Category Archives: Books

How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to VerseHow to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse by Thomas C. Foster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn to read poetry like a professor, but I requested a review copy of this some months before publication – I didn’t win that particular book lottery, but got it on my own anyway.

I set this aside to read Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled first, which made a world of difference in my reception of Foster’s work. While not as lyrical nor as educated as Fry’s, Foster nonetheless does a good job covering many bases. I was disappointed in the attention to “free verse”, as that is and will like be ever baffling as to how it is even considered poetry (Foster says that what makes free verse “verse and not merely free” is “rules”…and does precious little to explain those rules).

And on Cummings, Foster says of “anyone lived in a pretty how town”

Before we leave that passage, it would be unfair to not admit that it is a whole lot of fun to say, even if you stumble. Maybe because you stumble. Stumbling is half the fun. Therein lies the secret to Cummings’s charm: he leaves you baffled but smiling.

Well, actually… I could not disagree more. I find Cummings the height of irritating. And I’m not smiling.

I’m cherry picking…there is a lot here and Foster treats it lightly (a lot lighter than non-professor Fry). His humor grates after a while, but it’s still a good resource. And I am sure now¬† that I don’t want to read poetry like a professor. Even with the two books under my belt, I don’t know how much poetry I will or want to read.

But, I can still recommend this book.

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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet WithinThe Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I try to get outside my comfort zone sometimes and I got this a couple of years ago to do just that but didn’t get too far. I was told …by several people…that I had to read it out loud. So…it languished for a while. Then I found out that Stephen Fry read it himself for an audiobook. I’ll listen to lecture series, but audiobooks are not my thing.

Until this one. I read along with Mr. Fry. I loved his voice and he really made his words come alive. For a book on poetry, his prose was better than any poem I have ever read. And he gets into such technicalities! “iamb, the trochee, the pyrrhic, and the spondee […] anapest and the dactyl, the molossus, the tribach, the amphibrach and the amphimacer”…sounds like a biology lesson.

He doesn’t spend much time on “free verse”, which is what I really need explained to me – rhymeless, meterless words are…well…not poems. But that’s my failing.

I learned a lot (apart from the entire subject, “ullage” is not a word I encounter in casual reading!) Hearing him read while I read along was eminently helpful. I don’t intend to write anything as he suggests, beyond my sometimes witty and sometimes just groaning limericks, and I don’t know how much I’ll read, but I do think I’ll return to this again.

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Ringworld by Larry Niven – the Classic revisited

RingworldRingworld by Larry Niven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t remember when I read this originally. Long time ago. It broke another reader’s block spell, which is another plus to one of the best science fiction novels written. I don’t reveal plot in my fiction reviews, because I think that’s selling the authors short (even the ones long past), but I will note a few things…

The vegetation, as Louis had remarked, was eerily Earth-like. There were bushes where one wold expect bushes, bare spots where one would expect bare spots. According to instruments in the scooters, the plants were earthly even at the molecular level.

One of my complaints about modern science fiction, like the 2018 three-boot of Lost in Space, is this…but there’s a reason here that Niven craftily teases at. With respect to non-creative television series, I know it is to save money…thus “universal translators” and other silliness. (Maybe the LiS writers are leading to something like Earth started “out there first”?? Nah. They aren’t that imaginative.)

There is one part (no spoiler) that involves something distinctly human, distinctly earth, and distinctly pre-digital and though Niven dresses up his narrative with futuristic references, he had no idea that “test patterns” would become obsolete…

A forgotten interchange (it has been a very long time, will go into the mental toolbox:

Prill laughed. “You foolish child! You have told me yourself that your ships move very quickly next to ours.”

“They do,” said Louis. “They move faster than light.”

“I think you improve the tale,” she laughed. “Our theory says that this cannot be.”

“Maybe we use different theories.”

…”different theories”…!! Love it!

Anyway, …, superior science fiction. I’ve not read more than the next, I think. Maybe…

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The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food by Garrett Oliver

The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real FoodThe Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food by Garrett Oliver

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was to add to the knowledge base, despite not being a fan of Oliver’s Brooklyn Brewery and I dislike most of the styles he crows about. Even though this was published in 2003, it still has value with respect to suggestions. He does a good job with descriptions, and food pairings (something that always makes me laugh, whether wine or beer related), and isn’t shy at all about recommending his own brewery’s beers as “notable producers” of the various styles he covers…most of which I’ve tried (the recommendations, that is…not the current menu) and not been impressed by, by the way, but that’s because my tastes are my tastes.

I am so not a lager or Belgian drinker, and he gushes the crap out of them. Most of the book is a lovefest with Euro beers, almost all of which I really cannot stand (Flemish oud bruins are an exception), but for those who do like them, the book will give you some good, albeit dated, tips. I wasn’t keen on his treatment of American beers, though he wasn’t unkind – just not as ebullient as he was for the lagers and …cringe…English beers. Oh My Flying Spaghetti Monster! We are so far apart on our evaluation of Irish stouts! Recognizing that so much has changed on the American craft canvas since 2003, I’m amused at most of his “notable” American breweries are second tier in my assessments – Anchor, Ommegang (third tier), Victory, Goose Island, … Brooklyn… Well, I know I am at odds with many fans, but as I said above…my tastes. I do think I need to explore some lambics. I’ve only had two – two individual beers – to date. I will be touring central Europe in the fall and though I will try Czech and Austrian beers just because, I’m steeling myself in advance.

Snobbery is in the eye of the beer holder. Your mileage may vary. Regardless of whether you agree with Oliver on his likes and recommendations, and though it is old in terms of modern craft, this is still a good addition to the toolbox.

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