28 Separate Impulses


Haven’t read much this week, but I’m on the verge of finishing Suldrun’s Garden. I have just under 100 pages left; once I get under the 100 page demarcation, the next time I pick up the book I almost always commit to reading to the end in one go.

Naturally, I’m going to read The Green Pearl next. But there’s been an oversight: I thought I had a copy of it already, thought I picked it up in my first rush of enthusiasm for Jack Vance back in – it might’ve been as far back as 2010 or 2011. I was buying any Vance books I could find and a copy of Madouc, the third volume, has been sitting on shelf since then. One of my strange book-hunting peccadilloes is that I won’t usually buy volumes out of order, even if find volume 4 before volume 2; so I assumed that because I had Madouc, I must also have The Green Pearl.

But I don’t have The Green Pearl, so when I finish Suldrun’s Garden there’s going to be a short but tantalizing mercenary time frame wherein I can’t read what I intend to be reading next, and so can read anything while I wait.

These little lacunae are intoxicating, but also daunting and almost always ultimately futile, because they mean my mind will be buffeted by the thousand contrary winds of moment-to-moment reading impulses, like a sad pennant in a strong storm. In the short span of time since I became aware of this impending gap, I’ve had to watch an endless parade of desires to read this book, this book, no this book, wait this book…..

I want to read Imperial by William T. Vollmann, and I want to read his climate change book Carbon Ideologies. Basically I want to start reading Vollmann generally, and refuse to start doing so on any but the grandest scale.

And I want to read The Path to Power by Robert Caro, while simultaneously not feeling obligated to immediately continue with the volumes that follow it.

Desperately I want to read Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley. Finding this book was the golden moment of my recent book-rich excursion to Charlotte, and I really am getting late summer/early fall vibes from this one, so I want to fit it in after Lyonesse and before October when I switch over to a meat, blood, and shadow diet of horror novels.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t, also, want to read those horror novels now: I was so happy to get a copy of The Fisherman by John Langan, and I’ve been slowly accumulating interest in The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. I couldn’t finish Disappearance at Devil’s Rock but A Head Full of Ghosts is still the scariest book I’ve ever read. Also I paid for $15 fucking dollars for a pleasantly soft and worn mass market paperback copy of The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein. That’s not the book’s fault, and I’d do it again, but it was the first thing that came to mind after I remembered I want to read it too.

Silence by Shusaku Endo was one of the best books I read in 2018; I want to read two of Endo’s other works in particular: The Samurai and Deep River.

Listening to the audiobook of The Stand by Stephen King has replanted an interest in post-apocalyptic fiction in me. So I want to return to an indelible classic, Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, and also finally check out Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. My interest in the post-apocalypse comes and goes like an eclipse so I feel an especial drive take care of this one while the innate enthusiasm is there.

A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kiš. Found this recently in Coventry in a cover so bland and nondescript that it borders on deeply charismatic.

Peru by Gordon Lish. Don’t know much about Lish other than that he was Carver’s (controversial?) editor; but I’ve read only one Carver story (a fight, a baby) so that fact doesn’t move me one way or the other. I did read the opening paragraph of this one and loved it so I’m intrigued.

My Struggle Vol. 1, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’d seen the spine of this book many times – it’s a definite regular in second-hand shops, the same way you always saw copies of Mark of Kri in used game stores – before I dug any deeper, read anything about what, precisely, it is. And now that I have, it seems like something I’d be very interested in, but I’d have to pick this one up being demiready to commit to the whole six-book sequence.

Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. I group Lethem with Franzen, Eggers, and Chabon, whether right or wrong – and I suspect it’s wrong, although I also don’t entirely know what this grouping indicates about any of them, or who it’s bad or good for. I just want to read this book at some point.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the Haymarket Books edition with excellent notes and commentary by Phil Gasper. I’ve been dipping into this in an ambient and rambling fashion, and want to do a minor extended study of it.

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. I’ve actually been reading this one for a bit now, dipping in when I need to be cheered up. There’s something intensely therapeutic, almost supernaturally serene and calming, about these stories. There’s definitely, eventually, going to be a full-length piece on Callahan’s from me because it deserves it.

A-and I still want to read Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima.

And The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.

A Dark Night’s Passing by Naoya Shiga.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka. Phoenix by same.

Berg by Ann Quin.

I was supposed to read Crime and Punishment last winter. And The Magic Mountain in the spring.

I absolutely have to reread The Tunnel this year. And read Omensetter’s Luck for the first time. I lent it to you, and you read it in that industrious focused way you had, that way I always admired. You read my copy of Anna Karenina in the same way.

Which I also want to read…


Image Credit: The Green Pearl by Jack Vance. Cover art by Thomas Canty.


If you decide to buy any book on the strength of this post, please consider purchasing it from a local used or new bookstore, or from an independent bookstore’s online storefront.

A Visit to the Bird King of Pomperol: From Suldrun’s Garden by Jack Vance


“The days passed; landfalls were made and departures taken. Later Aillas recalled the events of the voyage as a collage of sounds, voices, music; faces and forms; helmets, armor, hats and garments; reeks, perfumes and airs; personalities and postures; ports, piers, anchorages and roadsteads. There were receptions, audiences; banquets and balls.

Aillas could not gauge the effect of their visits. They made, so he felt, a good impression; the integrity and strength of Sir Famet could not be mistaken, and Trewan, for the most part, held his tongue.


King Deuel’s madness was harmless enough; he felt an excessive partiality for birds, and indulged himself with absurd fancies, some of which, by virtue of his power, he was able to make real. He dubbed his ministers with such titles as Lord Goldfinch, Lord Snipe, Lord Peewit, Lord Bobolink, Lord Tanager. His dukes were Duke Bluejay, Duke Curlew, Duke Black Crested Tern, Duke Nightingale. His edicts proscribed the eating of eggs, as a ‘cruel and murderous delinquency, subject to punishment dire and stern.’

Alcantade, the summer palace, had appeared to King Deuel in a dream. Upon awakening he called his architects and ordained the substance of his vision. As might be conjectured, Alcantade was an unusual structure, but nonetheless a place of curious charm: light, fragile, painted in gay colors, with tall roofs at various levels.

Arriving at Alcantade, Sir Famet, Aillas and Trewan discovered King Deuel resting aboard his swan-headed barge, which a dozen young girls clad in white feathers propelled slowly across the lake.

In due course King Deuel stepped ashore: a small sallow man of middle years. He greeted the envoys with cordiality. ‘Welcome, welcome! A pleasure to meet citizens of Troicinet, a land of which I have heard great things. The broad-billed grebe nests along the rocky shores in profusion, and the nuthatch dines to satiety upon the acorns of your splendid oaks. The great Troice horned owls are renowned everywhere for their majesty. I confess to a partiality for birds; they delight me with their grace and courage. But enough of my enthusiasms. What brings you to Alcantade?’

‘Your majesty, we are the envoys of King Granice and we bear his earnest message. When you are so disposed I will speak it out before you.’

‘What better time than now? Steward, bring us refreshment! We will sit at yonder table. Speak now your message.’

Sir Famet looked right and left at the courtiers who stood in polite proximity. ‘Sir, might you not prefer to hear me in private?’

‘Not at all!’ declared King Deuel. ‘At Alcantade we have no secrets. We are like birds in an orchard of ripe fruit, where everyone trills his happiest song. Speak on, Sir Famet.’

‘Very well, sir. I will cite certain events which disquiet King Granice of Troicinet.’

Sir Famet spoke; King Deuel listened carefully, with head cocked to one side. Sir Famet fnished his exposition. ‘These, sir, are the dangers which menace us all – in the not too distant future.’

King Deuel grimaced. ‘Dangers, everywhere dangers! I am beset on all hands, so that often I hardly take rest of nights.’ King Deuel’s voice became nasal and he twitched in his chair as he spoke. ‘Daily I hear a dozen pitiful cries for protection. We guard our entire north borders against the cats, stoats and weasels employed by King Audry. The Godelians are also a menace, even though their roosts lie a hundred leagues distant. They breed and train the cannibal falcons, each a traitor to his kind. To the west is an even more baleful threat, and I allude to the Duke Faude Carfilhiot, who breathes green air. Like the Godelians he hunts with falcons, using bird against bird.’

Sir Famet protested in a strained voice. ‘Still, you need fear no actual assault! Tintzin Fyral stands far beyond the forest!’

King Deuel shrugged. ‘It is admittedly a long day’s flight. But we must face reality. I have named Carfilhiot a dastard; and he dared not retort, for fear of my mighty talons. Now he skulks in his toad-wallow planning the worst kind of mischief.’

Prince Trewan, ignoring Sir Famet’s cold blue side-glance, spoke out briskly: ‘Why not place the strength of those same talons beside those of your fellow birds? Our flock shares your view in regard to Carfilhiot and his ally King Casmir. Together we can rebuff their attacks with great blows of talon and beak!’

‘True. Someday we shall see the formation of just such a mighty force. In the meantime each must contribute where he can. I have cowed the squamous Carfilhiot and defied the Godelians; nor do I spare mercy upon Audry’s bird-killers. You are thereby liberated to aid us against the Ska and sweep them from the sea. Each does his part: I through the air, you on the ocean wave.'”

Image: Air by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1566

Mermaids: From Suldrun’s Garden

“She moved down through the garden. Just so must a dryad feel, thought Suldrun; just so must it move, in just such a hush, with no sound but the sigh of the wind in the leaves.

She halted in the shade of the solitary old lime tree, then continued down to the beach to see what the waves had brought in. When the wind blew from the southwest, as was often the case, the currents swung around the headland and curled into her little cove, bringing all manner of stuff to the beach until the next high tide, when the same current lifted the articles and took them away once more. Today the beach was clean. Suldrun ran back and forth, skirting the surf as it moved along the coarse sand. She halted to scrutinize a rock fifty yards out under the headland, where she once had discovered a pair of young mermaids. They had seen her and called out, but they used a slow strange language Suldrun could not understand. Their olive-green hair hung about their pale shoulders; their lips and the nipples of their breasts were also pale green. One waved and Suldrun saw the webbing between her fingers. Both turned and looked offshore to where a bearded merman reared from the waves. He called out in a hoarse windy voice; the mermaids slipped from the rocks and disappeared.”

– from Suldrun’s Garden, by Jack Vance