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Enrique's Erratic Ramblings

Club Read 2009

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Nov 7, 2009, 12:34pm Top

Just finished Tolstoi's Confession and am quite moved. Stunning that he felt so despondent two years removed from Anna Karenina's publication, when he was at the height of his creative powers, and yet believed what he had accomplished was ultimately meaningless. He was in such despair that he seriously contemplated suicide for a good year, until he rediscovered what he terms "the faith of the poor." I want to review this once I get my thoughts organized on paper.

Trying to make my way through The Anatomy of Melancholy but man, it is tough going. I have little idea of what I'm reading, but it's nonetheless compelling: I love the topic, being a melancholic person myself, so I'll keep pulling it out from time to time and treating it like a poetry volume when I'm in the mood for something heavy and profound to chew on. If anyone hereabouts has read it and could provide a synopsis or aim of the book, I'd be very thankful.

Am also making my way through William T. Vollmann's - my favorite alive writer's epic treatise on CA/Mexico border socio-politics, Imperial. Truly fascinating. I have an adopted son who's Mexican (3yr old) and since I live in Chino, CA, a mere hour-and-a-half from the border, the topic is a very personal and weighted one for me. Vollmann originally wanted to write a novel of his 10 years of research on the area he defines as "Imperial"; an area much larger than Imperial County proper, extending south to the Sea of Cortez and north to Indio and west to the Pacific Ocean, but felt it wouldn't be right to fictionalize the lives of all the real people - "Southsiders" and "Northsiders" he calls them - so he turned his research into a 1,300 page examination of the history and current climate of the conflict. Fascinating stuff. I wish more people read Vollmann. Any Vollmann lovers out there?

I ordered The Hour of the Star two weeks ago from Amazon and am peeved that it still hasn't arrived; supposed to be reading it for a group read.

Am presently skimming a couple works of analysis and criticism on my favorite dead writer, David Foster Wallace: Elegant Complexity, an in-depth, practically page-by-page examination of Infinite Jest, and also a more general title on the author's life and work, Understanding David Foster Wallace. I'm still upset (sort of, if I let myself think about it too much) that he's gone - and gone so young at the peak of his creative powers - truly tragic that he didn't believe he could be helped by therapy or medication or other interventions anymore.

Lastly, for now, am skimming a couple works on the French Revolution just so I have at least some working knowledge of all the references made to that violent era in Les Miserables, a book I'll begin re-reading next month.

Nov 7, 2009, 12:44pm Top

Okay, I have put Imperial on my library list of books eventually to be checked out, although I haven't yet decided what I really thought of Europe Central.

Edited: Nov 7, 2009, 1:58pm Top

Of course you know that Burton is one of the great putter-inners. He is in no hurry to bring his descriptions of, say, someone's not pretty mistress to a close. He'll describe her nose in any number of disgusting ways. All you can do is go along for the ride. No one can help you with this thing. Though I can't imagine you liking this book if you don't like Joyce, much.

Edited: Nov 7, 2009, 3:08pm Top

I have mixed feelings on Europe Central too, Solla. I loved the Shostakovich sections; how Vollmann handled what had to be hell for the composer, toeing the totalitarian party line while attempting to retain his own artistic integrity and vision. And the sections which featured the nazi who had a conscience (forget his name) and purposely sabotaged and delayed the arrival of gas cannisters for the death chambers, were deeply moving and heroic. I thought it could've easily been a 500 pager rather than an 800-plus pager, but that's Vollmann for you: he regularly takes less of an advance, less % of the booksales profits, in exchange for keeping his publisher from cutting what he insists on keeping in. I found it to be the least enjoyable of his work I've read (in fact I put it down for a month halfway through before forcing myself to finish) but still worthy of my time, and I'm glad I finished it.

I like Joyce, Por, just not Ulysses & FW, but it sounds like the Burton is more Ulyssesish than Joyce's earlier stuff. I'll give it some more time before completely abandoning it - I'd heard it being referenced all over the place and had to snatch it up when I found it dirt cheap literally lying on the floor of an aisle in one of my used haunts, so I in the least rescued it from being stomped on - though I may ultimately end up stomping on it anyway, sounds like. Especially if it's like FW!

Also picked up a 1925 edition of Quo Vadis I've been told I simply must read.

Nov 7, 2009, 9:36pm Top

Yay! 'Rique has a thread now! I've put a yellow star on you.

Earlier today when I was reading Middlemarch Eliot referenced The Anatomy of Melancholy. She used a quote as an epigram to one of her chapters (I love that each chapter gets its own epigram!). Note in the back of the book sez: "Apparently a medical work on the nature of melancholy, it is in effect a satire on the futility of human learning and endeavour." Cheery. And it's really long. That's the sum total of what I know about the Burton.

Looking forward to the DFW read next year.

Nov 7, 2009, 11:26pm Top

I also liked the the sections of the Nazi with a conscience, and I liked the guy who kept crawling under the iron curtain and occasionally trying to shoot Shostakovich. I liked the sections on Kathe Kollwitz, maybe more because I like Kathe Kollwitz than anything else. I found myself liking the stories of the two generals, surprisingly. But the Shostakovich sections went on far too long for me, and I was really hoping the guy crawling under the iron curtain would succeed in shooting him and I would not have to hear any more from him. But it didn't work, and then if I remember correctly, he finally did die - though not by being shot - but later there was more from him. Anyway Tomcat is with you in liking the Shostakovich sections. Some of it is that he knows the music and perhaps you do also, I don't. I've planned to check some out of the library, but so much to do, so little time...

Nov 7, 2009, 11:27pm Top

Perhaps there is a new category for the salon - people in books we truly hate.

Edited: Nov 8, 2009, 2:31am Top

5> Okay, it's a satire...that helps! I did not know that. Yes, it is quite "cheery" a la Sophie's Choice or Ordinary People kind of "cheer". ;-)

6> I was really hoping the guy crawling under the iron curtain would succeed in shooting him and I would not have to hear any more from him.

I feel your pain, Solla. I don't know a whole lot about Shostakovich either, other than what Vollmann wrote about him in EC and the tidbits I've sampled from Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich: A good place to start to learn more about him. He was extremely tormented and ambivalent regarding his assigned role as some Russian Ideal of the Arts v. his own personal aspirations. Tormented souls have always intrigued me.

And yes, Solla, I think it's high time you started that thread! - "people in books we truly hate". I've got a whole slew of nasty characters stored up I wouldn't mind ranting on.

Nov 8, 2009, 8:44am Top

well, I am disappointed. I came here looking for erotic ramblings.


Nov 8, 2009, 8:45am Top

Oh, my bad, I see it says erratic!

Sorry Enrique.

Nov 8, 2009, 8:55am Top


I unequivocally admired and enjoyed Europe Central. I thought it offered the most mature, fair handed and human look at the whole vexed relationship between Germany and Russia, and their respective 20th century histories. it also brought into focus by putting them side by side three of the towering artistic personalities of the 20th century: Shostakovich, Kollowitz, and Akhmatova. Seriously, I think it's a tremendous achievement.

I also recommend Testimony for more on Shostakovich.

Quo Vadis is fantastic. Over the top, but nonetheless fantastic.

Nov 8, 2009, 9:00am Top

There is also an incredible documentary about Shostakovich:


This can probably tell you more about him than a book can, coz it also features large chunks of his music.

Nov 8, 2009, 3:15pm Top

You my HERO,


I only poor poor Czech girl no speak good English but I read you and my heart melt. (Is good English that, "heart melt"?)

You interesting and you defend cat when cat need help.

I think you great!

Edited: Nov 8, 2009, 4:41pm Top

9> Enrique's Erotic Ramblings? Great idea tomcat! Thank you! Perhaps to celebrate Anais Nin's or Marquis de Sade's birthday, such a thread should be given a good go? No? And thanks for the link! I'm glad you're high on Europe Central; I'm afraid much was over my head - all the intricacies of the German/Russian relations and real-life characters - so it's good to know from someone who knows that, in fact, Vollmann did nail the details.

Thanks virapol! That means a lot to me. I think you great too! And you feel free to talk about Katrina, okay? I'm sorry I get angryness with you awhile back.

Stephen King has a short story in the Nov. 9th edition of the New Yorker, "Premium Harmony," that demonstrates to me that if he really put his mind to wanting to write high caliber, edgy, literary fiction, he so easily could. Fabulous dark comedy with a heart. Parts of the story made me cringe, in depicting an all too real marriage where the couple expresses petty daily meannesses to one another as couples are sometimes prone to do, and yet they obviously loved each other deeply. Sad, funny, blunt, and poignant story. Oh, that poor dog, too. I hope King writes more like that in the future.

Nov 8, 2009, 5:41pm Top

I know the section on Kathe Kollwitz in Europe Central struck me as nailing the details and as being true to her spirit.

Nov 8, 2009, 5:46pm Top


Vis à vis The Anatomy of Melancholy. As I noted somewhere on LT (I forget where), Burton meant for this book to be read slowly and randomly, preferably while one is sitting on the toilet. I keep a copy handy in my bathroom along with Emily Post's Book of Etiquette (I forget which edition, as I own quite a few). If you find yourself constipated, I recommend The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (unabridged). It does so much to improve fecal transit time.

Nov 8, 2009, 5:47pm Top


virapol, I wish you would go suck an egg. It would keep you out of trouble.

Nov 8, 2009, 6:08pm Top


I no understand.

Egg good, but in my country we cook egg first. Animal like skunk and fox, they suck raw egg. You like raw egg? We have civilization in Czechoslovakia. You may know King Wenceslas many many century ago? He no eat raw egg like you. You in South, no civilization? You no know cook egg?

I think Fidel great. You say no?

Edited: Nov 8, 2009, 6:20pm Top

virapol (if that is indeed your name),

I love Fidel. I don't love "you know whats" (which you are. As for your allusions to backward Southern culture, I scorn them.

Nov 9, 2009, 4:01pm Top

Virapol - funny stuff, please go on!

Enrique - I've had a copy of Burton on my shelf for a decade or so, and I've honestly don't know whether I've read it all by now or not. As has already been indicated, like any encyclopedia it isn't really laid out to be read end to end, and there's little coherent structure to it. That's part of the appeal. I usually open it at a random page and read a dozen or more pages if it takes my fancy, then put it aside again until next time I get the urge.

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