Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Tintoretto v. Tissot!

Jacopo Tintoretto
1518 - 1594


James Tissot
1836 - 1902


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Game of Reading, Redux

Last June, I introduced my plan to embark on a “Game of Reading” that would structure my reading and audiobook listening by limiting my choices to a “hand” of ten cards. To start reading a book, I would have to play an appropriate card; having done so, I would draw a new card from the “deck” in order to have ten new cards available the next time I started a book. The game was set up to encourage rereading, with the deck heavily seeded with books I had read in the past.

After I introduced the idea I checked in twice in July to tell you how it was going, but since then haven’t said a word. So, you might be a little surprised to hear I am still playing the Game of Reading. I like it a lot! It’s fun!

People give me two types of reaction when I explain the Game. A polite, mild statement to the effect that “that’s a neat idea” is the norm, indicating that the listener is hoping that I will stop talking about the Game of Reading now. The other reaction is a gleeful prediction that I will be forced into a miserable reading experience, followed by outrage that I haven’t created an actual physical deck of cards (I manage the deck in an Excel spreadsheet). This latter reaction shows that someone “gets it.”

Now, it’s true that I haven’t always been thrilled by my available choices in the moment, so far I have been uniformly delighted in retrospect about what the Game has forced me to read. Not only have I never “cheated,” I have so far never even been tempted. I got trained pretty quickly to the idea that since starting a book means playing a card, and since playing a card means drawing a card, and since drawing a card is quite fun – somewhere between opening a Christmas present and making a bet – starting a book, even a formidable book, has become quite an event.

I tinkered with and “reshuffled” the deck at the new year, when all the books I read in 2012 entered play. The individual titles now make up 331 cards. The other half, more or less, of the now 650 cards are like so:
65 Unrestricted New Book Cards
67 Genre Cards ("Science Fiction," "Western," "History," etc)
34 “International” Cards ("From the German," "From the Italian," "African," "Indian," etc)
33 Challenge Cards (a real grab-bag of categories of books that I would find difficult)
39 “Ask” Cards (In which I ask people to assign me a book.)
40 “Game” cards (Which allow or compel me to do game-like things with the cards in my hand.)
For a sample of the action, here’s what’s in my hand right now and how I’m thinking of playing the cards I’ve been dealt.

Card 263 [2016 Deck]: The Bridge on the Drina
This is a really fine novel, but it is by no means easygoing, so this card has been sitting in my hand for quite a while. I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d buy my own copy. In fact, there. I just did.
Card 498 [2016 Deck]: Ask J***
I’ve drawn six other “Ask” cards, and they’ve all been interesting and fun one way or the other. My favorite moment was when Nichim assigned me a title that wasn’t available at the library, and I asked if I could read a different book by the same author. “No,” she said. “You know how to use interlibrary loan.” She gets The Game of Reading!
I’m not sure, however, that J*** gets the Game of Reading. She assigned me Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II, I think because she was trying to force herself to read it at the time. I’ve got a library copy upstairs right now! I’ve had it for quite some time. I’ve been hoping that one of the “Game” cards would come along and let me discard it – but see Card 320, below.

Card 273 [2016 Deck]: The Time Traveler's Wife
I listened to this one the first time through, so I thought I’d eye-read it this time. I had it out from the library for a while, but didn’t get around to playing the card.
Card 78 [2016 Deck]: Rabbit Redux
One of the rules of the Game is that for serial fiction, a card can be used for any entry in the series. My logical choices for Card 78 would be to try again with Rabbit is Rich, which I abandoned halfway through the first time around, or to go back to the original, Rabbit, Run. I broke for the former, and have an audio version ready to go.
Christmas Free Book!
To facilitate Deck maintenance and allow for the possibility of incoming gift books, I gave myself two unrestricted free books for Christmas. I used one of them on Adam Thorpe’s Ulverton, which incidentally I found pretty darn interesting. This second one is still in my hand – you don’t want to be careless with your unrestricted cards!
Card 457: Other Non-Fiction
Yeah, I wasn’t sure what “Other Non-Fiction” meant either. From context, I figured out that I meant “Non-Fiction Other Than History.” My plan was to use this card to listen to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (which, despite the title, is not really history in the conventional sense). Then, oddly, I drew Card 331, A Short History of Nearly Everything, so I’m currently using that card to listen to the Bryson. That freed up this card, for which I’ve downloaded a well-reviewed book about materials science.
Card 497: Unrestricted New Book
I drew this card ten days ago. Who knows what I’ll do with it!
Card 320: Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
I really can’t see myself reading this book a second time. It replaces Munich, 1938 as the book that I’ll pitch overboard first if one of the Game cards gives me the option. That means that drawing this card puts more pressure on me to actually read J***’s selection. Maybe that’s a good thing!
Card 321: Resurrection Men (Inspector Rebus, #13)
Yay, serial detective fiction! I’ve downloaded Standing in Another Man’s Grave, the 18th Inspector Rebus novel, and am looking forward to a fresh installment of Scottish gloom.
Card 396: Unrestricted New Book
I drew this a few hours ago, when I played the Timon of Athens card that I’d been sitting on for a few months. It felt like virtue rewarded to decide on the difficult text and receive the reward of being able to read whatever I want sometime in the near future. Of course, if I wasn’t playing the Game of Reading, I could always read whatever I wanted. But if I wasn’t playing the Game of Reading, it wouldn’t be such a treat!

And that’s the state of play. What are you reading, lately?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Smith v. Sodoma!

David Smith
1906 - 1965

Beat Frans Snyders by a single vote in Round 1. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi)
1477 - 1549

Defeated living French artist Pierre Soulages in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Disillusionment of Wednesday II

Today, we continue our odd project of writing bad criticism of Wallace Stevens's perfectly respectable poem "The Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock."  No one knows why.

Here's one of mine!  Send yours to me, Michael5000, at Michael5000 \at\ gmail!

The Disillusionment of Wallace Stevens

The Wallace Stevens poem "Disillusionment of Ten o'Clock” is a howl of protest against negation, a condemnation of an aspect of reality that is not. Why, Stevens demands, are we not clad in colorful garments; why do we not, in the “houses” of our worldly existence, display ourselves in a manner that befits our status as individuals, wearing bright tones with contrasting stripes? Instead, we haunt our own passages wearing lifeless white, which is of course the color of that most conformist of animals, the sheep. Whereas, who is dressed in the vivid stripes of individuality? The predatory Tiger, of course, his orange and black stripes bathed gruesomely in the “red weather” of his rampage through the flock. And, if we have here Blake’s tyger “burning bright” against the vapid uniformity of the flock, then who is it that captures the beast, who beseeches of himself – one pictures him holding up the great cat by the scruff of its neck to make eye contact – “did I who made the lamb make thee?” It is God, of course, dismissed by Stevens as a sodden, worn-down sailor, drunk and unconscious. His creation devolved into dull drudgery on one hand and savagery on the other, the creator abandons the middle ground lamented by Stevens and drifts off into an alcoholic stupor – which was, perhaps not coincidentally, often Wallace’s own escape from the contradictions of his business life (sheep-like, or perhaps tyger-like) and his literary career (tyger-like, or perhaps sheep like).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Third Round: Popova v. Rego!

We had two tiebreakers going -- they do come in pairs, after all -- in Second Round Elimination.  The top one, with Ghiberti going up against Raeburn, has ended in a tie, leaving poor Bouguereau drumming his fingers as he has been since 'aught fourteen.  In the lower tiebreaker, however, Ljubov Popova pulled away from William Holman Hunt in late voting and moves on to the Left Bracket Third.  She'll take on Portugal's Paula Rego, who was racking up votes in her early outings until she ran into Rafael, and we'll see who survives!

Ljubov Popova
1889 - 1924

Paula Rego
Born 1935
  • Demolished Ad Reinhardt in Round 1.
  • Nicked Odilon Redon by a single vote in Round 2. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Stomped by Raphael in Round 3.


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Through History With the New Monday Quiz: the 1380s

This quiz about the 1380s doesn't have a single question about hit movies or popular music.  However, it does take us to within a decade of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg.  It's not too too long now until the texture of history, or at least our access to it, begins to take on a new shape.

In the meantime, things are really settling down now that the Mongols made their point!

1. The Genoese thought they had beaten their rival sea empire into submission in the late 1370s, but on June 24, 1380, they lost almost their entire war fleet of 23 galleys at the Battle of Chioggia. This left a power vacuum into which the rivals expanded aggressively, becoming one of the major players of the late middle ages. Who did Genoa lose out to at Chioggia?

2. In exceedingly rough terms, it seems to be about now – the 1380s, more or less – that the last small habitable areas of the planet were discovered and settled, thus more or less completing the human occupation of the planet. Where, generally speaking, were these last pieces of land to receive the human footprint?

3. On June 13 and 14, 1381, a group of English peasants led by Wat Tyler, disgruntled by what they saw as corrupt rule, a restrictive social order, and unfair taxes, stormed London. They killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor, opened prisons, and destroyed public records. Young King Richard II, age 14, calmly and courageously met with the rebels and agreed to a slate of reforms including fair rents and the abolition of serfdom.
What happened on June 15?

4. In 1382, the city of Sofia fell to the Ottomans. The locals wouldn’t really get it back until they reestablished their national identity in the 1870s. Of what modern country is Sofia the capital?

5. A firm supposedly began operation in Munich in in 1383 that would eventually, after many commercial twists and turns, become an important asset of Anheuser-Busch InBev! Its product is currently sold under this logo:
What well-known product is still made in the Munich city center?

6. I wouldn’t have guessed that John Wycliffe died a natural death, but he did! He passed away after a stroke on the last day of 1384, aged 64. His body was later dug up and ritually desecrated, mind you, but there’s a school of thought that holds that torture loses most of its effectiveness after death.
Who was John Wycliffe?

7. On August 14, 1385, a Castillian army of more than 30,000 was routed by a well-led force of less than 7000 at the Battle of Aljubarrota. This watershed event goes a long way towards explaining why there are two modern countries on a piece of land where you might expect there to only be one. What country put the kibosh on Castille’s claim to its throne on that hot August day?

8. “Timur's armies were inclusively multi-ethnic and were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which were laid waste by his campaigns. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population.” Who was Timur?

9. It begins
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour...

And it was probably begun in 1387. As far as we know, it was never even close to finished, yet it is still in print today. Name that work!

10. General Yi Seong-gye, commanded in 1388 to lead the armies of Goryeo on what he regarded a pointless and reckless invasion to the north, instead “turned back the army from Wihwa Island” (it’s a bit of a proverb) and led them right into the capital. He demanded, and got, the abdication of the very succinctly named King U. This was the beginning of the end for the 475 year reign of the Goryeo Dynasty. When General Yi took the throne himself four years later, he renamed his country the Kingdom of Great Joseon. What do we call it today?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1370s

1. Oldest Treaty: England and Portugal
2. New city for the Khmer: Phnom Penh
3. Father and Son tension: the Byzantines
4. Important civil servant: Chaucer
5. the failing Marinids: Morocco
6. Catherine and Gregory: Gregory returned the Papal Court to Rome
7. John of Gaunt: Major British power broker and kingmaker, and not coincidentally father of a future king.
8. The art: (1) Italy, (2) England -- which was probably more 1390s than 1370s, actually, (3) China, (4) Egypt
9. Ayutthaya + Sukhothai = Thailand
10. knock the schnozz off of the Sphinx.

Out of the three overt quiz-takers, I do believe the title for Lord Emperor of the 1370s goes to Morgan!  Look on his answers, ye mortals, and despair.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Tiepolo v. Tinguely!

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
1696 - 1770


Jean Tinguely
1928 - 1991


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.