Monday, October 14, 2019

Reader's Diary #2092- Unknown British author: The Three Sillies

My mother used to reference the old British folk tale "The Three Sillies" quite often when I was a child but as an adult I haven't found too many others familiar with the story.

It tells of a man who is courting a daughter and one day while visiting her family discovers them crying over the future fate of a grandchild who may be injured by a mallet that is lodged in the ceiling and which, they assume, could someday fall on his head. (The version I was always told had an axe, not a mallet.) Of course the obvious and sensible solution rather than crying about it would be to simply remove the mallet. The courting man mocks them and sets upon a challenge of his own devising to travel far and find three folks who are sillier. Should he be successful he wishes to marry the daughter. (Why he'd want to marry into such a silly family anyway, I'm not sure-- doesn't sound like he's the sharpest tool in the shed either.)

Of course he is successful, managing to find a series of humorously silly (i.e., dumb) individuals. You can see why kids would enjoy the story of idiocy and slapstick, though being an old folktale it has its share of violence (even in this version which tried to sanitize the axe into a mallet). And I guess there's a moral about simply fixing a problem with the most obvious and easy solution, but I just remember it from my childhood for being funny, not because of any profound lesson.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2091- Sean Michaels: Us Conductors

I have a thing for rare, unusual musical instruments and the theremin is one of my favourites. I mentioned this recently to a friend of mine who suggested I read Sean Michaels' Us Conductors, a historical novel based upon the Russian inventor Lev Termen.

Largely why the book works so well though isn't the allure of this odd instrument, but the odd character of Termen. On the one hand he's a scientist, full of facts and figures. On the other he's a romantic. The latter, however, also makes him rather annoying. It's a story of unrequited love, told by Termen to the object of his desire, Clara Rockmore, one of the few world masters of the theremin. Annoying, by the way, isn't a critique of the book but rather the authentic type of toxic masculinity in which men can't take no for an answer. Not a surprising personality trait coming from a guy that literally found something that wasn't there in the music of his invention. It's also a trait that arguably kept him alive. Once he's sent to the Siberian gulags for being mistaken as a spy against Russia (he was, in fact, a spy for Russia), it's arguably the misguided hope for a reunion with Clara that keeps him going.

Spies, weird musical instruments, unrequited love? It sounds like it should be a wonderful novel. And I did enjoy it, but I did find it at times to be unfocused, a bit of, "all this for what?" Still Michaels' writing was crisp and his attention to detail was quite engaging.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #2090- Sadat Hasan Manto: Toba Tek Singh

Sadat Hasan Manto's short story Toba Tek Singh is about an insane asylum patient (the titular character) who has heard news that the inmates are either going to be moved to Pakistan or to India based on whether they are Muslim or Sikh. Toba Tek Singh however is very stressed and perplexed by this info as he has no idea where the place her previously called home was considered Pakistan or India. Finally the answer is revealed to put Toba in conflict.

It's as relevant now and here as it any time, any place as we, as a species, love to draw political maps that don't always coincide with cultures. It's a curious story though and I feel that perhaps some of the finer satirical points are lost on me, perhaps due to its translation. Why, for example, did it need to be set in asylum?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2089- Gerard Way (writer), Gabriel Bá (artist): Umbrella Academy Apocalypse Suite

It's been out for a while, but I hadn't really been interested in reading Gerard Way's graphic novel Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite until I head it was adapted for a Netflix show.

I get the appeal though, it borrows heavily from the X-Men but with a smaller, more manageable cast and a goth, almost steampunk aesthetic. However, I feel like I enjoyed the world building more than the plot of this particular arc. It's particularly strong when Way goes way over the top in the mini-stories along the way, but the main tale about a rogue member of the Umbrella Academy-- one previously outcast for not having any super-abilities-- who discovers a hidden talent and turns villainous, falls flat with a lot of build-up and too-quick resolution. Nonetheless, the series itself has a lot of potential.