A Fool for Books - April Reading
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Read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo over the weekend. It really is quite bad. How can sensible people think it's good?
What compelled you to read it? Didn't you know it was bad before you picked it up?
Haven't read it--no interest in the books or the movies.
Finally got around to starting AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST by Iain Pears, much talked about and recommended in this group (and other places).
Fab book--eighty or ninety pages in and hooked like a big carp.
1: Then they are hardly sensible. More trend-junkies and sheep following whatever the Philistine Tastemakers tell them to. They will read whatever they are told to read, vote whoever they are told to vote for, and think what they are told to think. Mediocrity and conformity are creature comforts. Then again, they aren't snobs: cantankerous contrarians all too eager to throw a wrench into the giant media engines.
At least that's my opinion.
Cliff, I've always wanted to read that book. Maybe I'll jot it down on my library list now.
250 pages into AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST now and still enthralled. An entertaining historical whodunit.
Hello snobs! I just got back from Paris, France where I spent a completely perfect two weeks. The sun was out every day and I could have spent two more weeks just visiting museums. Anyhow, while I was there I went to their Musee de la Shoah (Holocaust museum) and bought Eichmann in Jerusalem which I have been meaning to read for years. Already about a third of the way, totally engrossed. Nymith, I had trouble getting through that, but his love for Paris shines through all the verbiage, doesn't it. Not the same Paris anymore of course...
I'm still somewhat interested in seeing the movie of GWtDT, mostly because David Fincher is not a bad director and I can see him doing something interesting with that mediocre subject material.
Right now I'm reading two huge doorstops: the first is Nixonland, which I enjoy more and more the more I read it. A fascinating look into a time that one hears too many platitudes about. Nicely timed this with the return of Mad Men, which has namedropped a couple of the big players in this book already this season.
I just started my third reread of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It's one of those books where the style nicely complements the story being told. Aside from a few moments here and there, it almost seems as if this 2004 book could have been written in the 19th century.
Finally, I am reading one 19th century classic: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It's a pretty good read, but the plot and characters are pretty far-removed from what I expected. This is definitely one of the cases in which the movie has completely overshadowed the book - I came to the book expecting the castle, the tesla coils waiting for lightning, Igor and all that jazz, but it turns out none of that was Shelley's intention... and the real story of Frankenstein is a wonderful thriller and morality tale.
12: Vollmann is problematic, isn't he. I'd put him in line with "amateur philosophers" like those in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, driven purely by their own personal enthusiasm. While he writes about historical topics, his usual metafictional tomfoolery doesn't put him in the same category as, say, Simon Schama Like "The Cantos," I see "Rising Up and Rising Down" as a ballsy epic failure. In RURD, I was peeved by his universalist "tolerance," specifically in the section dealing with "Honor" and the Afghani men. The utter lack of discussion about "honor killings" and Taliban atrocities made the entire section lose any ethical credibility with me.
Nearly done Broom of the System by DFW. Long and doostopper-ish, yet a quick read.
Citizens by the aforementioned Schama is spectacularly good. A grand narrative weaving together private and public, high-minded politics and ground-level struggles, personalities famous and not, and scads of images. He mines a rich seam with his analysis of visual culture and 18th century pop culture (or "mass culture" depending on how pendantic one wants to be).
Oh, I read all three "Dragon Tattoo" books. Can't say it was time well spent, but I got suckered into the plots. (And spent a lot of time screaming "get an editor!!!". In book 2, there is one section that reads like an Ikea catalogue when Lisbeth is furnishing her apartment. Was he getting sponsorship from Ikea and Billy Deep Pan Pizzas or something??)
Have just started Testament of Youth. Have been reading lots of non-snobbish stuff of late and have been busy, so haven't stuck my nose in here for a while.
13: Vollmann seems borderline insane, frankly, in the ambition of his project. I agree about that tolerance.
The story of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn't bad - journalist is asked to investigate disappearance of girl 40 years ago, and stumbles across a serial killer in the family. And Lisbeth Salander is initially an interesting character. But the implementation is terrible. The investigation succeeds because of two lucky breaks, one of which is not even experienced by the protagonist, but by his daughter on a flying visit. Salander is supposed to suffer from Asperger's, but is either silently hostile or talking just like a normal person. Oh, and she's a brilliant hacker too - though the computing described in the book is rubbish.
I've seen both the original Swedish TV series and the Fincher film. I'm not sure which is the best. Both distill the book's story down to something more sensible, but both suffer from problems with pacing. On balance, I think the Swedish Salander is better than the American one, but the changes made to the US film make it a slightly better story.
"I got halfway through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I don’t get it at all. What’s the big thrill? It’s boring."
-- Elmore Leonard
14: I have to say I read all of the Dan Brown books for the same reason, they are what I call airplane page turners, but while I was compulsively reading them I was criticizing the horrible writing the whole time. It's sad. I probably need some sort of therapy. The tattoo series though are not on my list. Stuff to do with child abuse and trauma is not stuff I can read easily, particularly in a book written for entertainment.
It's worse than that. The first book was titled Men Who Hate Women in Swedish, but Larsson completely mishandles the theme. He's more interested in slagging off corrupt financial journalists and capitalist fat cats. Every now and again, there's this clanging reference to the women-hating men, and there's no subtlety in it - the men are either liberal, or sexist monsters.
Why do so many writers have to be so heavy handed with their politics? I find Heinlein well nigh unreadable for all that libertarian BS you have to wade through. Seems liberal writers are no better. Complex bad guys are much more fun to read about.
I'm always suspicious of people who write books full of violence against women in order to deplore violence against women.
Sorta related: truthful movie posters (Girl With... version)
Sadly, not as funny as one would like - a little too honest.
Welcome back Anna!! Glad to hear it was perfect.
Any literary tourism done? Graves? Bookstores? etc...?
Sure, made the pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Co. twice, as well as to Pere Lachaise where I saw all the cute notes kids left in various languages to Champollion. One of them said in french, "Oh Jacques, I wish I could be like you, but I was not so lucky to learn Chinese at age 10, it is the fault of the system!"
While we were at Pere Lachaise we were approached by a few different groups of European teenagers assuming we must know where Jim Morrison was buried. Fortunately we had purchased a map of the site (it's HUGE) so we were able to direct them somewhat. The grave itself was something else. A nearby tree trunk had been entirely covered with chewing gum and notes to Jim. The only other tomb I saw that had anywhere near that level of interest was Oscar Wilde's.
Years ago I sent some of my books, gratis, to Shakespeare & Co. just so they could have some of my titles in stock. Cost me a fortune but it was worth it. Did the same for City Lights in Frisco. Famous bookstores. Love 'em.
21: Writers who are heavy-handed with their politics are ... wait for it ... bad writers. Ayn Rand or Upton Sinclair, regarldess of their political leanings, both favor insulting the reader's intelligence and bashing them on the skull with a 2 x 4. Can probably throw in Grapes of Wrath for good measure. In the end, art that's too politically specific and too solemn to be mistaken for satire, is just propaganda for whatever side is being preached at. (Ugh, that was a terribly written sentence.) As a reader, my response is usually: "So racism is bad, you say? And your point is what?" These bad writers can't get past pointing out the obvious.
And if we want to talk about violence against women, we can't forget about "10-inch shame sticks" and whatever Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are writing in their Supreme Court memoranda at this very moment.
Approaching the end of Broom of the System by DFW. Now, the real important question is, what to read next? Damn TBR pile and my own ambivalence. R. Scott Bakker, Djuna Barnes, Alexander Theroux, or Julien Gracq? Decisions, decisions.
Oh and another highlight of my trip was meeting an LT friend in person! We met at the Centre Pompidou and had coffee/orange juice.
I like the idea of an anguished little French kid saying "c'est la faute du système!"
Oddly enough I was looking up the Pompidou at the Google Art Project earlier today but it's not there. Loooved that place.
#27 And R Scott Bakker is famous for filling his books with misogyny in order to deplore misogyny. And then complaining when people just see the misogyny... Cf his recent melt-down after a "review" by Requires Hate.
Finished INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST and find much to praise about it in terms of its intelligence, recreation of the Restoration period, etc.
I did think it seemed overlong and I'm not certain about how it ties up in the end. I love the structure, the "Rashomon" like quality of the tale, multiple perspectives, contradictory testimony.
Give it an 8 out of 10.
#27, #31 A piece Peter Watts wrote on Bakker and his detractors. The comments underneath are helpful too:
#33 Not really. Watts defends Bakker because he's a nice guy - which doesn't address the original complaint. Watts also allows people to attack and insult Requires Hate in his comment thread. Neither Bakker nor Watts came out of the whole thing very well. If they'd had any common sense, they'd have stayed quiet.
Yeah, when someone says they've only read the first 10 pages of your book and then launches a vitriolic campaign against you, best keep your head down and let the craziness burn itself out.
I've had to deal with trolls and it ain't a pleasant thing.
Requires Hate wasn't trolling. That's not what she does. She uses rant rhetoric, and a lot of swear-words, but she also writes amazingly sharp reviews. And her complaints about Bakker's books were valid. They're rapey. Most fantasies are rapey. And that shouldn't be acceptable.
When Requires Hate did the same to Joe Ambercrombie, he replied that he'd not been thinking when he wrote the scene mentioned and would in future think carefully about such stuff. That's the proper way to do it. Not go ranting off and calling her every offensive name you can think of - or allow others to do that in your comment thread...
Besides, the so-called "campaign"... was a single short post which appeared nine months before Bakker went batshit over it. So, not a campaign, then.
The entire review/commentary just seems too strident to be deemed a credible response. Her admission that she had read little of the book in question smacks of those idjits who want a movie or book banned without ever seeing/reading it.
There are smart, well-crafted methods of gutting a writer's work and savaging their reputation as a scribe...this isn't one of them. Savvy critics don't fulminate and behave like a spoiled juvenile. They present their opinion and offer supporting evidence. Not merely starting from the proposition that the author in question is a prick, has an agenda and therefore they're free to take potshots at them. Who is this person? What are her credentials? Isn't this another case of the internet and its "cult of the amateur" producing another so-called expert who disguises their lack of erudition with Ad hominem attacks and vitriol?
What you say about fantasy is probably true, can't respond to that because I read so little of it.
But the reviewer in question is attacking the writer PERSONALLY because of something he wrote. Mistaking the song for the singer.
I don't know Bakker, never read his work. First time I've looked him up...and I discover he's a fookin' Canadian...
OK, I really I don't want to say too much on this, because I have not read Requires Hate or any of her comments, but based on what Ian says in 38, and the fact that someone in the comments to the counter rant posted in 33 was also slagging off Sady Doyle's very funny and insightful and ranty review of the GRRM series (and she had actually read every word of four of the books and did a real blow by blow review of what exactly was rapey and misogynist about them) I just have to point this out: Seems like people just don't want to hear women pointing out that rapey fantasy has become really disturbing/disgusting and that yes, the author must have some issues or he would not repeatedly go there. My son reads fantasy series (such as Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, did I get that one right? I do not read these things) and he admits that rape is practically a precondition for every story. What the hell. What is wrong with these sick authors?
Cliff, Requires Hate does present evidence in her reviews. And they're far from amateur. She read enough of Bakker's novel to determine she didn't want to read more, and then wrote about what she had read. From what others have said, there's nothing in the rest of the book that would have caused her to change her mind. She has a problem with the sort of novel of which Bakker's is typical. She blogs about it. Her presentation of her argument is designed to get a response. Which it does. But don't ignore her argument because you don't like her language - that's the tone argument, and a classic derailing technique.
Why does she need to present credentials? You're using exactly the same tactics as Bakker and his cronies. You don't like what she has to say, so you find ways to dismiss her opinion.
Anna, rape has become a trope in fantasy, a way of signalling that the villain is bad or means of "tempering" the kick-ass heroine. Neither are acceptable, and it's time fantasy authors started to think about it a bit more intelligently.
Yesterday, Saladin Ahmed, author of The Throne of the Crescent Moon, wrote a piece on Salon.com commenting on problematic presentation of races other than white in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The comment thread promptly filled up with attacks on Saladin.
What is it about fantasy readers? They claim that Westeros is based on mediaeval Europe so of course it will be 99% white. Except Westeros is a made-up place. It doesn't have to be anything. It's whatever Martin wants it to be. And there's no good reason why he should make it 99% white, or resort to western stereotypes for non-white characters.
Now THAT I can't address (rape in fantasy).
But I'm worried, as a writer/creator, that equating certain attitudes/predilections to an author because of their work is a slippery slope. I've written some tales that touch on dicey themes, taken approaches where the point of view seems amoral...but I ain't my characters and my characters ain't me. Authors like Ballard and Burroughs took heat because of their extreme works and refusal to conform to convention.
Hope I'm expressing myself well enough. I know little of Mr. Bakker or his oeuvre and have no trouble with folks who don't like it. I hated Brett Easton Ellis' AMERICAN PSYCHO but it had nothing to do with any bias I felt toward its author. I just didn't think it was a very good book and thought it was wrong-headed and nasty for entirely sensationalistic and commercial reasons. The literary equivalent of a snuff film.
Is Ellis "Patrick Bates", does he share any of his odd appetites? I'll guess we'll have to check his microwave to make sure...
I agree with you that an author is not necessarily what they write. And there are authors with reprehensible views that you still read - Céline or Ezra Pound, for example. (But not Orson Scott Card or John C Wrong.)
But if something is endemic in a genre... and no one questions it... and then authors get upset when it is questioned... and repeatedly attack the questioner... It's not the same.
One of my stories has a Nazi officer as the protagonist. That doesn't make me a Nazi. Writing about aliens isn't going to make me an alien. But if all my books feature women getting raped, then I think I should be called on it.
I think the entire fantasy genre should be called on it (endemic rape). Repeatedly. Until it cleans up its act.
Horror went through a bad spell awhile back when "splatter" came along--the residue still remains and thus we have "extreme" horror which is filled with, you guessed it, rape fantasies and sexual violence galore. The authors overwhelmingly male, stupid and untalented.
Wow, poor Ahmed, who I have even heard of and I have heard of that book he wrote as being very good. Sady also had some angry fantasy fans show up but her comment threads are heavily moderated so the comments section did not get down to a level that was unreadable - in fact they are very thought provoking. I think I have posted the link to it before but here it is again in case anyone wants to read a long, slangy and swear word filled, but entertaining and pretty universally conceded to be accurate, article attacking the first four books of the GRRM ice and fire series:
45: I guess that settles that matter:
What I do like about R Scott Bakker's series is the Hobbesian politics and complexities, along with the scads of devious, scheming, backstabbing characters. I guess that's why I like Godfather II Not for everyone, to be sure.
R. Scott Bakker is the only epic fantasy I read, not sure what Steve Erikson's series is like, rape-wise. I do get tired of the "vaguely medieval, vaguely European" setting with 90% white people. It just comes across as another Romanticized version akin to the Pre-Raphaelites and German fascism (especially how they re-imagined medieval Europe). Or it seems like reconstituted Ren Fair cosplay silliness with characters with dumb hippie names.
Independent People took a while to get going, but has a momentum and force that carries all before it. A tough narrative slog sometimes but with some beautiful descriptive passages (in my J. A. Thompson translation, anyway.) An epic, with all that that entails. I'm acting in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in a month, so I'm rereading Hamlet, Revenge! - I do have a fondness for the early Innes books.
Finished the St. Denis volume of Les Miserables. Only one volume to go. One of the greatest novels ever written? You bet your life it is. I'm looking forward to exploring further 19th century French writers, see how they stack up, because Hugo is going to be a tough act to follow.
I don't actually have much free time for reading this past week or so, too brain dead to do more than snag a few pages from Hugo or Rohmer. I'm not even touching my real heavyweights just now. Tsk.
I've made it about halfway in The Return of Fu Manchu. Very episodic work, less a book than a TV season, chock full of outlandish deaths and gruesome torture. Fu Manchu may be one of the greatest pulp villains. What was Moriarty? A tin-pot London crimelord. Fu Manchu is an international menace with a menagerie of death and a nasty habit of beating the heroes to the punch. I guess he's also a damaging racial sterotype, but I can't really see it, myself. Guess I have a thick hide. The writing is wonderfully purple and not as bad as you might think. And yes, I read the first book and thought it good enough for seconds. And since I'm not sensing any alarming dip in quality, there may even be thirds.
I really lucked out in the Fu Manchu department, inheriting a complete set of vintage mass markets from my mother. She found most of them in an improbable little bookshop in a seedy part of Minneapolis, called (if memory serves) Uncle Edgar's Mystery Bookstore. It was right next door to Uncle Hugo's Sci-fi Bookstore, where she got a book called Lucifer's Hammer which she's always recommending I read...
I just started The Watchers by Jon Steele. So far it seems very intriguing.
LUCIFER'S HAMMER...hmmm, read that when I was about fifteen (33 years ago). A big, over-fat, end of the world book by a couple of hard right wingers written back in the early 1980's. Past its due date, I'm afraid, and I doubt it would hold much interest to you. But perhaps I'm wrong...
I read it about the same age as Cliff did - it was entertaining enough, I seem to remember. Larry Niven had a few fun books, and I have I think a couple of his Ringworld books...
Almost done with Nixonland - Tricky Dick's off to China...
54: White House Years and Years of Upheaval by Kissinger are also good. Another angle of what was happening in Nixonland, by one of Tricky Dick's greatest apologists.
Read "Disneyland with a Death Penalty" by William Gibson's new book of non-fiction essays, Distrust That Particular Flavor Should I be concerned that the paternalistic dictatorship of happy technocrats reminds me too much of Rochester, MN? He compared it to IBM becoming a sovereign state.
Reading some essays from William Gass's new essay collection, Life Sentences In my mind, Gass's playful erudition and his voracious reading habits make him a likely heir of Anthony Burgess, minus writing 90 novels.
Read The Instance of the Fingerpost, interesting choice for Easter weekend. (Hmm, I think I've heard this story somewhere, very recently...)
Also Purgatory by Tomas Eloy Martinez which I liked very much also. It makes me wonder, though...has any Argentinian writer anywhere, ever, written an ordinary realistic novel with ordinary characters doing everyday things? Is that sort of novel dead in South America? Or is it just the magical realism stuff that gets translated? Much as I liked the book, it is in some ways very stereotypically South American (philosophical references, modernist references, some subtle magical realism, an ending which implies that the only refuge from reality is withdrawal from it.)
56: The "magical realism" thing is a tad overplayed, then again, to publishers it's like printing money. The public demands only what its told to demand.
Roberto Bolano seems like a good counterexample. While he does have Borges-like flourishes and politics suffuses all his works, he avoids the cheeky magical realist bosh. Probably why people are getting tired of Salman Rushdie's quirky Indian version of the same literary technique. Great in Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses, but now the technique seems as quaint and dead as a sentimental Victorian serial novel.
Check out the epic Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias. No magical realist fiddle-faddle in that novel.
Magical realism was the stuff that got most translated and unfortunately became a packaging gimmick. I don't think that any serious writer would attempt magical realism in Argentina or elsewhere in the continent anymore. Not without being ironic. Even Garcia Marquez stopped doing magical realism in the early 80's. I would argue that magical realism properly speaking was only a portion of the output of the so called Boom generation.
Anypoo, some more recent Argentinian writers include Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill, Ricardo Piglia, and Bolaño's favorite, Cesar Aira.
Here's the results of a poll they did in 2007 about the best novels written in Spanish in the previous 25 years:
I'm fond of these books myself. Did you ever read S.J. Perelman's essay, "Cloudland Revisited," where he reminisces about books he read as a child, including The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu? It's very funny and wonderful at evoking the effect these books have on us when young.
Reading an absolutely frightening account of child soldiers in Sierra Leone, A Long Way Gone.
Finished A Visit from the Goon Squad wonderful book deserved all it's prizes.
Read Jonathan Livingston Seagull this morning. My reading list is starting to look a little dubious this year - Kerouac, Hesse, Coelho and now Richard Bach. Geez, I'll be reading Stranger in a Strange Land next...
However, I have to say that I enjoyed Jonathan Livingston Seagull way more than Siddhartha or The Alchemist, it being far less aggravating/trite. There weren't too many "lessons" shoehorned into the narrative, I didn't have to struggle to contain my cynicism and toward the end I was pleased to hear a wry note in Bach's voice (humour was something decidedly absent from Coelho and Hesse). Also, lots of nice photographs of seagulls. I found it a pleasant surprise and am glad I rescued it.
Now I guess I'll get back to the usual suspects.
Finished The Better Angels of our Nature, which turned out to be quite good, although at times I found the argument a bit shaky. I'm sure Vollmann would find it "rancid with senile optimism," though.
Now reading Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, by Adam Winkler, which is an exploration of the history of the Second Amendment viewed through the lens of D.C. vs. Heller.
No time to read fiction these days, alas. Consumed by the hungry research monster.
So I've started in on Finding a Form, the Gass essays earlier recommended to me. Three down, sixteen to go. Great stuff. Between his bull-headed self-assertion (that's a compliment), his linguistic flights of fancy and his impeccable use of scorn every page is an entertainment. "The present tense is a parched and barren country. In the past, writers rarely went there." And also... "The Pulitzer has perceived an important truth about our complex culture: Serious literature is not important to it; however, the myth that it matters must be maintained."
Meanwhile, I fell off the Spengler wagon a few weeks ago, struggling with his chapter on "the meaning of numbers." Not being mathematically gifted, I limp along. There are phrases such as "geometrical loci and co-ordinates" and "the quadrature of the parabola section." So I dutifully read through it and wait for something I can understand to crop up, such as Spengler's linkage between mathematics and the design of musical instruments. When I do get done with this segment, it should get easier again.
68: I think William Gass is a contemporary version of Anthony Burgess: wordplay, assertion, scorn and fancy. Not many critics can be called "erudite and playful." A sense of play is important, or else it all becomes dour, solemn, and serious. I've had enough of that in high school English classes. To say the obvious, Reading is fun! After Gass, I would recommend The Pleasure of the Text by Barthes. Only 80 pages, it's a breeze.
Ugh, I remember those sections in Spengler. I also remember him building up some argument against the decadence and depravity of modernism, then ending the entire section with "something something n____r dances and jazz music." Granted, he wrote this after WW 1 and Europe was anything but a bastion of tolerance and enlightenment, but it struck me as a vulgar cheap shot, especially coming from a work of such stunning research and the Wagnerian writing style. Half-expected him to say, "No git offa mah lawn, ya damn whippersnappers!" and then rail against carbonated beverages and Model Ts.
THE NIGHTMARE OF REASON: A LIFE OF FRANZ KAFKA by Ernst Pawel.
A bit slow-going in the first 1/4 owing to a lengthy description of the cultural/ethnic scene in Prague and Czechoslovakia in the latter part of the nineteenth century. But thanks to Pawel's investigations and insights, Kafka does emerge (partially) from the shadows, refusing to disclose all his secrets but at least allowing some probing of the outer boundaries of his psyche. Not reading this fast enough, owing to some editing duties, but fans of Kafka or those curious about his odd oeuvre should certainly try to lay their hands on this volume.
Started Erich Maria Remarque's Three Comrades. I've been meaning to check out more of his stuff since the first time I read All Quiet on the Western Front, but this is the first time I've managed to get my hands on one of his other books. It's not a truly eventful book - it's basically the adventures of three guys in between-World-Wars-Germany, drinking and fixing cars. And then a woman gets involved. That said, the writing is absolutely lovely. I always am struck by the contrast between the beauty of Remarque's language and the ugliness of what he writes about - life in the trenches in 1917, or fighting to survive in the 1920s Weimar Republic, where your 200-billion-mark paycheck could be worthless by the time dinnertime rolls around.
It's really wonderful stuff. Highly recommended.
Continuing through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; near the end it gets to be a real page-turner. Clarke has said she's writing a sequel, eventually, but I have heard nothing about that for years. Still, it took her 10 years to write this, and it was a decade well-spent. If i have to wait about 5 more years for another Susanna Clarke doorstopper, I'm sure it'll be worth the wait.
Finished The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu. Everything but the kitchen sink - an amnesiac love interest, a haunted house, a bandaged strangler, a ship bound for Egypt, false deaths, false beards, secret hideouts and rat cages. And all that's only in the last quarter of the book. There is literally action on every page. For what it is, it's first rate.
Finally had the time to immerse myself in another book of Paradise Lost. God showed up. I don't find him very sympathetic, personally.
70: Thanks for the recommendation. I've got Mythologies kicking around the house somewhere, but I'll see if I can acquire a copy of The Pleasure of the Text as well. Nice trio of Barthes reviews, by the way.
73: Thanks. I'll have to prowl the bookstores for Sax Rohmer "Fu Manchu" sounds like a great pot-boiler. I love it when writers turn everything up to 11 and throw caution to the wind.
Mythologies is important, from the perspective of the history of critical theory, but also enjoyable to read, each analysis like a Baudelaire-ian prose-poem.
Re: Paradise Lost -- it is fascinating when the villains in religious-themed literature get all the best lines. Heck, The Joker had all the best lines in The Dark Knight, and his pessimistic view of humanity as easily manipulated beasts is spot-on, unfortunately.
The Cultural History of the Chinese Language is good. Just finished the chapter on Chinese language and nature imagery, comparing Chinese natural philosophy to Greek philosophy. Finding concepts Kim Stanley Robinson talked about in The Years of Rice and Salt
"Guy de la Valdene"
Sounds like a Crusader!
Hadn't heard of him, A.J. Will keep an eye out for his stuff.
Info on Guy de la Valdene:
I discovered Remarque when I was a teenager and really liked him. I remember some of his novels as quite romantic (in one of his books two people fall in love in a matter of days and get married at a City Hall with people dragged off the street for witnesses -- there's some sort of time element involved so they have to hurry. For some reason I wanted my wedding to be exactly like that.)
On a trip this past weekend to LA to see the Getty and the Huntington Library, took along Desert Solitaire and finished it. I sort of like Abbey's candor, especially as I've read a lot of walking-in-the-desert books which try to stay out of enviromental issues except in the broadest way.
Started The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, which argues that the Renaissance was jump-started in part by the rediscovery of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura in the early 1400s. It gets a bit sappy when he tries to do historical recreation, but the parts about book-hunting in monasteries and the recreation of manuscripts is fascinating.
78: Desert Solitaire and Leopold's Sand County Almanac are my favorite "take with me on a backpacking trip" books.
Anna, if you like those I would recommend Craig Childs' books about the desert Southwest as well.
I think when in chapter two, we had a character retelling a story that had been told to her that also contained other stories my brain frizzled somewhat trying to work my way back to the original narrators. (And two narrators?? What the...?)
It's going to be fun, I'm going to need my wits about me, I think. :)
#82 Loved that book. Took a bit to get going, but the Taggart spoof is superb and the Archer piss-take is genius. The pomo guru bit is also pretty good.
Started reading The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill. Really enjoying it. A great mix of characters -- former anarchists, ex-cops, hookers, kindly bartenders, Boer War vets from both sides, a besotted Harvard alum -- all holding on to their pipe dreams and bottles of cheap whiskey. (The setting and characters actually remind me of the first story in Will Self's Liver)
I've only read one other play by O'Neill, Long Day's Journey into Night Like all his plays, Iceman is autobiographical, but autobiographical in a different way about a different part of his life.
86: Choose whichever one is shorter ;) After Hugo's bloated mega-epic, it's a nice switch to read something short and sweet.
Anyone read the YA book Trash by Andy Mulligan? I'm previewing it for possible use in my Eng. I class, and the firsrt couple chapters look promising. It's set in/on an enormous garbage dump modeled on the Smokey Mountain dump in the Philippines.
I'm not sure why I'm surprised that the end of Three Comrades was a kick in the gut. This IS the guy who wrote All Quiet on the Western Front, after all...
Time for something a little lighter, I think...
Thunder in the Mountains: the West Virginia Mine War, 1920 - 21, by Lon Savage.
At first, it staggers the mind that these events actually took place in the United States, in the 20th Century. Then you realize that these events could only have taken place in the United States.
90: Not surprising in the least. If you're a worker, a gay person, or a non-Christian, you're practically given a target to put on your back. Remember, we were founded by hateful pig-brain Puritan psychopaths and our culture is stewed in the sewage of the Protestant work ethic. So if you're job gets outsourced to China, the oligarchs will make sure to couch it in a way to make it sound like it was your fault and you're morally inferior. I mean, come on, Gordon Gekko is a folk hero to a vast majority of uneducated greedhead morons who don't know the first thing about economics, math, or critical thinking. Seriously, invade us already! We have a weak stupid fat underbelly just waiting to be slashed open and conquered by a foreign enemy with single-payer.
In summary, "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!"
Furthermore, in answer to your query: "Why do you hate America?" I don't. Just the part of America between Mexico and Canada.
The Iceman Cometh is going pretty good.
Have you seen the John Sayles film "Matewan", A.J.? it touches on similar matters. And here's remembering Barbara Kopple's timeless doc "Harlan County, USA":
Haven't seen Matewan, but it's the same topic. Savage's book was a source for the film. Though I doubt a film could cover it. What's amazing is the sheer scale and duration of the Mingo mine war.
I will look for that Harlan County documentary.
And "Dark as a Dungeon" to kick off that trailer ... what a great song.
Appalachian music is worth its weight in gold for the mining songs alone. Those and the train wrecks.
>92 Haven't seen the movie, always meant to, but I took a tour of the coal mine where they filmed the scenes with James Earl Jones. Interesting commentary went with the tour. Despite all their prejudices at least Mr. Jones' character wasn't a scab, which was apparently the worst thing anyone could ever be.
"Matewan" is preachy and somewhat contrived but a powerful piece of film-making. "City of Hope" is still my favorite Sayles picture.
97: I'm a fan of "Lone Star" and "Eight Men Out." Anyone read Sayles new book?
The big, fat bugger? Like, 900 pages? I believe I've pined over it as I've passed it in the racks a few times...
When I was a child growing up in KY they showed us "Harlan County USA" in school. I didn't get it, didn't have any context to understand it. We never learned much about that period of history. I guess it was too recent and too much of a touchy subject, given the dominance of the coal companies in KY. (We did learn about the Hatfields and the McCoys, which was fairly hair-raising...so much hatred and violence and nobody could explain why.)
Finished Santa Evita. A wonderful book, very moving, wandering the line between fact and fiction (I think) as it follows the wanderings of Evita's body post-mortem.
Anyone interested in Harlan county should check out the FX series Justified - which also has the added bonus of being based off Elmore Leonard's stories. Raylan Givens is a badass.
A bit more of Les Miserables put away. God, it's getting depressing. Basically nothing but a long, long, long description of everybody getting picked off on the barricades. Worse, they appear to have started this unwinnable battle from idealism.
Decided to start reading Nightwood as counterpoint. Breath of fresh air and all that. Really, I'm stunned when I hear how people read 1,000 page books in two months or some other short amount of time. I always think I can, but then suddenly it's been eight months, then ten, and I'm rushing to finish it before it rolls around to twelve.
I always confuse "Matewan" with that 1974 Wilder/Little railway strife epic...
I liked Andy Mulligan's Trash enough to add it to my English I class for next year. It takes place in an acres-wide garbage dump in an unnamed city (that is, obviously, Manila; the dump is modeled on the Smokey Mountain dumpsite). A detective tale of sorts is set in motion when one of the boys finds a wallet and a key in the dump (shortly before a flotilla of cops descends on the dump, an indication that the key is important); but if you don't care for highly "plotty" books--which I don't--the word "detective" shouldn't scare you off. It's more about the people and the place than about the clues that get solved. It's about a hundred times better than the Percy Jackson book I'm replacing with it.
Done with Thunder in the Mountains -- a balanced and well-researched account. Now on to The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner, which so far I have found to be sloppy and poorly argued despite its inarguable thesis.
Nightwood. So far, it's a bitter, bawdy freakshow written with the voice of a poet. Hard to tell where it's going.
Finding a Form proceeds apace. So far there's not a dud in the lot.
Victor Hugo: A couple more people killed. The scene is slowing me down like Waterloo did earlier. I don't think I cotton to battle scenes.
#104> It's about a hundred times better than the Percy Jackson book I'm replacing with it.
Damn, I picked up a Percy Jackson book with Mr Bear at the library on the weekend, in the hope of derailing him wanting me to read Lego catalogues to him every night at bedtime. I think Lego is brilliant, but it's not quite the reading I would choose for myself.
Anyhow, I finished Betrayals and it was very, very brilliant. Didn't realise the TV shows were Taggart/Archer, but that's a lack of knowledge on my side. I did like the philosophy bits, it reminded me of struggling with Lacan at Uni, but I was allowed to laugh at it. (Wasn't allowed to laugh at Lacan, oh no.) And I spent quite a while flicking back and forth as I was reading it, and then again when I finished it and found the index of characters at the back, putting things together. An excellent read. If I have time before it gets returned to the library, I'll re-read some sections, I think.
Have moved on this morning to Steinbeck's The Moon is Down. Hm, propaganda. Not my favourite genre, even if they are propagandising from a point of view I believe in.
The Archer spoof is a take-down of the Tory scumbag and "novelist" Jeffrey Archer, and Palliser gets in cracks at his various "novels" (rumour has it Archer's books were extensively rewritten by is editor) and at some of the more newsworthy events in his life...
Greenblatt's The Swerve was fun. It's a bit of a hybrid, walking the line (not always nimbly) between "scholarly" and "popular" work; but if you want to know how the work of classical authors made it through the middle ages or what you had to say to gain access to the manuscripts in monasteries, or how copies of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura got passed from hand to hand between the likes of Galileo and Machiavelli and Montaigne, this is your book.
109: I know he wrote The Moon is Down during WWII for a reason but I still think the story stands on its own. I would not call this novel propaganda.
Steinbeck regarded The Moon is Down as a piece of propaganda, but I have a soft spot for it nonetheless, having read it at a young age. It alerted my 6-yr-old mind to the idea that a government can only rule by consent of the governed, but I learned to my cost that this lesson did not apply in the domestic sphere, where I had to do chores regardless. I still don't think it's merely propaganda, whatever Steinbeck himself thought of it.
Recognizing my soft spot for it, when my grandmother died, my mother gave me my grandfather's UK first edition, which contains a note to the effect that it has been printed in compliance with wartime economy measures.
Anyway, having disposed of Glassner, I'm on to On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. And after that, as a good companion to Thunder in the Mountains (and as a return to reading fiction), it's going to be Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle.
Steinbeck takes it on the chin as a propagandist through and through, partly because he had a playwright's sensibility and felt the need to hit the reader in the head with a hammer, but wrt In Dubious Battle I think it's important to remember Steinbeck's own remark about the book to his editor: "I am not interested in strikes as a means of raising mens' wages." Similarly, people have for years mistaken The Grapes of Wrath for a Marxist screed. Whatever Steinbeck's faults, he was rarely as simplistic as his critics pretend -- except, perhaps, in The Moon is Down.
Finished REALITY HUNGER by David Shields.
Not sure what to say about this one. It touts itself as a "manifesto"...but most manifestos I know aren't book-length. The central theme seems to be that these times require a different kind of tome, neither fiction nor non-fiction, collage-like, non-linear...hmm. Stuff I've read before, pondered and shrugged off. Like those periodic "Is the Novel Dead?" articles and essays. Literary scare-mongering.
Shields also speaks favorably of certain writers who, wouldn't ya know it, provide laudatory blurbs for the the cover (hello there, Jonathan Lethem, Lydia Davis).
Some good bits and quotes (most of which are drawn from other sources and appropriated by the writer--attribution is also a thing of the past, apparently, as is copyright, intellectual ownership, etc.).
I'll likely pop a couple of short bits from REALITY HUNGER on the "Quotes" thread.
This book easily could have been condensed down to an article.
I've said that numerous times over the course of the past few years...
Halfway through Nightwood already. It's a breeze. Decadent writing style takes the front seat and the substance of the novel can only be reached by compromise: If you ask yourself "but why are these people acting this way?" the whole book starts to look ridiculous. It's not a realist novel. I'm very happy with it and I think I've found in Djuna Barnes another of E.M. Forster's "prophets," writers concerned with an underlying song that works through the looseness of the narrative (he identified Dostoevsky, Melville, Lawrence and E. Bronte as this type).
Also, I'm seeing the book's clear influence on John Hawkes when he was writing The Lime Twig. In other words, I'm enjoying myself very much with Nightwood. It even has a good introduction by T.S. Eliot - a bit out of date, no doubt, but far more interesting than some modern academic intro turning it into a joyless lesbian tote-bag. And heck, at the speed I'm going I'll have the book finished today.
115: It even has a good introduction by T.S. Eliot - a bit out of date, no doubt, but far more interesting than some modern academic intro turning it into a joyless lesbian tote-bag.
When Nightwood is reissued, they should have that as a blurb on the jacket copy. Besides, I get all my lesbian tote-bags from PBS telethons ;) Matches my Che Guevara t-shirt. In any case, I'm putting "Nightwood" at the top of my TBR list ... plus it's short.
Another prophet I'd recommend is Joris-Karl Huysmans's Against Nature and Maldoror by Lautreamont Both are written in amazing lush prose, highly decadent, and not the slightest bit "realistic." But what is Realism, really? It seems to me either like the writer turning himself or herself into a stenographer or simply a means to shoe-horn politics into sensationalized descriptions of people with crappy lives (Zola, Balzac, etc.). My two cents, anyway.
Antarctica is great. Kim Stanley Robinson knows how to pen a rippin' good adventure yarn with plenty of hard science, complex politics, and compelling characters. And excellent use of the "20 minutes into the future" trope with plausible gadgets (watch-phones) and global warming as a undeniable certainty (wacked-out weather systems, superstorms, etc.). Highly recommended.
On the last act of The Iceman Cometh "Don't follow those pipe dreams, snobs! You'll always be aces with me, see." The despairing characters and the Three Stooges-esque slang and pronunciation make for quite a bizarre reading experience.
Finished The Iceman Cometh this morning. Excellent stuff. Highly recommended. A little less bleak and harrowing than Long Day's Journey into Night
Once I finish Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson, I think I'll check out Nightwood Now which volume? The vintage paperback or the 3-fer omnibus with The Antiphon and Spillway, her short story collection? Probably the latter, since this will be a commuter read. Don't want to damage the vintage paperback.
3/4 of the way through On Killing, I have to remark that it is an incredibly weak piece of work. Thinly referenced, using questionable references, relying on discredited evidence, asserting facts that do not exist in the service of models of human behavior that are rejected by modern social science, and shot through with specious Freudian bullshit. Circular arguments galore.
Finished Nightwood last night and spent this morning hacking away at my notes for a review. So, if anyone cares for my further descriptions of the book, they may go here http://pseudointellectualreviews.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/nightwood-djuna-barnes...
Otherwise, finished with Hugo's barricades at last. It looks like the miserable adventures of Jean Valjean in the sewers is up next. What a book. After this there shall be no more epic novels, not for a couple years at least. I'll need some time to recover from the exertion. It's gonna make The Alexandria Quartet seem like cakewalk - a mere 800 pages! Hardly any time at all.
117: I certainly hope you like Djuna Barnes... but if you don't and want to get rid of her stuff, do please consider mailing that omnibus to me.
119: Nice review. Here's a collection of short plays by Djuna Barnes:
120: Thank you.
Looks like a bit of diligence could get me a nice Djuna Barnes collection...
Meanwhile, I seem to have hit a turning point in Les Miserables and won't be starting any more works of fiction for a while. To my surprise his history of the Paris sewers was riveting.
121: I had the same surprise. I was becoming bored with his digressions and then the sewer one was so much fun, I was able to finish the book after that point fairly quickly because it really became un-put-down-able.
121: Looks like Barnes's verse play is loosely based on The Orestia, along with my present reading adventure: The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell Damn, now I really need to read that! Perhaps pair it with Eugene O'Neill's trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra?
I do plan to read Les Miserables sometime. Again, I want to read it either back-to-back or in tandem with the other Napoleonic Monster Epic War and Peace
Almost done with Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson. Highly recommended. I went from "rather impressed" by KSR to making him a LT "favorite" author. Will need to check out his Mars trilogy. His characters are compelling (vs. "likeable" -- a term that reeks of one-dimensionality).
Moving on from On Killing, which started badly and got worse, eventually foisting upon its reader such stinkers as the claim that the US Army in Vietnam was "the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen," which prompts certain obvious questions.
Now, reading Richard Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. This because when I presented it to my daughter and said I wanted a full book report by tomorrow, she made a rude remark. What good are children if they can't plow through 800 pages of research for you?
GUNFIGHTER NATION looks like my kinda book. Be sure to pop back with your reaction, once you've finished.
Finished NAPIER'S BONES by Canadian sci fi guy Derryl Murphy. Feel bad about taking so long to read the book, since I know the author in question. A catchy premise, very trippy in places and a good, rewarding read. From a small press called ChiZine, located in Toronto. Nice lookin' package.
126: That's where I sent my sci fi novel manuscript. Good people. They actually wrote me an "encouraging rejection letter." WTF? Never expected that.
124: Moving on from On Killing, which started badly and got worse, eventually foisting upon its reader such stinkers as the claim that the US Army in Vietnam was "the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen," which prompts certain obvious questions
On a similar note, the German Army during World War 2 had the most advanced weaponry at the time (jets, V-2 missiles, etc.) ... they still goddamn lost. Advanced weaponry and a centuries old martial culture (in the case of Germany: the Prussian Army) makes for "an effective fighting force," just not one that actually wins in the end. The Red Army had terrible weaponry, horrendously bad strategy (Zap Brannigan-style: "I'll send wave after wave of men at the enemy. Isn't that right, men?" "YOU SUCK!"), and Stalin killing anybody who protested otherwise.
As far as Vietnam goes: 3 words for ya (dude that wrong the book): "Home field advantage." They fought the Chinese, Japanese, and the French. To say the North Vietnamese were tenacious would be a wild understatement. Sure, North Vietnam was an oppressive dictatorship, but that never stopped us from befriending Pinochet, the Saudi Royal Family, and the usual gang of free market despots, dictators, and genocidal lunatics. "The Spice must flow!"
Started on the section in The Kindly Ones with the Germans surrounded in Stalingrad ... in winter. Good times.
Finished The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb. Noted as one of the lighter of the author's books in the afterword, it's kind of a parody of Sherlock Holmes, mixed in with some Rosicrucian history (not really clear how seriously Szerb takes all that.) Laugh out loud funny at time, a lot of flip sentences, and the most unreliable narrator I ever met, part humble scholar, part international man of mystery, part medieval knight. I'm intrigued enough that I'm probably going to read Journey by Moonlight, which is said to be more serious.
I have Olive Kitteridge on my wishlist. Be interested to know what it's like.
I have finished Les Miserables. It is a rare satisfaction indeed to finish a 1,000+ page book and that one is a classic among classics. Jean Valjean was that rare character, a believable saint, and whilst Javert had only about five scenes over the course of the novel, with those five he managed to eclipse most every other character. Like War and Peace it had its little flaws, but they appear trifling and easy to forgive. On balance, I do believe War and Peace to be the better work.
I shall now have to acquire a copy of Mario Vargas Llosa's appreciation, The Temptation of the Impossible at some point. However, with Hugo back on the shelf I'll be coasting with short books for a while.
Meanwhile, read William Gass' Nietzsche essay, which rekindled the interest I've allowed to wane in the interval since reading The Birth of Tragedy. I shall therefore probably be reading Nietzsche in Turin next, a biography of his final sane year, which is the only extra Nietzsche material I can find in the house. Hope it's good.
131: For a French yarn, I highly recommend Pere Goriot by Balzac. Also a little shorter than Le Miz. Might be worth comparing how each describes Paris.
Just finished Life of Pi. It was a good read - not a fantastic read, but worth the time. I liked the detailed observations of animal behavior.
The ending was OK, but they kind of beat you over the head with the metaphor - it would have been better for the reader to put together the pieces him(her)self.
Nice to see Djuna getting some attention around here. We mustn't let her slip into obscurity.
Finished Invisible Cities. I had read sections before. Liked it but my mind kept wandering off all the time. Best read in small doses at a time. Like poetry.
Also reading Heartbreak Soup by Gilbert Hernandez. Seems like is a very early work.
I was listening to Black Elk Speaks in audiobook a week ago but I think I am going to have to start again. Had a great line that went something like "we don't know if these things happened but it's the truth."
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