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.
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.
‘Of course’, said Queequeg. ‘Man want to die, nothing can save him. Man want to live, only God can kill him – or whale or storm, maybe’.
Recently, while shelving books in my library’s children’s section, I noticed a picture book with an especially striking cover and was somewhat surprised to see the title, Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s Great American Novel is hardly something I expected to find on the kid’s fiction shelves, but I was curious about how it would be adapted so I checked it out.
I like to style myself a literary omnivore, but one genre I’ll admit I seldom touch is biography. I’ve read one on Robert E. Lee, and back in high school and college I read some biographies of various rock bands, but I preferred those that focused primarily on their music and secondarily on the musicians’ personal lives. A recent review, of The Printed Homer, included some biographical speculation, but ultimately one can’t really write a biography of a man about whom we know so little for certain that we’re not even sure if he was one dude or multiple dudes.
Marco Santagata stands on firmer ground in his biography of Dante Alighieri (translated from Italian by Richard Dixon), titled simply Dante: The Story of His Life, though he did run into some difficulties of his own. Typically I like to start reviews on a positive note, but any biography of Dante will have two significant problems to deal with, and though Santagata’s book is quite good overall one does need to be aware of them.
First, Dante’s life is inextricably tied up with Florentine politics. Readers of his Divine Comedy will undoubtedly have noticed how many contemporary political figures appear, and multiple works after La Vita Nuova, such as Convivio and Monarchia, at least touch on political theory or practice in some way. This means that a huge portion of Santagata’s book is spent discussing the ins and outs of Florentine political theatre and that of Italy more broadly. For those keenly interested in Italian history or who are just political junkies this won’t be a problem at all, but anyone expecting a sort of “real life novel” style of biography will find themselves skimming pages at a time of explanations of shifting alliances, ideologies, and political manoeuvring.