A Word from Further off the Path

So this project, which was to be about reading books I own and blogging about them, has so far consisted mostly of reading books I don’t own and not blogging about them.

I was going – I really was – to write a little after-report of The Phantom of the Opera. I was going to say intelligent things about the mystery genre and the tendency of its storylines to be plausible physically but psychologically utterly bizarre, taking Ellery Queen as a comparison-case.

I was going to say a thing or so, too, about the first film version (which I saw many years ago, and then again after I was done with the book), and about the peculiar interaction between the descriptions of the book and the half-memories of other images, so that although the Persian was described as black-skinned I saw him like this:

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And although Christine was described as blonde I saw her like this:

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And although Erik was described as having eyes so sunken as to be invisible, I saw him like… well, this:

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(Lon Chaney’s makeup is remarkable, but it’s also kind of sui generis; I find his appearance hard to connect directly to that described in the book.)

I was going to watch a recording of the Lloyd Webber musical (of which I have no previous knowledge except for the 2004 film and enraged fan reactions thereto), and try to say something intelligent about that.

I was, in other words, going to make something come of all this.

Instead, I’m cluttering my AO3 account with unfortunate fanfic (no, you may not read it; I’m doing my best to keep that identity separate). And reading Trilby, about which more later if it doesn’t drive me nutzoid. (Srsly, I can’t read French anyway, so asking me to read French in a spelled-out Teutonic accent is just unkind.)

(Also, that opening page. Gah, that opening page. I thought I’d opened up The Picture of Dorian Gray by mistake.)

(Or do all late-Victorian novels open with a scene like that? Dorian Gray may be the only other one I’ve ever read.)

(The pictures sure are pretty, though.)

Джалло! (or, This Blog Jumps the Shark)

So I may have mentioned that I have been imbibing an awful lot of The Phantom Project lately, and maybe kind of it gets in the blood. Now those reviews – take heed before you dare to click here! or here! – are remarkably spoilerriffic. I don’t mind this, by and large, because 87.3% of the works in question are things I a) will never, ever read/watch, b) already know the ending to, or c) both. (O hai there, Love Never Dies.)

But then there was the review of Dance Macabre (sic!), which makes a huge deal of warning about the spoiler. I found this sufficiently out of character that I actually stopped reading and resolved to track down a copy. Luckily, it was available at my sister’s library as one of those “from the vaults” DVD-Rs.

I had some hassles getting the thing to play, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, some notes on the film. This is half my own, actual thoughts and half me holding the envelope to my forehead and predicting what Anne’s review is going to say once I finally give in and read it. So:

  • Ignore the Russian setting and crew: this is a giallo. The whole thing – the plot, the camerawork, the music, the queer non-literal lighting – resembles what would hypothetically have happened if Mario Bava had made a crappy movie. I dig this pretty hard: I’m inclined to feel the same way about Bava as Yasuhiro Nightow feels about nori.
  • Related, though not identical, to the above: Is this film drawing some pretty overt parallels with Suspiria, or do all horror movies set in European ballet schools just kind of resemble each other by accident? Including having American protagonists named Jessica?
  • Speaking of names, I find it interesting that the first two murder victims (the ones whose deaths were passed off as disappearances) are Claudine and Angela. These have pretty overt Phantomy connotations: “Claudine” resembles “Claudin,” the surname of the Phantom character in the 1943 film, and “Angela” requires no explanation. (I still have no idea what this all means. It could be a coincidence: they are both very ethnic names belonging to very ethnic characters.)
  • About the big twist: I had an inkling of it about the second time Madame appeared, and I’d full-on guessed it just shy of fifteen minutes into the movie. This is after taking care to avoid all spoilers (I didn’t even read the back of the DVD case). Knowing that there was a gimmick probably primed me a little, but honestly, it was really, really not well hidden at all.
  • I wonder if having any familiarity at all with Swan Lake would have improved my appreciation of this film. (I don’t know the story, even though I’m 100% certain I saw the ballet in my youth. And the main message I get from that music is, “You are about to watch Dracula and/or The Mummy.”)

Why So Silent?

This project is going nodamnwhere.

According to Goodreads, in my plan to read 52 books this year, I’m ten books behind. This is because I have read zero books.

I’m still theoretically in the middle of City of God and Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. But I dropped out of #CivDei weeks ago, and as for the Mackay book, I’d just forgotten how badly you can hurt a fun thing by treating it as a duty. (I shouldn’t even complain: I knew, even intended, that the emotional atmosphere of this project would be one of crimped, arbitrary legalism and chafing self-resentment. Please don’t judge me for that; judging me is my job.)

All this was more or less to be expected; as I’ve said before, I’m not a reader. But at some point I’ve got to break out of this slump. Being behind, even well behind, is one thing – but if I never read anything, then why do I even have a blog?

Enter Svengoolie

No, really. I may be aliterate, but that doesn’t mean I’m cut off from all culture; every Saturday night I spend somewhere between four and nine consecutive hours watching genre shows on MeTV. This past Saturday, that included a presentation of the 1943 Phantom of the Opera.

It turned out to be a veritable compendium of things I know, love, or admire: Claude Rains! Opera! Technicolor! A guy sacrificing and sacrificing for somebody who doesn’t know he exists and being incredibly resigned about it! Fritz Leiber’s dad, also named Fritz Leiber (which confuses people)! Hummable music! And, of course, a small but appreciable quantity of Phantomy goodness!

This leads to the following sequence of events:

  • I experience a serious relapse of Phantom Phever.
  • I attempt a cure by redevouring the work of Anne Myers (plus a bit of Phantom Reviews, for yang).
  • Predictably enough, this only makes it worse.
  • I get it in my head that I want to read the Leroux novel, because I never have (not in its entirety).
  • I bitch and moan to myself because I can’t very well read a book I want to read until I’m done with the books I told everybody I was reading.
  • I realize how silly that sounds; I’m a fscking free agent and I can read whatever book I like.
  • So there.

(Reading outside books is not technically against The Rules, anyway; it just messes with pyatiletnii plan.)

Prolly won’t do an intro post or anything “official” like that, since it’s not actually part of the project, but I may write about it if I think of something to say.

Data Post: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. By Charles Mackay. Introduction by Norman Stone. Wordsworth, 1995. 001.9.

This classic catalogue of some of the more outré enthusiasms – speculative, social, religious and just plain daft – serves as a salutary reminder that the follies of mankind are not unique to the modern world. (back cover)

My history with this book: Little to none. Somebody (I forget who) recommended it to me at some time (I forget when) for some reason (I etc.). I checked it out of the library when I was at university out west, but I never did read any part of it.

My history with this copy: Bought it used online a few years ago.

Note: Although I started City of God first, this is the actual “first” book in my library – that is to say, it has the lowest Melvil number and is the first one on the shelf.

Final Tweaks

So as I actually get into reading City of God, I realize how greatly I have overestimated my ability to read anything with any real speed. (I’m also a bit busy with classes – I’m taking Anatomy & Physiology; it’s frightening – so this is not purely a story of laziness and fail.)

Anyway, I’ve decided to stretch my three-year plan into five. This puts me at 53.2 books per year; if I read a straight 52 this year, I’ll still just have 53 or 54 to read for each of the other years. And I do mean to keep it to 52 – this is still Bible year. (At least I don’t have to tackle the dictionaries till later.)

Anyway, I hope that’s it for embarrassing news. As for happy news, my Christmas gift from Kid Sister has finally arrived.

Sara Bickley

Latecomers

Okay, so what I called the “final shape” of my library… well, isn’t. I have just received (and am, I confess, internally squeeeing about) a copy of Immemorial Silence that my uncle sent me. (Which, by the way, solves the mystery: Divine Enticement must have been from my grandma.) Apparently there was just a bartick of a shipping delay. Considering that he ordered it well before the end of the year, and the whole project’s just begun, and all that, I’d have to be awfully churlish not to stir it in. I’m told my sister has a Christmas present – possibly of the printed and bound variety – in the offing for me, too.

I have a planned procedure in place for books that people may (in ignorance or forgetfulness) give me in the future. But these, I guess, have snuck in just under the wire.

(On a personal note, I went to the grocery store today and didn’t stop by the book racks, and felt very tough and accomplished about that. I have to celebrate these small victories because, as you will – if you keep up with this blog – hear me repeat many, many times, I suck.)

This also means the number of books in the library no longer divides evenly by three. I’m going to keep 88 as my goal number for this year, though: that’s an insane enough challenge, on account of I have all those Bibles and dictionaries to get through.

Data Post: City of God

City of God (De civitate dei). By Saint Augustine. Translated by Henry Bettenson and with an introduction by G. R. Evans. Penguin, 2003. 239.3.

St Augustine, bishop of Hippo, is one of the central figures in the history of Christianity, and City of God is one of his greatest theological works. Written as an eloquent defence of the faith at a time when the Roman Empire was on the brink of collapse, it examines the ancient pagan religions of Rome, the arguments of the Greek philosophers and the revelations of the Bible. Pointing the way forward to a citizenship that transcends worldly politics and will last for eternity, City of God is one of the most influential documents in the development of Christianity. (back cover)

My history with this book: Nil.

My history with this copy: My dad bought it for me – new – for Christmas ’16. I had asked for it because I wanted to follow along with C. C. Pecknold’s upcoming Twitter seminar.