Review of Herzog, by Saul Bellow

This isn’t an easy book to read, and it isn’t easy to write about. This is usually the sort of book that I stay away from in the best of days, as it didn’t exactly promise to be an exciting ride. The subject matter is dire like heck. But its reputation as one of the best books ever written precedes it. When the opportunity presented itself I thought it too good a deal to pass up, so I may as well learn what the fuss is about.

The story revolves around one Moses E Herzog, who at the point of the story has come out from his second marriage. The divorce ended badly, and his now ex-wife, Madeleine, shacked up with his supposedly best buddy Valentine, and he’s pissed. Also, amidst this emotional turmoil he’s suddenly consumed with remorse over the fact that his second child Junie will be growing up without him. All this culminates in a scene where he attempts to confront Maddy when he learned that Junie was apparently mistreated during an argument with Valentine. The manner of his attempted confrontation and subsequent fallout from that forms the climax of the novel.

The unique component of this novel is Herzog’s imaginary letter writing – missives he composes to people living or dead covering all manner of things, from his emotions to politics, all revolving around his crumbling life. Sort of the novel’s way of revealing Herzog’s character growth.

So it’s a botched marriage by a has-been, and a plot to regain his self-esteem and child. What’s so hard about that? The thing is Bellow’s writing is quite precise when it comes to the emotions. The thoughts that run through his mind, especially during the first quarter of the novel, are raw emotions, complete with self-rationalization of what has happened. Anger at Madeleine and how he felt he was unfairly treated in the lead-up to the divorce were quite believable. There were parts in the prose where I thought Herzog described what I personally felt during various stages of disharmony in my own marriage. I’m still married, and nothing in the story even closely reflected what happened in my own life, so no, this didn’t feel autobiographical. But there are times when husband and wife are fighting (as all marriages will do) thoughts of who’s right and wrong cannot be suppressed, and I felt Bellow captured that accurately. Not that that’s very surprising, considering that Bellow himself divorced his second wife, who had an affair with Bellow’s long-time friend.

So really the resonance I felt early in the book carried me along. The story plodded in places, and the writing, while excellent, tended to ramble. Still, this wasn’t utter boredom ala Bridesheads Revisited, and for that I was thankful.

This is one book that I will probably revisit later on, which is more than I can say for the majority of the books I read, good or bad.

MyBookFeeds Development Progress

Have been mucking around with today to try to get it working. So here’s what’s been happening:

1. Set up lylina. The problem is this hasn’t been in active development for some years now, but as a basis for an aggregator it should still hold it’s own. Unfortunately, lylina’s own aggregated feed threw out some deprecated function errors, and that would require me to delve into some PHP to fix. Nope, this isn’t good.

2. Looked up SimplePie plugin for WordPress. Now this is very interesting. Setting up WordPress sites now has become a very trivial matter with my new webhost, and after a few minutes of setup I was ready to rock. Then I found out that the plugin simply facilitated the use of SimplePie within WordPress, and it still required some programming in PHP! The plugin provided nothing in the way of a lylina-like admin console that allowed me to add feeds and customize the look. This is meant more for those who would like to add feed reading capabilities onto an existing WordPress blog, and is less a tool to create a brand new aggregator site. I figured if I were to code in PHP using SimplePie, I might as well do it from scratch, and have full control over what I needed the site to do.

3. Spent a quick hour looking at the SimplePie library. Already skirting around the possibility of diving straight into PHP. All the sample codes and tutorials were wonderful to look at, but to get it to what I want MyBookFeeds to do would still require heavy coding. Something definitely to consider in the future to do. Right now, though, I’m still looking for a quicker kill.

4. Relooked at lilina. I missed it the first time yesterday, but lilina surprisingly is still being worked on, the latest being in sept 2010! The reason lylina was chosen (and this was something brought forward from my research from several years ago when I first looked at doing MyBookFeeds) was because lilina behaves like Google Reader – it retrieves data from feeds when you visit. Lylina caches the feeds and will display static pages to visitors instead, which is a much better design choice for what i want MyBookFeeds to do. Well, it looks like lilina has gained this ability as recently as early this year, and a cron job can now be set up to refresh the content of lilina sources. Now we’re talking.

5. I started with the nightly build of lilina, and tried to set that up. I thought better to use the latest and greatest, what the author of lilina calls ‘bleeding’. However, the bleeding part was true for the wrong aspect – I spent almost 2 hours grappling with the install. There were invalid PHP calls when I attempted to set it up, and i was bleeding from my ears troubleshooting this. Then I remembered that I could fall back on the beta build, which is supposedly the last stable version. Thankfully that worked.

So now MyBookFeeds is up and running again, this time with lilina, and looking much better with a working rss feed.

Next up: interface tweaking!

MyBookFeeds–Alpha release

Ok, I have these wildly fluctuating bursts of pure manic energy to do crazy projects at highly inopportune times (like in the middle of a highly delayed work project, or when I’m behind in post-prod work for podcasts).

So I’ve always wanted to do an aggregated feed site for Malaysian book or literature blogs.  This stemmed from an exchange I had with Sharon Bakar over Facebook a couple of years ago, where she rather offhandedly mentioned this, and the prospect of starting such a site stuck with me since.  I was aware of other such aggregators at the time, but had never thought of starting one. 

So I tried to start it, thinking it couldn’t be *that* difficult.  After research, however, while it wasn’t *that* difficult, it was no walk in the park either.  I tried fiddling with tools: lilina, lylina, WordPress with the SimplePie Plugin, but after sinking in hours of research, I came to a conclusion – to have it work as I have envisioned it, I need to learn up PHP and do it using SimplePie.  However, this requires time, and time isn’t something I have in abundance right now.

The recent move to Dreamhost actually kick-started this for me (another burst of energy) and I relooked at this again.  I came back to the same conclusion I reached before pretty quickly, but I see that lilina has actually improved from the last time I saw it, and it may not be too bad an idea to quickly start up MyBookFeeds and see where it goes from there.

So, MyBookFeeds is currently running in alpha, so if you want to see it go to