Personville Press is a Texas-based ebook publisher of quality fiction at affordable prices. Founded in 2010 by Robert Nagle, it publishes a mixture of new fiction and out of print fiction.
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The Other Shore: Two Stories of Love and Death
on March 03, 2018
In the novella "The Other Shore" Paul Hina captures romance and domestic drama with psychological nuance. He writes incredibly well and with tenderness about unique relationship situations and flawed but complex characters. The first novella in the volume is remarkable: a son of a famous poet returns home to mend his relationship with his dying dad and deal with his sexual attractions to a grad student at his dad's department while dealing with his own rocky marriage. The story may have ended in a predictable place, but I really enjoyed getting to know all the people. My only"complaint" (maybe it's a lament?) is that everybody is so rational and well-spoken that it's hard to imagine them really fighting for long. This book is a beautifully told tale; it's both a multi-faceted love story and an exploration of the protagonist's ambivalence about marriage. Compare to DH Lawrence or possibly some realistic writer like Anne Tyler or Somerset Maugham..
Cats on Film
on July 11, 2018
CATS ON FILM gives a delightful and irreverent tour through world cinema from the standpoint of the cats who appear in it. This book grew out of a blog with the same name and does not take itself too seriously. The book introduces various cat archetypes: CATAGONIST, HEROPUSS, CAPANION, CATZILLA, PUSILLA, CATRIFICE, CATGUFFIN and many more. To be honest, I am not particularly a cat lover (they’re ok, but…), and I had hardly given a second thought about cats in film until picking up this book. Probably the only movie I could think of with a cat theme would be CAT PEOPLE, and this book doesn’t talk about it at all except parenthetically. What a shock it was to see discussions of so many movies with significant cat cameos. THIRD MAN, NYMPHOMANIAC (!), Kieslowski’s BLUE, the GODFATHER, the original POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, the original FLY, LA DOLCE VITA, STRAW DOGS, CLOCKWORK ORANGE (!) 1900, PROOF, TRUE GRIT, DAY FOR NIGHT, AWFUL TRUTH, GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (!), THE LEOPARD, and many, many more. My first reaction was, wow, there are cats in all these movies? Aside from HARRY AND TONTO, I had hardly noticed them!
This is a logical and well-organized work — you can find a list of film discussed at the logical Table of Contents at the beginning (though it would have been better to have hyperlinks). It can be fun to stumble upon the unexpected, and the book itself has glorious color photographs and helpful labels like “Major Cat Movie.” Clearly Ms. Billson writes with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema (she has also published several movie guides and writes about movies regularly for the “Guardian”). I found new insights about movies I thought I already knew (or at least, I thought I did!) I now know about a lot of obscure films simply because of the odd fact that it has a cat in it.
Because Billson already is an accomplished novelist (specifically in horror, mystery, vampires and other things), the book has unexpected bonuses. For the movie ALIEN she does a brilliant interior monologue of the same story from the cat’s point of view. (You remembered that there was a cat in that movie, right? I didn’t!) For the movie INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, the book has a nice extended piece (The Moggyssey) teasing out the Homeric aspects to the plot. (By the way, I totally did not remember the movie having a cat in it!) For STUART LITTLE, she makes a tongue-in-cheek proposal to change the title of the movie to “Snowbell” (because the cat character is more interesting and complex). Billson writes:
Since Hollywood is largely run by dog people, cats are often relegated to secondary characters with bad attitudes, typified by animated propaganda such as LADY AND THE TRAMP, CINDERELLA, TOM AND JERRY or MERRY MELODIES shorts featuring Tweetie Pie and Sylvester, which try to brainwash children into thinking cats are evil or stupid, while dogs, rodents and birds are virtuous and should be given carte blanche to torment the felines.
These creative takes are fun, clever and interesting.
The book spends a lot of time on cats in genres like horror, James Bond and kid’s movies (which is to be expected). I particularly appreciated Billson’s speculation about the cats themselves as opposed to the role they are expected to play in the movie. She guesses when more than one cat is used for the same cat character in a movie (like THIRD MAN) and provides horrifying backstory about how cats were actually mistreated during the shooting of the film (as in ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS).
This clever book is based on a conceit that cats are more than story props. It’s an intriguing (though now obvious) idea. Fake soliloquys notwithstanding, I don’t get the impression that the book is trying to anthropomorphize the cat characters; it is just suggesting an alternate and yes, a more compassionate way to read movies. The book is a celebration of cats for what they naturally are in mainstream movies; At the same time, there’s more than enough enough obscure Japanese, European, animation and old genre movies described here to make the ardent film buff happy.
The Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill
on Jan. 04, 2020
Recommended if you like: John Steinbeck, Leonard Gardner’s Fat City or William Kennedy
Wild Gypsy of Arbor Hill is a realistic and unsentimental tale about love, longing and loss. It’s also an investigation into how financial insecurity can lead human relationships astray. It is expertly and harrowingly told by Albany author Harvey Havel who has written over a dozen novels on social themes.
Charlie, a young & bright Caucasian male from a wealthy background attends an elite college and becomes smitten with a beautiful college girl named Sophia. At first, this girl ignores Charlie because she is out of his league, but Charlie persists and starts to win her over. Gradually Charlie realizes that Sophia is not quite the girl he thought; he has to face that he has deceived himself of what the girl could have ever offered to his future.
From this point on, Charlie drops out of school, moves to Albany and finds himself struggling to make a living. At a friend’s suggestion, Charlie hires a pretty woman named Gypsy to clean his apartment and ends up forming a strange kind of attachment with her. Was it love? Or just a no-strings business relationship? Charlie recognizes that his fondness for Gypsy is not “normal” (or even healthy), and yet he does everything possible to make it blossom into something better. What kind of sacrifice ought he to make for this Gypsy woman? Was she even worth it? The more Charlie struggles to make this relationship work, the more ethical compromises he ends up making.
Charlie is a flawed character of tragic dimensions — sympathetic but also infuriating. He seems genuinely concerned about the welfare of his friends; at the same time, Charlie has a sensuous and egotistical side that makes him unable to recognize the folly of his dreams. Perhaps Charlie was asking for the impossible!
The novel is just as much about romantic illusions as economic illusions. Charlies is horrified to see how economics thwart romantic desires and how romantic fulfillment practically demands that he abandon his values. There’s a lot of sexual politics here, and the racial dynamics are also interesting. Havel is a Pakistani-American who has often written about the Muslim and African-American experience. Yet in this novel, the protagonist Charlie is white, and his best friend Cash is African-American and Gypsy is mixed-race. These things are not supposed to matter in our color-blind society, but by the end of the novel, it is clear that they do.
This novella consists of 4 extended chapters, like acts in a play. The prose is simple and conversational and occasionally indignant. As bleak as the book was at times, I enjoyed getting to know the (flawed) characters and understanding Charlie’s motivations. The criminal elements in the latter part of the book were depicted in a realistic and almost banal way. The ending left me unsatisfied; I don’t know what kind of outcome would have felt “right,” here, but it was unclear to me whether Charlie had reformed or even changed his cynical world view.
IN SUMMARY: Although not a pretty story, this expertly told tale explores how far a person can take his romantic and economic illusions without bringing ruin.
What Confucius Really Said: The Complete Analects in a Skopos-Centric Translation
on Feb. 02, 2021
A BRILLIANT, INVENTIVE AND ORIGINAL TRANSLATION USING CONTEMPORARY IDIOMS
I'd read bits and pieces of Analects in college, but found it dry and not as provocative as other classic texts like Chuang Tzu (for example). Then I encountered this wonderful and clever translation. It's one of the most original and delightful translations of a literary work I have ever encountered. Here's the conceit. Chris Wen-chao Li, recognizing that English-speaking readers might not understand the historical context of Analects, decides to translates all the aphorisms using U.S. slang and American pop culture references -- as though Confucius were some hip comedian making snarky remarks about Obama or California on his Twitter feed. At first it sounds strange and almost irreverent, but after a while you get used to it and even enjoy it. Let's face it. After all, if Confucius were alive today, why WOULDN'T he be all over Twitter? I read a large chunk of this book on an airline trip and chuckled aloud multiple times. It's hilarious! I'm sure Chris Wen-chao Li took tremendous liberties here, but the book provides ample footnotes about what the original text was like and many of the modern idioms seem well-chosen. I cannot comment on the textual accuracy of the translations (though I did compare certain passages with David Hinton and others and saw nothing seriously amiss). But the English phrases are elegant, compact and always fun.
This was easily one of my favorite reads of 2019. It brought Confucius to life in unexpected and readable ways. It combines the best of both worlds: solid scholarship with a highly readable (and entertaining) text. The Confucius in this translation jumps off the page and seems more relevant than ever to adventurous readers.