Author: Richard Carroll

What Books Have Most Influenced Me?

Every once in a while, especially when I still had accounts on ask.fm and Curious Cat, someone has asked me what books I’ve read that have most influenced me. It’s a reasonable enough question and seems like one I should be able to answer. After all, I read a lot and come across as a thoughtful person, and many posts on this blog are essentially my public attempts at trying to better understand what I read. However, there really isn’t one good answer. For one thing, I believe I’ve been influenced far more by the sum of many books and experiences than just a handful that I could easily enumerate. Also, much depends on what exactly we mean by “influence.”

For example, the obligatory answer to this question from any Christian is “the Bible.” By one measure of influence, this certainly is the answer in that it’s the one book I trust more than any other on the most important issues. If there’s a question of morality or any related subject and Scripture speaks on it, then I’m going to follow Scripture. There’s no doubt that it has also affected my beliefs in preferences in matters of art, as well, as Scripture permeates Western literature more than any other source.

I don’t think, though, that the Bible satisfies the question of what book has most influenced me because it hasn’t really changed my beliefs on anything. I was raised Catholic and have never deviated from the Church, so Scripture is more of a framework that other ideas build around and must conform to, similar to a first principle or axiom.…

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2019 in Bibliophilia

It’s the end of the year, and now that the reminiscing and navel-gazing is over it’s time for the most important year-end festivity, looking at how many books I read. In 2018 I read thirty-six, compared to 2017’s forty-two. This year, I have twenty-nine books recorded in LibraryThing, but this excludes eight volumes of Toriyama Akira’s DragonballZ because they’re part of a box set and so, from LibraryThing’s perspective, are only one book. There’s also The Bowl of Tears and Solace, which isn’t in their catalogue at all last I checked. That brings us up to a more typical thirty-eight, two more than last year.

Since I’ve already mentioned DBZ, that, Ito Juni’s Frankenstein, and the second omnibus volume of Go Nagai’s Devilman make up all nine graphic novels I read this year.

I only read three books of poetry, all by Dante: RimeLa Vita Nuova (my second time reading this one), and a collection called Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’. Of those, La Vita Nuova is the best and I can recommend Mark Musa’s translation, but Dante’s Lyric Poetry is nice because it includes ample commentary. Speaking of Dante, I also read Marco Santagata’s fine biography Dante: The Story of his Life and Dante’s prose work on vernacular poetry, De Vulgari Eloquentia, which was more tedious and less interesting, and less focused on poetry, than I’d hoped. Another great poet, Homer, was represented in The Printed Homer: A 3,000 Year Publishing and Translation History of the Iliad and the Odyssey, by Philip Young. One last work of serious literature worth mentioning was Fables françaises du Moyen-Age.

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2019: Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!

Oh yeah, I have a blog, don’t I? As I recall, I typically write annual year-in-review posts so maybe I should do that. There hasn’t been much action on Everything is Oll Korrect! in 2019, especially in the latter half, due to school, work, and other commitments (which we’ll get to shortly), and for the last couple weeks illness. As I write, my eyes itch and I can’t breathe through my right nostril, but such is my dedication to the millions and millions of the Ocelot’s fans that I’m going to write at least this one post. I’ll run through the articles I did publish this year, then spend the bulk of this article talking about one of my favourite subjects, me.

So, I wrote all of seventeen posts in 2019. For comparison, in 2018 I wrote fifty-seven. I started the year with William Cecil and his lovely New Year’s Day poem about addressed to his daughter. Several other posts would also cover poetry, including articles about Dante’s friend Guido Cavalcanti, Cavalier Sir John Denham, 19th Century French poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (which also features my attempt at translating her poem “Rendez-vous”), and medieval troublemaker François Villon, who I liked enough to write about in French and EnglishEverything also featured two articles about poets, one on Homer and one on Dante.

In the world of prose, we have a fine children’s adaptation of Moby Dick, as well as contemporary novel The Bowl of Tears and Solace. As for non-fiction, we have the helpful Confession Made Easy and John Carter’s classic book about books, ABC for Book Collectors. Graphic novels found representation in Ito Junji’s excellent adaptation of Frankenstein and Go Nagai’s original Devilman. Video games also made an appearance thanks to a review of Ogre Battle 64, and non-video games made their Everything debut with the happy game of mahjong. Content may have been sparse in 2019 but variety was not as even professional wrestling made an appearance. Finally, back in July I gave a status report for those wondering “What’s the news, where ya been?

With such a variety of articles to choose from it’s hard to pick a best of the year, but my coverage of “Rendez-vous” was the most fun to write since translation was a new challenge for me. “The Happy Game of Mahjong” accomplished its purposes the best, and my review of The Printed Homer was overall the best of 2019.

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Frankenstein (Actually, it’s Ito Junji’s Monster)

When I pick up a story by prolific horror artist Ito Junji, there are two things I expect: It’s gonna be good, and it’s gonna be gross. There are a few exceptions at least to the latter point, but his adaptation of Frankenstein delivers on both fronts. If you’re looking for a manga to read for Halloween but want something more classic than Uzumaki or Gyo, this will be a solid choice.

Since comics are a visual medium let’s start with the art. Every panel is filled with detail, and the heavy linework and monochrome colour make the whole story feel appropriately dark and uneasy. Panel layouts are effective throughout the work, and the design of the monster is excellent. Perhaps this sentiment comes from reading it so recently, but thinking through other designs for Frankenstein’s monster, like the 1931 film or Hammer’s movie series among many others, this may be my favourite. He looks appropriately terrifying and obviously stitched-together, but also strong and agile as he is in the novel. I was less excited by the human characters, who all look good but not particularly special. I suppose that’s fine, though, since Frankenstein is best kept relatively realistic to aid suspension of disbelief, so wild character designs aside from the monster may call too much attention to themselves.

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Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber

So, the semester is well underway, you have a heavy load of coursework to do, a full time job, a blog you need to update, a woman you’re attempting to woo, a library to volunteer at, all in addition to the normal errands and chores and unforeseen tasks to do. It’s a lot, so how do you deal with so much work? Obviously, you dive into the sprawling 40+ hour campaign of Ogre Battle 64: Person of the Lordly Caliber, the best game of its era and, for me, the best of any era – with one massive, almost game-wrecking caveat, which we’ll get to shortly.

I’ve touched on the Ogre Battle franchise a couple times previously in talking about the two Tactics Ogre spin-off games, Let Us Cling Together and The Knight of Lodis. In those reviews, though, I mentioned that I preferred the gameplay of the main series. It’s an RPG/Strategy hybrid, where the player forms units of highly customisable characters and in each stage uses them to capture strongholds and beat an enemy boss character, then repeat the process in the next stage. The overall flow of each mission isn’t terribly different from many strategy games, but what makes it interesting is the interaction between two levels of army customisation in the characters and units they’re part of. There are a few dozen character classes to choose from, each of which can equip different items and grow in experience like most RPGs, but in addition to this one must consider how each character complements others in the same unit, and how those combinations fare against different enemy formations. Though it is possible to build just a few super-units and overpower everything, it is, of course, most satisfying to play the intended way, and the mechanics give the game a lot of replay value despite its length (my last play-through took about forty-three hours, without doing much in the way of side-quests).…

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Confession Made Easy

There are two ways to make something “easy.” One is to provide a brief overview of a subject, the other is to cover every aspect of it so that the student has no questions left by the end. Fr. Fructosus Hockenmaier takes the latter approach in his 696-page Confession Made Easy.

Despite its intimidating length, Fr. Hockenmaier’s book does, in fact, make things easy by explaining the Sacrament of Confession in layman’s terms, and giving his book a practical focus. He begins by providing some reasons to attend Confession regularly, answers some common objections, cautioning against scrupulosity (which a book of this kind could easily engender), explaining the difference between mortal and venial sins, going through the Decalogue and Seven Deady Sins, and finally discussing how to approach the Sacrament itself. In the final part of the book he provides many prayers and devotions.

Now, Fr. Hockenmaier assumes that his reader is already Catholic, so he does not provide an apologia for the Sacrament, nor does he spend a lot of time discussing the theology of it. For example, some of the objections to frequent Confession he answers are simply excuses that people use for not going, such as not having time, having nothing to confess, or being too embarrassed by one’s sins. Of his explanations and advice, only a few illustrations are needed. From his discussion of Sixth and Ninth Commandments:

It is with this sin as with sin in general that the principle “Beware of the first step” is to be applied. For in matters of holy purity one most easily falls into mortal sin, from seeking the danger. No sin so quickly begets an intense habit as the sin of impurity, a habit which is often found to be incurable.

Confession Made Easy received its imprimatur in 1910, and one can tell that it’s an old-school Catholic book by the seriousness and clarity of passages like the above. One problem that many Catholics seem to have is not only recognising what things are sinful, but what are not. The vice of the 21st Century is indifference to or denial of sin, but there are those who run to the opposite extreme of scrupulosity, or sometimes just uncertainty. For example, while offering instruction in how to distinguish mortal and venial sin, Fr. Hockenmaier says this:

The same is to be said of persons who suffer from involuntary thoughts and illusions. What are illusions? They are representations to the mind, originating from bodily ills, especially nervous diseases, and such illusions are forced upon the minds of such persons, altogether against their will, now for a short time, now for a longer period. They should remember that no thoughts or illusions can be sins, when they do not invite such thoughts or illusions.

What about cases when we aren’t sure if something is sinful or not? In such cases, Fr. Hockenmaier repeats many times to consult with one’s confessor.

Such a long book represents a significant time investment, so is Confession Made Easy worth the effort of reading, or is a pamphlet as one often finds online or laid out near a church’s confessional sufficient? For those who are well catechised, having a good guide for an examination of conscience is probably enough. For those who did not have the fortune of a good religious education, though, or who simply want as thorough a guide as possible, Fr. Hockenmaier is excellent. Though not everyone needs it, Confession Made Easy accomplishes its task perfectly.…

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The King of Sports

The biggest surprise I’ve ever given my parents was last year when I told them that I was getting into professional wrestling. My online presence here and on Twitter reflects my real-life interests and hobbies closely, and as you can tell from a scan of my article and review index most of what I read and watch leans toward high culture. I’ll dip into popular culture with things like Devilman now and then, but overall I’m more likely to be reading French poetry or something. I have little interest in sports generally, and most guys who are into wrestling started watching when they were young. I remember several friends in middle school talking about it, but I had little interest. So what happened?

Well, over the last few years I’ve noticed that a lot of people in my Twitter circles are into wrestling. Though hardly as visible as the Anime Right, Right-wing Pro Wrestling Twitter is surprisingly big even if its members tend to mask their power level. I had a few friends in particular who enjoyed it and when they gave an open invitation to watch an upcoming NXT event I figured I’d see what it’s all about. Needless to say, I enjoyed it, watched a few recommended matches from yesteryear, joined in with almost every group-watch this group of friends has done since, and eventually subscribed to NJPW’s (New Japan Pro Wrestling) online streaming service.

It’s sometimes difficult to explain why we enjoy the things we do, but for pro wrestling I can point to a few things. A big one is the social aspect, which is largely what got me to watch that first event. It’s fun watching something with friends and talking about a shared hobby. As for the wrestling itself, I love the athletic performance. Yes, it’s scripted, but so are most things on TV so who cares. These guys are doing incredible things in the ring and it’s great fun to watch.…

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Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s “Rendez-Vous”

For the sake of both practising my French and reading something I’m interested in, I’ve started reading through a book straightforwardly titled French Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Elliott M. Grant and first published in 1932 (my copy is a 1950 reprint). I haven’t worked through much of it yet, but I have a learned a few things about French poetry generally and now know a couple fine poets I hadn’t previously even been aware of.

One of those is Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, an actress who had a pair of intense but short-lived romances early in her life, which inspired some of her poems, before settling down with Mr. Valmore, another actor. Her first poems were published in 1813, with the poem below, “Le Rendez-vous,” appearing in 1825.…

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The Happy Game of Mahjong

It’s hard to remember, but I’m pretty sure I first learned about mahjong (not mahjong solitaire) in the same way I’ve learned about most things in my life, Japanese cartoons. It looked interesting so when I saw a mahjong set for sale at a Half Price Books years ago I went ahead and bought it, got a book on mahjong, and never learned how to play. I didn’t know anyone who played and the mahjong software selection is bad enough now and was even worse then.

My interest was rekindled a few months ago after playing gin rummy for a while and one of my Twitter friends mentioned that he’d learned the basics of mahjong by thinking of it as essentially a rummy game. After all, the premise is that you’re forming tiles into sets, either sequences (e.g., 1-2-3 of the same suit) or three or four of a kind to form a winning hand. I re-read my book, managed to find a decent mahjong iOS app to practice with, and even found a group in my area to play with IRL.

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What’s the News, Where ya Been?

Yes, there is wind left in my soul, though I am growing old. If you’re wondering about the lack of updates, it comes down to what I talked about last May. I’m working full time, going to grad school part-time, and through May had an internship at a local library, as well, and am still volunteering there once per week. Of course, I also have hobbies outside of blogging that I enjoy keeping up with.

Frankly, I also haven’t had as much to write about recently. Most of the books and movies I’ve watched over the past few months have been James Bond material, which I don’t have a lot to say about though I may do a write-up on my take on the series so far. I’ve also been playing mahjong and watching wrestling and I don’t have the experience and expertise to turn this into a mahjong or wrestling blog, though I’ll likely write a little about them at some point.

So what to do? My idea is to do a short write-up for each of these things I have been doing, but my only reservation is that for years now this has been a review blog, and this move would basically turn it into The Pillow Blog of Cheshire_Ocelot, something of a personal journal. That would be a sharp turn in subject matter, but it’s either that or not having any updates at all for a long while. So, we’ll see how it goes.

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