing) our man, Thomas E. Hulme, but I have not.  I've been working semi-steadily at getting a collective and concise--relatively--commentary/interpretation done on the six works we've got here.  But I need help.  There are a couple quotations that are still giving me trouble, and so--


It is certainly within Hulme's evident style to mask his full intentions, and some of his lines do a more thorough job than others, which beggars the question (which question is bolstered by the fact that there are only six pieces in the first place), Did he write these poems for others or just himself (or, only slightly better, for self and maybe one or more friends, which really, being insular, is the same thing)?  If the former, then we are intended to get something from them, making some connection within the poem, ourselves, or between the two; and for that to effectively happen, the reader must have the capacity to make sense of AT LEAST MOST of the words and phrases.  Well, I'm not satisfied with MOST, I want ALL, dangit!  If the latter--that he wrote it all just for himself--then it's all wide open, and by "understanding" (and what does that even mean, anyway, when it comes to art of any kind) the ideas and connections, we're getting a fairly candid peek into this man's head.

So I'm putting the ball in your court.  I've got probably 85% of the stuff figured out in these six poems.  The remaining 15%, well, like I said before--

Here they are:

(from the introductory sentence--which may actually be introduction to all the "collected poetical works" that follow it --of "Mana Aboda")
Beauty is the marking-time, the stationary 
vibration, the feigned ecstasy of an arrested im-
pulse unable to reach its natural end.
Keywords of interest: "marking-time," "feigned ecstacy," "natural end" --all ambiguous!

(from "Conversion")
loveliness that is her own eunuch
the final river
As any peeping Turk to the Bosphorous.
I know what a eunuch is, of course, but how can one be "her own?"  As far as the "final river" is concerned, it seems to indicate either the final river in paradise or the final river in the inferno, both of which, if I remember correctly, has four.  Which eternal location; which river therein?  Or is it something else, because it also indicates one river in particular: the Bosphorous.  Why?  Is it the final river, or a river among them?  And why "peeping turks?"  I don't know.

What do you think?

East of Eden XLVII -- chpt47: WHO IS TO BLAME?

Reading Questions
Chapter 47.1

  1. I've noticed a version of Adam's sternness for "excuse and borderline disability" in myself and my teaching.  Though he is weak, though he hates the war and feels he's condemning the boys he sends off, why won't he accept the excuse (which is the same reason he wouldn't be able to hold back his boys)?

Chapter 47.2

  1. There's an interesting question here, which could be answered pertly, tritely, but whose answer could be much more revelatory: If God puts together two boys in a family--Cain and Abel, Charles and Adam, Cal and Aron--and one of them kills the other, even if perhaps there was reasonable doubt that they'd live well together and build each other up, is God responsible?
  2. "All great and precious things are lonely."  (I don't think I agree--or I do agree, but with exceptions.)

Chapter 47.3

  1. Twice now, unless I'm missing one, Cain has remained in "Eden" and Abel has left the garden for the weedy world beyond--war and college.  What is Steinbeck saying by this, as it is not the only reversal from the Bible story?
  2. Could Aron live on and work the farm?  It isn't a question regarding Cal.  Yes, he could.  But here we see the greatest similarity between Aron and Adam.  What is it?  (And if Aron has such distinct similarities to both his parents, what is there about Cal that is at similar to his father, if it is Adam at all, as we see clearly what his similarities are to Cathy?)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

East of Eden XLVI -- chpt46: HYPOCRISY, STUPIDITY, and SHAME

Chapter 46 is another one of Steinbeck's periodic inserts, and division from the central plots, that mark the story's presence in time, place, and--extrapolation of both--American history.  He opens, as he often does, with a reference to the land and local agriculture, and points out that the superstitious farmers--such a superstitious nature typical of agricultural communities throughout human history--blame the war on the year's irregular rain.  After all, two extreme irregularities must be connected, else they wouldn't occur simultaneously!

There are three items in this chapter that are likely important to, or at least indicative of, our overall story: the cruel treatment of the local German-American (a cruelty and hypocrisy typical of any inter-cultural conflict--can you think of any more modern examples?), the shame of the narrator and his sister at their joining in the communal abuse of the man, and the stupidity and tunnel-vision evident in the final sentence: "We thought we invented all of it [, a community's experience by its participation in a war] in Salinas, even the sorrow."

These three points all match one of the overall issues of the book.  What is it?  How do our main characters exemplify so much of these same hypocrisies, stupidities, and shames?  Also, and definitely more importantly, however, do they transcend them?

Sunday Poetry II -- TREES, an Arboretum of Them

My intent is not to make each week thematic.  Last week holiday stuff, this week trees, next week....  I don't know yet.  Most likely it will turn out that way--thematic--contrary to my intentions--because my fingers and (if this makes any sense at all) my brain have a mind of their own.  (See?  Make any sense?)

Anyway, I was scanning my bookshelves for potential sources for poetry entries and saw the book that I will eventually describe and also show later.  After seeing it and remembering what's in it (it's been a while since I read it), I followed myself backward through my mind along the path that you, as your read, will take, not backward, but--yeah--forward.  Got it?  Totally lost?  Sound like total bunk?  Who cares.  You've read The Giving Tree, right?

That's good enough.

So, trees.  What about them, aside that since moving to Utah, after having grown up in Ohio, then Michigan, then back to Utah, where, by the way, there aren't trees, except in the mountains where you only go a couple times a year when you've got time or gas money or the roads aren't under twenty-five feet of snow, I've realized trees are a major part of my personal identity.  This trait came into particularly sharp focus my first year teaching at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy when the other H.S. English teacher and I took the kids on the traditional writers' retreat to Higgins Lake.  Trees, glorious trees, were everywhere, and more than just me, seemed to consume the greater part of nearly everyone's writing.  (I will not condemn you to reading any of mine.)

And how apt they are for verse and metaphor!  We're all familiar, though likely you won't have read the piece in its entirety or been familiar with its poet:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
"TREES," by Joyce Kilmer

a bonsai -- metonymy of metonymies
Poetry, however, and contrary to the opinion of most, doesn't need to swing merrily from its iambs or heroic (or nearly so) couplets.  A poem, I feel very safe saying, and despite the master, Coleridge's, claim that poetry is "the best words in the best order," doesn't even need to dwell within the confines of words, as "Trees," though it doesn't exemplify, yet claims; what it does need is, at least, an image (at right):

(By the way, to those of you who've read Life of Pi, which I've mentioned here before, don't lines 5 and 6 of Kilmer's poem remind you of the moment on the carnivorous island when Pi finds the pathetic little tree apart from the forest?  Even better, the opening sentence even sounds like Kilmer!

"I know I will never know a joy so vast as I experienced when I entered that tree's dappled, shimmering shade and heard the dry, crisp sound of the wind rustling its leaves.  The tree was not as large or as tall as the ones inland, and for being on the wrong side of the ridge, more exposed to the elements, it was a little scraggly and not so uniformly developed as its mates.  But it was a tree, and a tree is a blessedly good thing to behold when you've been lost at sea for a long, long time.  I sang that tree's glory, its solid, unhurried purity, its slow beauty.  Oh, that I could be like it, rooted to the ground but with my every hand raised up to God in praise!  I wept.")

Poetry, I think, is an encapsulation of a little piece of the world.  Not like a good fiction is.  Good fiction, to me, is more like a tremendous landscape, capturing the world--or a large piece of it--all at once and in glorious and meticulous organization; poetry is the metonymy of that landscape, a single detail that somehow speaks for the whole.  Trees do this well.

David Byrne (yes, the same David Byrne as the man from The Talking Heads) wrote--or drew--a book, published by, yes, McSweeney's, and quite a lovely bit of poetry it is, and exemplifying, and certainly beyond Coleridge's quotation's words' initial intentions, because whoever said that the words had to be in any kind of prescribed left-to-right or top-to-bottom orientation, or even one following the next?

the whole book
By calling to mind the forms of trees (and other familiar forms) and using them to add visual cue to seemingly random groupings of words, he causes the reader/viewer to create associations (which is what any art and artist, however simple or complex, attempt and attest to do) previously unexplored or explored via new routes and under new illumination.  Byrne himself, in his intro, "Why?" says in the final paragraph: "So, here I am pencil in hand, poking around in the dark--wait, is it a pencil or a flashlight? ...that's it!  The pencil is a flashlight, and it roughly illuminates a tiny part of the above 'intelligence.'  Maybe just enough to get it all wrong, but the puzzle pieces are us--we can recognize familiar pieces of ourselves, and so they are scary, fascinating and lovable."

I can't show you the whole book, save from without the confines of its cover, like I could if we were sitting in a classroom.  However, I can show you the cover, and I can show you a couple things that are behind it.  If this pique your interest, buy the book.  You won't be sorry.  (...except that maybe you won't have any money left!  Holy crap!  I didn't know it wasn't available anymore except for, like, a million dollars!  Maybe I'll have to sell mine....  Any takers?)

Here are four "poems" or trees, photographed from my copy of Arboretum (and not very easy to read--sorry).  While examining, thing about an actual tree: the roots and the branches word in a sort of tandem cause and effect--the roots cause the growth of the limbs and leaves, which in turn feed the growth and nourishment of the roots.  Locate items in mirrored position above and below and ask how they might feed, engender, or cause the growth of (or, conversely, the death of) the other.


Finally, and in an epilogue of sorts, Byrne's trees remind me of a sort of metaphorically treeish version of  Everything that Rises (another big recommendation for this post), the book and concept themselves as trees, from Lawrence Weschler, plus all the additional convergences, also at McSweeneys, as a type of verbal reckoning of Byrne's trees, and one in particular, whose image is here, with its two corresponding links (enjoy):


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Saturday, November 27, 2010

East of Eden XLV -- chpt45: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

There's not a lot in the way of brain-busting philosophy, metaphor, analogy, or anything else, at least for the sheer size of this chapter.  Mostly it's just a plot device, and inasmuch as it is a plot device, I can't help but show what it makes me think of.  As you watch the opening credits of Catch Me If You Can, imagine how it would look if it took place just thirty or forty years earlier, and with the thug, Joe, in place of Hanks' character, and the old bag, Ethel, in for DiCaprio.

  1. In part 4, there's a pair of paragraphs in which Cathy thinks about Aron.  By this paragraph, what are the similarities--perhaps unthinkable before and now possible for her articulation--between them?  It's easy to think that if indeed the two boys have two fathers that Cal is the son of Charles.  What if it were the other way around simply for particular traits being perhaps triggered differently?  Justify this possibility, based on Aron's traits and what we remember of Charles (regardless of what she says in the third paragraph of the grouping).
  2. Every once in a while there's a revelation of humanity from Cathy.  Why doesn't she want Aron to know who she is?

Friday, November 26, 2010


We're winding down on East of Eden, so 

Got an idea, or twenty?  


In a week I'll narrow
the possibilities to 10
or so candidates and
post a poll for the voting.


Reading Questions
Chapter 44.1

  1. What's the clear difference between Aron's situation, in which he is creating the girl he loves to be something other than what she is, and his father's situation, when he did the same thing?
  2. Those around him seem to believe that Aron needs to be pulled from the clouds.  There's one sure-fire way to do it, albeit extreme and likely to result in permanent damage.  Is there another way?  Remember, in order to maintain parallels Steinbeck may very well need to kill Abel, and Cain's probably gotta have something to do with it, whether it's a literal of figurative killing.  Regardless, why might a partial killing just not do?
  3. Why doesn't Lee want tell Abra the truth (and how does she trick him) the way he told Cal?  He knows she can handle it.  What is his cowardice (and a cowardice perhaps redoubled for his giving in to her wiles)?
  4. There's a sense in Lee already telling him what will happen regarding Cal's gift.  He can talk to Cal and Cal will listen, yet he doesn't say anything more than he "hopes."

Chapter 44.2

  1. "You'r crazy," said Cal.  "Aron will knock that out you." // "Do you think he will?" // "Why, sure," said Cal.  "He's got to."  

Thursday, November 25, 2010


This is not intended to be a weekly segment designed to permit us adults a self-congratulatory pat on the back for writing (or being of the same species and age bracket as the writers), reading, and appreciating (or pretending to) books that look like they're meant for kids but are really meant for adults in the same way that Shrek was not REALLY meant for kids but permitted all the adults the rare opportunity to smugly enjoy a movie with--or in spite of--their children and laugh covertly at the potty humor, and all the while claiming quality family time.  Not that that's all so bad.

In fact, just to show that I don't have a problem with patting myself on the back, I present two "children's" publications from the McSweeney's house (and I hereby promise that there will never be more than one further McSwy's recommendation from a Wednesday installment (even if it comes on a Thursday like this)), both of which gloriously brine in the bubbly mire of their own self-congratulatory, smug, eye-winking I'm-for-kids-but-not-really-ness.

And they're great!

But not for kids.

Want proof (more than the attribution on the back of the book, "Lemony Snicket is an alleged children's author")?  I just made it through 24.5 pages of the 43-page The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming, by Lemony Snicket, with my daughter when she looked at me, sighed dramatically, and said, "This is a loo-ong story, huh, Daddy?" (though she did very much enjoy the screaming ("AAAHHHHHHHH!!!") of the little, Jewish, potato pancake).

Basically, this book is, like all books for "The Holidays," about the spirit of this very festive season, which we so stereotypically miss or skip, and this particular entry bedazzled with a dash of sarcastic reality to Jews and Christians, as well as the unaffiliated, alike, seemingly pointing out that religious factions be you-know-what and can't we all just get along?  Further, and more humorously, there's a wondrously rogue squirrel in a Santa hat who pops up throughout, apparently laughing at us.

The book is beautiful and small.  It smell nice, the way a book should, and the way any book put out by McSwy's inevitably is.  Sarcastically pedantic, efficiently illustrated (by Lisa Brown, no less, who approaches illustration more like an interior designer than a lofty artist (thank goodness)), and hysterically irreverent, this book, in its holiday capacity, is great enough to merit a worthy spot right alongside your copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  Get it.  Read it.  Even to your kids.  Understand and appreciate it like they certainly won't until they're more like you.

My second recommendation for this inaugural entry is forever connected in my mind with that of the screaming latke, not for any significant, metaphoric reason, but because I bought them at together, and I'm not going to waste paragraphs of your time breaking this one down at all, much less a little bit.  Instead, I merely acknowledge that the book comes highly recommended by real critics, of which I am not one, and I can sum it up in just a few simple nominatives:

  1. George Saunders (doing a "KIDS'" BOOK!),
  2. Lane Smith (in uber-lane-smith-to-the-max mode (remember everything he did with that Scieszka dude?),
  3. goats, and
  4. gappers in a
  5. fable.


East of Eden XLIII -- chpt43: ABEL'S SACRIFICE

Reading Questions
Chapter 43.1
  1. File:Cain and Abel.jpgTwo chapters ago, we saw Cal's sacrifice to his father; now we see Aron's, and while we later see Aron's typically teenager "he wouldn't understand," why is it really that he doesn't want to tell his father?  Additionally, compare Aron's feelings for his father with Adam's feelings for his father (or Charles's for that matter).  There's an interestingly mirrored parallel there.
  2. Is lack of ambition, like Lee's, a blessing or a curse?  (Consider this in and out of context.)  In Lee's case, how does it perfectly serve him as arbiter for this odd family?

Chapter 43.2
  1. Would knowing Mary Magdalene were his mother make it any easier for Aron to forgive her?  What should this reveal to him about his ambition for the Cloth, and why will he not--at least not now--recognize such a revelation?

Chapter 43.3
  1. Interestingly, Cal's "sacrifice" is as vegetable as was Cain's.  How might Aron's be indeed considered the animal sacrifice of the Old Testament, especially considering Abel's sacrifice was of the firstlings and of the fat, or the best, thereof?
  2. Why does Lee keep bringing up von Clausewitz?
  3. Aron is guilty of the greatest misconception of all of humanity, regarding the color of grass and fences.  I'm surprised Lee doesn't spend more than a sentence pointing this out, instead he opens up a pontificating #10 can of the extremes of youth.  Why doesn't he know--or chooses to ignore that--this won't do a lick of good?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

--so sorry, so busy--

Apologies to anyone reading and craving the next chapter of EoE or who may have been expecting recommendation for a spiffy children's book.  It ain't happening today, and may not happen tomorrow either. 

In emotional compensation, I leave you with this instead:

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BUILD A BRICK on me* (in celebration of blog entry #100)

Okay, everyone.  So I need people here.  You are people (so I expect).  You are creative and wondrous.  You are also busy.  I am busy.  I have a proposition.  HERE IT IS:

To the first 5 (unless I just get a crazy-huge response, in which case I will expand to 10) responders--and just a word is enough--to this post will be sent in the mail, the physical mail operated by the worthy USPS (once, of course, they've emailed me their mailing address), the following:

  • 1 or more pieces of paper (white, colored, textured, who knows),
  • 3 or more random art supplies (crayons, tissue paper, chalk, glitter, stencils, whatever), and
  • 1 BRICK prompt (book quotation, author, poem, title),
  • 1 SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) for return to me, hopefully within a week or so.

  1. be one of the first five people to COMMENT ON THIS POST,
  2. send me your US Postal mailing address to my email address,
  3. wait for your letter from me,
  4. get crazy creative,
  5. mail the results back

Piece of cake, yeah?


* Imagine what Weird Al would do with this song under the title of this post:

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James Smith has kindly consented to offer his warring expertise to the benefit of this particular chapter, and I am grateful.  All I know about war is what I read in novels.

Counter-arguments notwithstanding, World War I was the most horrific war in world history.  What made the war so ghastly was combination of two things: one, the centuries-old tradition of lining up large armies of soldiers fairly directly against each other; and two, new technology.  Planes and tanks were used for the first time in World War I, and deadly poisonous gases produced a brutal type of mass murder with minimal effort or second thought for the human consequences.  Meanwhile, the soldiers themselves would spend months, at an enormous cost of human lives, fighting in trenches in deplorable conditions.

The war started with the political murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Balkans, an act that, while controversial, should never have precipitated such a war that would kill over nine million soldiers.  However, there were so many secret alliances at the time, and each declaration of war triggered another, that within less than a month, a regional conflict had quickly escalated into a horrible pan-European war.  From 1914-1916, the United States stayed out of the bloody conflict (in fact, President Wilson was famously reelected because, “he kept us out of the war”), but after the Germans torpedoed the RMS Lustiania, a British ship with over 1000 Americans on board, popular anger at Germany finally led the Americans into the conflict, which they would decisively swing in favor of the Allies, namely the United Kingdom, France, and Russia—although Russia would drop out by the end, due to the Bolshevik Revolution.

The war finally came to an end with an Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 (now Veterans’ Day, or Remembrance Day), when Germans, dissatisfied with the progress of the war, started a general strike, freezing the German economy, took power, and negotiated with the Allies.  The Allies imposed extremely harsh conditions upon Germany, which many blame for the eventual start of World War II, and, in fact, Germany’s debt was so great, that they did not pay it off until earlier THIS YEAR, officially ending the First World War.

Reading Questions
Chapter 42 
  1. “A war always comes to someone else.”  Is this still the way people think about war?  Has anything, perhaps television and news coverage, changed the way war becomes real for us?  What difference does it make if the war comes to you or to someone else? 
  2. “One American was worth ten, or twenty foreigners in a fight.”  One of the themes of East of Eden seems to be delusion.  Adam is deluded into thinking that Cathy loves him and will be his faithful wife.  In turn, Cathy is deluded into thinking that she is so much smarter than everyone else that she can easily manipulate them.  How is this another example of delusion?  What does Steinbeck seem to say about its effects?  Does he offer any solution to the problem? 
  3. “Pershing’s expedition.”  This refers to General John Pershing’s expedition into Mexico in 1916 and early 1917 in order to retaliate for Mexican Pancho Villa’s attacks on American border towns.  Although Pershing claimed the mission to be a success publicly, it was widely acknowledged as a disaster and an embarrassment to American forces. 
  4. “Liberty Belles.”  This was a mass movement of women who helped raise support for the war effort.  Afterward, their effort and patriotism would help earn women the right to vote.
  5. Notice how much more pessimistic the tone becomes as the chapter continues.  Is the Great War another example of a god that has come crashing down?
  6. Will was right on the beans.  What does it say that he and Cal have to profit on other people’s misery?
  7. “No Man’s Land.”  This term was first coined during World War I.  It was used to describe the land between the trenches on each side, in other words, the land that, “no man,” controlled, and over which they fought. 
  8. “Hello, central, give me Heaven.”  “Hello Central,” is actual a key phrase in a book I just read, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.  It dates back to the advent of the telephone when people had to call through a central operator before connecting to anyone, thus the phrase, “Hello, Central.” 
  9. “I guess we were like a tough but inexperienced little boy who gets punched in the nose in the first flurry and it hurts and we wished it was over.”  Consider how Aron always cries but then, and somehow for the tears, fights stronger than all competition.  Is it possible he's being compared to America?

Monday, November 22, 2010

soliciting: STICK A BRICK

"Screaming Old Man," by David Connelly;
other two by Connie Podleski
Need an idea?  Once upon a time, BRICKS were thematized by the book we were reading in class.  I've got a whole mountain of 'em themed upon Voltaire's Candide, of all things (see example below).  So why not check again the list of titles we've compiled for posts on East of Eden?  Any one of them would make a pretty thick brick.

Here are all the East of Eden chapters to date:

(Send new bricks HERE.)
  1. The Salinas Valley 
  2. Introducing the Hamiltons and Our Gods (not exactly the same people)
  3. Cyrus, the Trasks, and Sexism and The Fall of Gods
  4. The Aches of the Restless and Young
  5. Meanwhile Back on the Ranch
  6. Restlessness, Part Deux -- Maturity
  7. The Return Home
  8. Nature versus Nurture
  9. From the Bottom Up
  10. The Trasks: Family Drama
  11. Adam is Taken with a Devil
  12. unblogged, and subject to your creativity
  13. The Glory Boys
  14. Olive, the Olympian
  15. Divination
  16. The Golden Man with the Goat's Eyes
  17. Of Meteors and Monsters
  18. To Bury Secrets
  19. What's the Opposite of a Church
  20. Treacherous to Her Master
  21. Calculation, Poison, and Patience
  22. Baptism, Minus the Water
  23. Flies on the Brain
  24. Timshel
  25. Resurrection and Glory, via Timshel
  26. The Beginnings of a New Beginning
  27. Abracadabra
  28. Just Call Me Joe!
  29. Shot Through the Heart
  30. ADAM to CATHY to LIZA to WILL; next Dessie and Tom; and there was the parrot, Polly, too
  31. Purple Eggs and White Pigeons
  32. THE GREAT ACORN CONTEST, scheduled perhaps on a day particularly perfect, as it happens, for bananafish
  33. There and Back Again
  34. Believe it or Not
  35. same as 34
  36. Liars
  37. Lettuce-Head
  38. Cal Trask, Softer than He Seems
  39. Caleb Trask, Super Hero
  40. The Troglodyte
  41. Prep for a Bean Bash

artist unknown

East of Eden XLI -- chpt41: PREP FOR A BEAN BASH

Reading Questions
Chapter 41.1

  1. Interesting the final sentence of this first, short section that claims the Salinas Valley, while a part of the Nation frightened by its "imperceptible" slide toward war, is either oblivious or willfully despondent.  Sound like anyone you know?

Chapter 41.2

  1. I think we get the direct parallel to the previous question in just the first three inches or so of text here, when Aron, in utterly willful black-and-white obtuseness, says, "But he lost it."
  2. In the conversation between the brothers, there's an amplified sense of Aron's personality.  What's going on in the moment of these lines that emphasizes his character: "I'll help you though college."  "You will?"  "Sure I will."  "Why, I'll go and see the principal right away."  Compare this quickness to that of his judgment on his father.
  3. Justify Abra: "I try to talk him out of [his attitude about the lettuce].  Maybe he's enjoying it."  Enjoying it?  Really?
  4. Is Lee missing something, or is he content?  (Having finished the chapter, this smacks a bit of Deus Ex Machina; can you show that it's not?)

Chapter 41.3

  1. The first paragraph of this section reminds me, perhaps strangely, of Life of Pi.  Will, an animal so unlike that of his perhaps-wilder siblings, enjoys his cage in his little self-crafted zoo.  Why is it (if you thoroughly remember Life of Pi) that he's so content in his "square glass cage," especially (and back to EoE from LoP) in view of the next paragraph contrasting Will to Joe?
  2. If Will sees and respects Cal, he sees something of himself in the boy.  What does he see?  Are they so similar?  (This is a much bigger question--especially in view of the next--than it seems.)
  3. Why does Will's "fleshy face" contort with memory when Cal admits his fondness for his father?
  4. Where is God in this chapter?  Consider the source story.  Is it Adam?  Big, doltish, even simpleton Adam?  Wouldn't that be even a sort of blasphemy?  Cal is winding up to offer his sacrifice.  What is Aron's gift?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I like books for two reasons.  The first is the obvious one.  I love to read them.  The other, though, is the same reason that acts as brake to any impetus ever pushing me toward the ever-more popular e-readers. That is I love to HAVE them.  Certain books look and smell and feel differently from others.  When I was a kid, I picked up and bought a book at our grade school's annual Bookfair just because I liked the way it looked and felt.  I never did read the stupid thing.

Tonight, feeling a little guilty (not enough to do much about it) about not tackling the massive and highly anticipated--by me--pontification on Hulme, I went to my bookshelves to look for a poem.  It's Sunday, after all, and this is the first weekly entry for Sunday Poetry.  I wanted to choose a poem that was, you know, "just right" for the first of the series.  On a whim, I picked up a little book a lot like that book I grabbed at that old Bookfair: The Hoosier Book of Riley Verse, collected and arranged by Hewitt Handson Howland on behalf of James Whitcomb Riley.

The book is ancient.  It smells of dust and ink.  It's printed on that old "onion skin" paper, and has the same pretentious mottled gold along the three edges of the closed pages as do my various Oxford publications and my scriptures.  It is falling apart.  BUT, there is that particular SOMETHING about it that makes it a pleasure to hold and to touch.  It is heavy for its size--heavy they way you hear the produce man in the grocery store describe the best tomatoes or cantaloupes.

I don't know a thing about J.W. Riley, but very surprised nonetheless when, an hour or so ago, I read Mr. Howland's introduction to the collection, and, as it turns out, Riley felt the same way about his books:

"When James Whitcomb Riley was a very small boy, too young to read, he fell in love at first sight with a book, and like all intense lovers he at once desired to possess the object of his affection.  By thrift and careful hoarding he got together pennies equal to the price, and the little red and gold 'poetry book' fell into his eager, outstretched, freckled hands.
"Now he did not love this early treasure for what it contained, but for its look, for the feel of it in his hand, as he afterward said."

I don't even know where I got this book (a pretty rare thing for me, especially considering my most usual bookmark is the receipt of the book's purchase), but I know I kept it for its look and feel.  I suppose once upon a time I even flipped through it.  I must not have been all that impressed, because I don't know for sure if I actually ever looked inside or not (I just hate to admit that I bought a book that I didn't even open!).

Now I'm glad I've revisited it.  The poetry is a riot of colloquial humor, wisdom, nonsense, and love, all particular to this poet's varied heritage.  (When I wikipedia'd him--typed his name into the engine and waited the .834-whatever second for the entry to pop up--I expected a short blurb with birth and death dates and maybe a bibliography.  Holy crap, was I wrong!  BIG entry.  This was some man.  Check him out.)

To give you an idea of the poetry--or "verse," it says of itself without airs--here contained, a few of the section titles, whose poems--yes POEMS!--are reminiscent of some crazy cross between Uncle Remus, Shel Sylverstein, John Keates (go ahead and call me out on this; I will defend!), and Pablo Neruda:
As for the poetry itself, I don't want to spoil it with analysis.  Here, then, are three, which I think are just great:

Jack the Giant Killer
Bad Boy's Version

Tell you a story--an' it's a fac':--
Wunst wuz a little boy, name wuz Jack,
An' he had a sword an' buckle an' strap
Maked of gold, an' a "'visibul cap";
An' he killed Gi'nts 'at et whole cows--
Th' horns an' all--an' pigs an' sows!
But Jack, his golding sword wuz, oh!
So awful sharp 'at he could go
An' cut th' old Gi'nts clean in too (sic)
'Fore 'ey knowed what he was goin' to do!
An' one ole Gi'nt, he had four
Heads, and name wuz "Bumblebore"--
An' he wuz feared o' Jack--'cause he,
Jack, he killed six--five--ten--three,
An' all o' th' uther ole Gi'nts but him:
An' thay wuz a place Jack haf to swim
'Fore he could git t' ole "Bumblebore"--
Nen thay wuz "griffuns" at the door:
But Jack, he thist plunged in an' swum
Clean acrost; an' when he come
To th' uther side, he thist put on
His "'visibul cap," an' nen, dog-gone!
You couldn't see him at all!--An' so
He slewed the "griffuns"--boff, you know!
Nen wuz a hurn hunged over his head,
High on th' wall, an' words 'at read,--
"Whoever kin this trumput blow
Shall cause the Gi'nts overth'ow!"
An' Jack, he thist reached up an' blowed
The stuffin' out of it! an' th'owed
Th' castul-gates wide open, an'
Nen tuk his gold sword in his han',
An' thist marched in t' ole "Bumblebore,"
An', 'fore he knowed, he put 'bout four
Heads on him--an' chopped 'em off, too!--
Wisht 'at I'd been Jack!--don't you?


Name Us no Names no More

Sing, oh, rarest of roundelays!--
   Sing the hilarity and delight
Of our childhood's gurgling, giggling days!
   When our eyes were as twinkling-keen and bright
   And our laughs as thick as the stars at night,
And our breasts volcanoes of pent hoo-rays!
   When we grouped together in secret mirth
   And sniggered at everything on earth--
   But specially when strange visitors came
   And we learned, for instance, that their name
was Fishback--or Mothershead--or Philpott--
or Dalrymple--or Fullenwider--or Applewhite--
or Hunnicutt--or Tubbs--or Oldshoe!
   "'Oldshoe!'--jeminey-jee!" thinks we--
   "Hain't that a funny name!--tee-hee-hee!"

Barefoot races from everywhere,
   We'd pelt in over the back porch floor
For "the settin'room," and cluster there
   Life a clot of bees round an apple-core,
   And sleeve our noses, and pinafore
Our smearcase-mouths, and slick out hair,
   And stare and listen, and try to look
   Like "Agnes" does in the old school-book,--
Till at last we'd catch the visitor's name,--
Redinhouse, Lippscomb, or Burlingame,--
or Winkler--or Smock--or Tutewiler--or
Daubenspeck--or Throckmorton--or Rubottom
--or Bixler--
"'Bixler!' jeminy-jee!" thinks we--
"Hain't that a funny name!--tee-hee-hee!"

Peace!--Let be!--Fall away!--Fetch loose!--
   We can't have fun as we had fun then!--
Shut up, Memory!--what's the use?--
   When the girls and boys of 8 and 10
   Are now--well, matronly, or old men,
And Time has (so to say) "cooked our goose!"
   But ah! if we only could have back
   The long-lost laughs that we now so lack
   And so vainly long for,--how--we--could
   Naturely wake up the neigh-ber-hood,
over the still heterogenious names ever un-
rolling from the endless roster of ortho-
graphic actualities,--such names--for fur-
there instance of good faith--simply such
names as Vanderlip--or Funkhouser--or
Smoot--or Galbreath--or Frybarger--or
Dinwiddie--or Bouslog--or Puterbaugh--
or Longnecker--or Hartpence--or Wig-
gins--or Pangborn--or Bowersox--
   "Bowersox"!  Gee!--But alas! now we
   Taste salt tears in our "tee-hee-hee"!


The Youthful Patriot

O what did the little boy do
   'At nobody wanted him to?
Didn't do nothin' but romp an' run,
And whoop an' holler an' bang his gun
An' bu'st fire-crackers, an' ist have fun--
   An' 'ats' all the little boy done!


The Hoosier Book of Riley Verse, by James Whitcomb Riley, 
collected and arranged by Hewitt Hanson Howland, 
published in Indianapolis by The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 
copyright 1916.

East of Eden XL -- chpt40: THE TROGLODYTE

Bromide is a tranquilizer, not a painkiller (as far as I know) --well, not a killer of physical pain.  It is a painkiller inasmuch as Cathy is experiencing acute emotional pain right now in this chapter.

This is an interesting chapter, largely built on flashbacks, of both characters and events, triggered by Cal's visit.  She is afraid of him, and she recalls other instances of fear.  There's a problem here, though.  I've wondered it on previous readings, sensing a short sight of Steinbeck's, but I think I've got it now.  Cathy is terrified (that tame fear of one well-acquainted with the emotion--such an acquaintance as can only be had not by frequent, but CONSTANT, fear--and who possesses great self-control), and the fear comes from those who know something about her or who are clever enough to put two and two together.  If she just left, it would be done, and she could start over again.  So here is the only question for this chapter:

Why does Cathy Ames--Kate--not skip town with her cash and find a new life and freedom in, as she repeats in her mind, New York and remain in her little Gollum's cave, where she is susceptible to the dangers of those she fears?


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Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Wall -- the OLD wall

Most of you will remember "The Wall."  Thanks to Portia and Sevonna Brown, I was able to take it with me when we left Michigan.  For anyone else who's taking a look here, "bricks" like these were funny quotations from class, reminders, or just silly drawings instead of careful notetaking. 

Regardless of the funny, anonymous comment I got for the former wall picture, I thought that it would make a lot more sense to do it this way than the old way.

Each week--or every so often, more likely--I'll change the header picture to a photo of another brick from the old SASA wall.  (I'm sorry to the bricks' original creators, I have credits for only a couple of them.)

A couple others:

artist unknown

"Kandiliciousness," by Tyler Darland;
"Hey, Handsome," by Chris Largent

Got a BRICK?  Send it here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Invention of HUGO CABRET

I am consistently amazed by how much my wife and my son are alike.  Sometimes I think my son and I have nothing in common.  He likes action figures.  He likes comic books.  He's got a super-hero complex.  The only reason he likes Legos is to play with the final product--nothing to do with the joy of building.  I liked to draw.  He likes to color.  I play the drums.  He prefers to sing (or his version of singing, and only themes from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Iron Man, etcetera).  How great it was then when my sister came along for a visit over the weekend of my brother's wedding and dropped off, "for you and Jacob to read together," she said, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.  Jacob and I both sunk our teeth into it, and, for us, devoured it in near record time (about five sittings of an hour or so each).

The story is that of Hugo Cabret (duh), adolescent time-keeper and local thief, clandestine both, for a train station in Paris.  An inventor he is, which talent he inherited from his dead father, which he maintains through repair work on a discovered magician's automaton, which subsequently, he believes, will reveal some final words of wisdom or life-answers from his father; the automaton was originally discovered by his father, who began its repair and left it to Hugo upon his death.

As Hugo, via parts stolen from a train station toy shop, finalizes the repairs on the automaton, the book starts weaving into its plot the early history of cinema, which becomes the primary subject of the book, and the hook of its mystery.

The things most attractive to my boy: the fantastic illustrations, blended with stills from old movies, but mostly the action and mystery.  The story is great for the action and mystery.  He loved it.  I loved.

The things I liked best: the same.  And the early cinema history was really cool, too.  (Woo-hoo!  Something in common!)

Two thumbs up from each of us.

As far as the old movies go, check out Georges Melies, and his most famous flick, A Trip to the Moon.  Even after all the adventure and intrigue of the read, the culminating moment for Jacob and me, and here my daughter joined us, and with slightly more fervor than for the actual reaing (though she did like the pictures), came after having finished the book.  We found A Trip to the Moon on youtube.  (And I never thought I'd say this:) heaven bless the youtube!

East of Eden XXXIX -- chpt39: Caleb Trask, SUPER HERO

Reading Questions
Chapter 39.1
  1. "It is one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing and still not believe it."  While this quotation is in reference to the collective consciousness of the community, which individual of the story triumphs in a similar way?
  2. The revelation of Cal's humanity in this and the previous chapter is startling and heart-warming.  Steinbeck appears to be requiring a balance in this character, such that he that is most capable of bad is also the most capable of good, a balance that so many of the other characters lack.  Cathy, for example, is imbalanced in nearly an equal, opposite manner as Adam, as if the two of them make one whole.  Aron is similar, and seems to require a doppelganger, though it seems unlikely to be Cal (true definition of doppelganger, here).  Are there other characters, like Cal, who are their own and complete without the balance of another?
  3. What tremendous reason does Cal have for being glad that he was in jail overnight?
  4. This moment of sharing between Cal and Adam is along the same lines of an earlier discussion regarding the falling of giants.  How does a giant's fall make him more human, approachable, and, in Cal's case for his father, loveable?
  5. Maybe it's not possible to imagine this moment without being a father; if you're not, project yourself into Adam.  Empathize.  When Cal goes into the kitchen to make coffe, what is Adam thinking and, more importantly--infinitely more importantly--what is he feeling?

Chapter 39.2
  1. What about Kate's (Cathy's) hands?
  2. Who is the father of the twins?  The answer, any one of three possible choices, can strengthen, weaken, or disregard (only one) the point of Timshel.  I vouch for strengthen.
  3. Cal, as heroic and brave as his father--while just as cowardly and afraid--says it: "I don't think the light hurts your eyes.  I think you're afraid."
  4. What is her fear, now Cal has seen and known her?


  1. Why does Cal walk at night?
  2. What makes Cal more capable of dealing with the information about his mother than Aron?
  3. Discuss Cal's fear compared to his brother's or his father's.
  4. Did Cal "indulge" in the activities of Kate's place?
  5. Why does Lee answer Cal's questions?  Would Adam have approved?  Is Lee contradicting his employer?
  6. Why does Lee get so upset with Cal as he's leaving his room?  Which characteristics of his father's does Cal have, and what of his mother's?  Is there a naturally dominant side?
  7. Consider the second line of the chapter, "If he had been an only child or if Aron had been a different kind of boy...," in tandem with the previous question regarding Lee's action.  The idea is that if things had been different early in Cal's life, Cal wouldn't be who he is right now.  Apply this concept to Cathy.  What if she had had a sibling like Aron, or a mentor like Lee, or even a father more like Adam?  Is it possible that, once upon a time, she possessed the necessary traits, and had they been fostered differently, to be a less evil person?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cowboys & Aliens

Awesome, right?


Or so I thought for the first five seconds of the trailer, and would have thought still had not the trailer shown Harrison Ford, as well as the names, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, and Steven Spielberg all associated with it.  Not that each of these is above reproach.  They've all had their share of rotten movies, but something about the ridiculousness of this concept paired with the faith of these four men enough to put their names, and in the case of Ford, his face, with it, tells me Cowboys & Aliens could really work, and who better than the gutsy nut, Jon Favreau.  Unfortunately, I can't say that I have yet quite the faith in Daniel Craig and even Favreau alone, at least by long term reputation, and much less Sam Rockwell to lean the whole tent on them, though each of them has done pretty good stuff, and I totally love Iron Man.


It all begs a bigger question:  Why do I care so much?  The movie's not out yet.  I've only seen two minutes of  montage.  How can that, let alone the cast and production crew (active or just figurehead), really indicate quality?

Creature Tech, by Doug TenNapel
It ain't so much about quality.  Sometimes a movie's good just because it is.  Last night I watched the new Clash of the Titans.  It was a terrible movie.  Really.  The thing's garbage.  I like the original better, and that's not nostalgia speaking.  But I loved it!  I had a blast.  It was ridiculous.  Manly.  Over the top.  Fun.  Stupid.  Exactly what I needed last night.

Yes, there is a place for crappy movies, and I don't care how crappy this one may or may not be, and here's why:

DOUG TENNAPEL, who was introduced to me by my wise big sister.

Haven't read him?  Pick up Creature Tech, and tell me it isn't an early iteration of the coming cinematographic attraction.  Read the book and tell me truthfully that you didn't like it, even if it's the epitome of B-movie-in-book-form schlock.  Do it!

Here's the trailer to the movie, by the way.

East of Eden XXXVII -- chpt37: LETTUCE-HEAD

Reading Questions
Chapter 37.1
  1. Why did Lee never fully unpack before now?
  2. Notice, via Adam's obsession with ice, that Sam Hamilton yet lives, and will likely live eternally.
  3. There is great potential irony in a business plan regarding refrigeration, especially in the context of a book that has one family of immortals and another family recently resurrected.
  4. It comes out: how does Will really feel about his father?  Also, it is very easy and natural for a reader to highly idealize both Sam and Tom; look at it from the other side, and instead of villainizing Will, defend him.
  5. Is Will right?  When people ask advice, do the really only want the advisor to agree with them?
Chapter 37.2
  1. Adam's smile here after the news of the lettuce reminds me an awful lot of the smile he wore after gaining freedom from his wife.
  2. The whole episode of the lettuce makes me uncomfortable the way a situational comedy makes me uncomfortable.  In such a comedy, I know what's going to happen, and there's nothing I can do about it, and if the victim only followed sound advice to begin with, wasn't quite so stubborn, and possessed an only slightly greater portion of intelligence--which intelligence every reader of this book believes he/she possesses--it wouldn't happen!  But there's an issue of fate going on here.  Was Adam fated to lose this investment?  Whether yes or no, how does this play with the themes of the book, especially that of Timshel?
  3. As Adam is deemed a fool, how might he feel about being a "fool like Sam Hamilton?"
Chapter 37.3
  1. Dad fails and Aron moans and groans, and the trouble leads him to second guess everything about his father, including his love.  Dad fails, and what will Cal do, if his personality indeed dictates his actions?

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