"Calcium Made Interesting; Sketches, Letters, Essays, and Gondolas," by Graham Chapman

Monty Python is incomparable. 'The Fish Slapping Dance', 'How Not To Be Seen,' 'Silly Olympics', 'Woody Words', and 'Upper Class Twit of the Year' all come to mind when I think on the happy hours spent with Monty Python's Flying Circus; John Cleese yelling, Eric Idle singing about money, 'rolling against the thigh with rough familiarity,' Terry Jones in drag, whacking a spoon against the coffee urn when the vikings start singing in 'Spam', Terry Gilliam's strange and hilarious illustrations, Micheal Palin in the 'Lumberjack', and Graham Chapman as a military man stopping skits when they became too silly or wrestling with himself.

"Calcium Made Interesting," is an 'anthology of his eclectic and unique life, lived with sincerity, anarchy, intent, and true comic genius'. Anything to do with Monty Python interests me and when I saw this book in the bargain section of a local book store I took it home. Graham Chapman always seemed to fit the ideal English gentleman in a lot of his skits, and this book really solidified for me. He lived his life by a different set of rules, and had his own demons to deal but that didn't alienate him from the people that knew him best and loved him.

It's a collection that you can open any where and start to read, and, tho its a peek behind the scenes that illuminates the bad and the good, and at times, an enjoyable one. I was used to seeing Graham Chapman as simply the man dressed in drag sitting on a couch with John Cleese discussing penguins but after this collection I realized, between the Python and the doctor/father/writer/loony, there wasn't much difference, just an expansion of view.

I can't tell you wether I am glad I have read the book or not. I disagree with Mr Chapman on a lot and agree with him about a little, but that's not really the point of the book and he would be the first to say 'I don't care.' I love Monty Python a lot, and Mr. Graham Chapman was a funny, wonderful, brilliant part of it all, and that's where I will leave it.

"All of these incidents actually happened, but I've realized that the only way people are likely to believe them is to pretend that I'm lying."

-Graham Chapman

 

 

"Love Among the Artists," by Bernard Shaw

Bernard Shaw is a great favorite of mine; reading "Major Barbara", in high school affected my view of morality and religion deeply and "Pygmalion", is in the top end of my list of favorite romantic works. To me, he has a persuasive and earnest way of writing that is assisted by extensive personal study and experience of the World.

As the title proclaims, "Love among the Artists", is a love story but not one with easy relationships or star crossed events. Instead it is a fascinating treatise on varying degrees of artistic temperament and striving to live within, or in defiance of, the bounds of Victorian England's polite society

As it is primarily a collection of character studies, with realism and wit, you are witness to conversations, secrets, choices, and gradual growth as the story lines are wound together. The discussions about artistic inspiration and the revelations of the character's self-knowledge were what I enjoyed most, and I appreciated this book for it's well drawn characters; their lives unfolding with veracity and rare humor. An intelligent and satisfying read.

 

"Does Mozart's music express me? If not, what does it matter to me wether it is better or worse? I must make my own music, such as it is or such as I am-and I would as soon be myself as Mozart or Beethoven or any of them."

-Owen Jack, "Love Among the Artists".

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Poisoned Relations," by Georges Simenon

The novel begins with a young girl Genvieve praying to the Virgin Mary in a church. The Author then follows her home, and sees her drawn back into the tangles of lies and hate and of secrecy that has been poisoning her family for many years. With terrible insight and emotional writing, Georges Simeon draws out the foulness of lives lived with the poison of hate. 

As I was reading this slim volume it occurred to me that it was a fit of madness. I began by disliking the main character and despising her weakness over what appeared to be nothing. When I was introduced to her family I began to pity her, and her decisions towards the end, tho a twist of logic, were strangely poignant. The emotions in this book are stifling; tightening 'round you as you read and thinning the air. It was a quick read and when I had finished I closed it and shrugged off the whole as though shaking myself awake from a bad dream. I can't recommend it as a light read, or a happy one but if you are sitting somewhere and wish to read about a spiral down with little redemption....

It was my first novel by Georges Simeon and I confess I am interested in picking up more of his titles; they have a deepening, and thrall like way of drawing me in against my will that speaks of a masterly hand.

6 Authors That Gave Me My Macabre Sense Of Humor and Helped Me Grow Up.

Number One: Terry Pratchett

There are many things for which I must thank, most sincerely, Sir. Terry Pratchett, now sadly deceased. The two things mentioned in this blog heading of course, but much much more. His novels are mostly centered on an imaginary place called Discworld, a flat earth carried on the back of elephants standing on a turtle slowly traveling through space. He uses footnotes which contain humorous off roads and side stories, his satirical fantasy world is brimming with puns, literary and folkloric allusions, historical references, and influences from classic fantasy, and best of all he has imaginative and brilliantly important theories and themes that invite you deep within.

His novel "Thud," is centered around the deep mistrust and hatred of two races, Dwarves and Trolls, an imminent war, and a history that is recognizable but handled with sharp wit, literary care, and tangible hope. "Small Gods," tells of a farcical religion's upheaval from the inside out by a sincere believer in a god that is only powerful as long as people have faith in him.  I mention him in this list because I read his books at a crucial time, when I was questioning a lot of things that I had been taught and many things that I was beginning to believe to be true. He came in a recognizable form; in folklore, with wit, and through the written word. I will always love his books. RIP Sir. Terry Pratchett.

Number Two: Isak Dinesen 

True Gothic Literature, at least in my opinion, is best from the past, Mary Shelly, Wilkie Collins, John Bellairs, Edgar Allen Poe, Fyoder Dostoyevsky to name a few. "Seven Gothic Tales," by Isak Dinesen are metaphorical, romantic, and emotive, and lifted a typical teenager's angst out of her foolish self and into the height of fine literature. Reading her short stories spun with dexterous hands, my head was filled with much richer, and far more beautiful, and more real ideas of passion than what I was experiencing wandering the yellow lit halls of my high school, peering into the library to see if He was there, murmuring habitual conversation to my fellow 'undevelopeds', and then wandering out into the field to sit under the trees and puzzle through the harsh wrongness of all my daily actions. I am happy to say I am much more well adjusted. Well. More anyways.

Number Three: Shel Silverstein

Do you remember "Where The Sidewalk Ends", "A Light in the Attic" and "Falling up"? I remember sitting his thick collections across my school-socked knees when I was in elementary school and reading to my mum as we whipped around doing errands in her eleven seater van. He was the author of the famous story "The Giving Tree," which is beautiful and touching. He is also the author of the poem, "Monsters" in which a father solves his little boys worries about the monsters under his bed by getting eaten by them, and "The Googies are Coming," in which you learn that the going rate to buy children to eat is 'fifteen cents for dirty ones' and 'a nickle each for mean ones'. What I loved most about Shel Silverstein is that even tho he wrote for children he didn't write down to them. His poetry was humorous and silly but read as tho he was thinking aloud ridiculous things and writing them down. His style was conversational to me. If you have never read his stuff I highly suggest doing so and reading 'em out loud is even more fun.

 

Number Four: Lewis Carroll

"Alice in Wonderland," was, and is, one of my first books that I truly adored and read till it fell apart. Besides the obvious example of the Red Queen and her catch phrase of 'off with their head', the book has a lot of other little examples of delightful morbidity which continues on into the sequel, "Through the Looking Glass." The entire story, nonsensical tho it has been described, is written in an intelligent and purposeful way. Lewis Carroll is another children's author that doesn't write down to his audience but rather understands and cares for their point of view. The Mock Turtle, Mad Hatter, and the Red King; it's all upside down and sideways but the best of it is that Alice, a small girl, is the only one that seems to be capable and rational, in her own way. I've read that Carroll wanted to write something different as most books written for children of his age were long tedious sermons on children's behavior, and it seems to be true. The adult figures in the novel aren't to be depended on for anything. They are either throwing pans at each other, dreaming up nonsensical things, or having tea parties were everyone is mad. At any rate he created a sinister, and twisted world that is delightfully lacking in rules but is traversed safely by a little girl who keeps her head and uses her common sense. Doesn't get much better than that.

 

Number Five: Roald Dahl

Most everyone has heard of the famous Roald Dahl. From "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," to "Matilda" and "The BFG." (There is a teaser trailer out for The BFG and I REALLY hope they do a good job with it because it's my favorite one) Most all of his novels show that he has a sense of humor that is grounded in nasty people having nasty things happen to them. All you have to do is read the bit in "James and the Giant Peach," about his terrible aunts getting flattened and you know that you're settling in for some classic Dahlism. I have encountered some people who believe that Roald Dahl writes too much from the children's point of view, and that his stories are devoid of moral lessons and social formation necessary for children. l disagree. The heroic children have good sense, courage, and many admirable qualities. The ugliness, badness, and terrible behavior that is so often rightly punished in his stories is not only reserved for the adult characters, tho that is a definite theme. The children who exhibit what are considered awful habits and behaviors in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," are punished with being stretched, dumped down a garbage chute, and being shrunk to the size of a small mouse. In conclusion I applaud Roald Dahl's ability to write children stories for children and encourage their self-growth and self-realization. Three cheers for 'Human Beans', 'The Shrinks', and making medicines out of floor polish and gin!

 

Number Six: Beatrix Potter

You may not agree with me on this one. Her name may conjure up beautiful watercolors and little animals in waistcoats and bows. However, her stories, now that I read them to children as an adult, have a quality that I never realized; their ability to tell the story from the animal's point of view. Many anthropomorphic tales give more human qualities than non to animals but her characters are more similar to "Watership Down" than you would expect from a simple children's story. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle may have been a hedgehog washer woman but her client Sally Henny Penny has worn out her stockings from scratching in the yard. Jemima Puddleduck's story begins with her trying to find a place to lay her eggs, a very natural thing to do, and having them consequently found and confiscated by the farmer's wife because Jemima is a 'poor sittter'. She then follows the advice of a fox who has private plans to eat her. Mrs. Potter doesn't leave out the violent actions of the animal characters which makes me guess she had a sardonic sense of humor. In "The Tale of Samuel Whiskers", Tom Kitten has a run in with two rats who live under the floorboards and try to make him into a pudding for crying out loud. They even have a discussion over 'wether the knots (of the rope they tied the kitten up with) would have proved indigestible.' Two thumbs way up.

Alfred Lord Tennyson and New Year Resolutions

My New Year resolution? Read more poetry before bed to end my day well and in hopes of having wonderful dreams.

 

 

"...Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

-'Ulysses', Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

 

"...Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,

And the long mountains ended in a coast

Of ever-shifting sand, and far away

The phantom circle of a moaning sea.

There the pursuer could pursue no more,

And he that fled no further fly the King;

And there, that day when the great light of heaven

Burn'd at his lowest in the rolling year,

On the waste sand by the waste sea they closed.

Nor ever yet had Arthur fought a fight

Like this last, dim, weird battle of the west.

A deathwhite mist slept over sand and sea:

Whereof the chill, to him who breathed it, drew

Down with his blood, till all his heart was cold

With formless fear; and ev'n on Arthur fell

Confusion, since he saw not whom he fought."

-"Idylls of the King", Alfred Lord Tennyson