Archive for Faulkner

summer reads (#2)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2012 by xi'an

As mentioned in a previous blog, I only packed four books in my suitcase in early July. Among those, Richard Ford’s A Piece of my Heart, and Niccolo Ammaniti’s La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci). I also bought Dan Simmons’s Hyperion in the (same) nice bookshop near Bondi Junction in Sydney, Berkelouw Books.

Whoever it was, though, didn’t have no business being here. I’ll tell you that. I’ll tell you that right now.A Piece of my Heart, R. Ford

A Piece of my Heart is the first novel written by Richard Ford and I did not even know about it. (I happen to have bought it perchance in a closing bookshop in Bristol selling every book there for two pounds!) I feel it is quite different from the other novels of Richard Ford I read so far. A Piece of my Heart is quite harsh and bleak in a Southern (U.S.) way, making one feel all characters (esp. men) are doomed from the start and that there is no use fighting against this… This makes their actions and decisions unpredictable and mostly irrational, but there is a kind of beauty in seeing them succumbing to this doom. I also found there is a sort of Faulknerian feeling in the novel, particularly in the character of Mr. Lamb, an old recluse living on an island that does not even exist on official maps. The tragic and foreseeable ending of the book is actually announced in the very first pages, but this does not make A Piece of my Heart less fascinating to read. Because this is not what matter…

There’s a legend that Cowboy Gibson did it before the Core seceded.Hyperion, D. Simmons

I finished reading Hyperion in the plane back home. This again is a (1989) book I had not heard of until I saw it in the Gollancz 50 series (which delivers at a low price the “best” 50 books in science-fiction and fantasy, like Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, its only drawback being a vivid and ugly yellow color!) I do not often read space opera sci’fi’, however this book is a masterpiece that completely deserves its inclusion in the Gollancz 50 series… Hyperion offers a complex plot, compelling characters, an interesting universe, a credible political structure, and, above all, relates quite strongly and openly to literary history, from Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales, to H.G. Wells, to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, to Philip K. Dick (and Blade Runner), and to Keats as a central figure. Plus interesting plays on religions and beliefs. The book does not conclude, as there is a sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, that I will most certainly read.

La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci) is an hilarious book by Niccolo Ammaniti that I can only classify as picaresque, given the accumulation of well-drawn characters and of fantastic events that build throughout the book. It is very different from the much more intimate Io non ho paura, however La Fête du Siècle reads very well and offers a very harsh criticism of the Berlusconi era and of the new social class it created. From nouveaux riches to would-be Satanists (all) looking for recognition or at least a few minutes of fame on TV… And meeting their end in a grandiose way. (I do not know if this book has been translated into english.) I read it in a few hours during my vacation week along the Great Ocean Road. And am still laughing at the comedy it exposed.

Oxford, Miss. [Le Monde travel guide]

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on February 18, 2012 by xi'an

The weekend edition of Le Monde has a pseudo-travel guide written by a local writer about his or her town. It is necessarily partial and subjective, but often interesting. It also sometimes mentions towns one would never dream of visiting. This week (18/02/2012), this tribune most unexpectedly focus on Oxford, Mississippi, that I visited two and a half years ago for MaxEnt 2009. (The writer in charge is Tom Franklin. Not that I ever heard of him…) I find it quite puzzling that Le Monde spends two pages on this little town where the only attraction worth mentioning is Faulkner’s family home, now turned into a museum, and where the (decent) local bookstore is the only place in town one can buy the New York Times. Unsurprisingly, the highlights are local bars and cafés… I wonder if any Le Monde reader will be induced by the guide to travel to this place.

La partenza per MaxEnt 2009

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , on July 4, 2009 by xi'an

Just to let this indefinable perfume of Italy linger for a few more posts, but there is no objective reason to switch to Italian… I am actually off to Oxford, Mississippi, at the MaxEnt 2009 meeting, which is the 29th workshop on Bayesian Inference and Maximum Entropy Methods in Science and Engineering. Despite the strong connections with my research interests, I have never attended one of those conferences and this sounds exciting. Especially given my talk there on computational methods, which covers in particular nested sampling with the critical views summarised in this post. This promises for interesting exchanges, since the inventor of nested sampling, John Skilling, is one of the founding fathers of the maximum entropy community.


This will also give me the opportunity to go over the new revision of the paper before sending it back to Biometrika. The reviews were so lukewarm that I was ready to pack up and go. Fortunately, Nicolas Chopin overrode my depressive tendencies and launched into the revision! All I have to do in the coming days is thus to compile once again the seven pages of the Biometrika style manual to make sure we comply with every item of it. (The editorial requests of Biometrika go beyond most other journals’, even PNAS, which is a pain when writing a paper, because the time spent of complying with the stylistic restrictions will be wasted if the paper is rejected!, but which is also most enjoyable at the reader’s level.)

Oxford is the home town of William Faulkner and. as such, enjoys a literary atmosphere (whatever that means) with several genuine bookstores, including Square Books. Given that I have never been in the South (Florida being a separate geographical entity!), this is also an interesting opportunity. Even though I am not looking forward the hot, clammy, humid weather (humidity is currently 78% at 11pm…). And considering that MaxEnt 2003 was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming…

Some of my favourite books

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2009 by xi'an

books3Last night, I took some of my favourite books out of my bookcases: here they are from bottom to top (picture-wise!). Obviously, they are not all comparable in terms of literary “quality”, but they are books I like to re-read from time to time or books that impacted me the first time I read them…

  • Heckmair’s My Life, already mentioned in that post about Messner’s book, for the heart-stopping tale of the climb of the Eigerwand. There are better written (more literary) books about mountaineering, but this remains my favourite;
  • Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that I read so often it is almost virtual by now. This is not here as my favourite fantasy book, but simply as one of my favourite books, because it subsumes the [fantasy] genre into a larger one, borrowing from Nordic sagas as well as Celtic folklore and German tales;
  • Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which is the most metaphysical love story he wrote. If I had only one book to carry around that would be the one! (I also love very much his novel Brighton Rocks, another unusual and dark love story);
  • Céline’s Voyage au bout de la Nuit, also discussed in that earlier post, which is for me the most impressive French novel of the xxth century, inventing a new style and seeing beyond the current ideologies;
  • Joyce’s Dubliners, so uniquely modern as well, especially the first short story, The Dead, with its conclusion of quiet despair. John Huston made a movie of it, where he superbly managed to convey the different currents in the story;
  • Hugo’s Quatrevingt-treize, his novel about the French Revolution (and the Breton counter-revolution), with an unforgivable trio of characters, the father, the son, and the defrocked priest, as well as a superb style. Certainly my favourite novel from Hugo with L’Homme qui rit;
  • Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, for translating both the horror of the war and the ultimate feeling of camaraderie only extreme situations can induce (also a favourite of my son in his rare excursions outside fantasy). The following novels by Remarque like The Road Back and Drei Kameraden carried the same feelings of hopeless friendship, but with less intensity;
  • Chandler’s The Long Good Bye, for, if you think Chandler wrote detective stories, read him again! This is a very deep and sad novel, mostly about jilted friendship, with a detective side that is quite incidental;
  • Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov, the quintessential Russian novel with the triptych of brothers as an idealisation of humanity and the undercurrent of spiritual questioning;
  • Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, for the bittersweet taste of wasted opportunities and things past;
  • Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, a literary genre by itself…

(to be continued for the remainder of the book pile…)