I was really excited to stumble on this collection of essays and letters by one of my favorite writers on the craft of writing, but it doesn't quite lI was really excited to stumble on this collection of essays and letters by one of my favorite writers on the craft of writing, but it doesn't quite live up to my hopes.
I haven't read the whole book yet, but the parts I have read are like meeting a fascinating person at a party who gets distracted and never finishes all the great ideas and stories they start. Delany has an incredibly agile mind though, and there is a lot to get out of these essays. A few tidbits:
The German idea of Begeisterung, (which he explains as "inspiration/enthusiasm") as the most important thing for a work, providing the endurance to get through difficult parts of work by passion, reason or both.
He talks a fair bit about the larger structuring of fiction, of the importance of understanding story structures, literary models and genre.
Not wholeheartedly recommended, but has excellent bits for writers who have moved past simple models and are looking to bump their fiction up to the next level. (Aka me.)...more
American journalist's account of his time spent among the Japanese yakuza. Briskly written, but nothing more than a series of portraits of underworldAmerican journalist's account of his time spent among the Japanese yakuza. Briskly written, but nothing more than a series of portraits of underworld figures. I wasn't surprised to see Karl Taro Greenfeld in the acknowledgements, his "Speed Tribes" written around the same time (early 90s) also takes a voyeuristic look at the Japanese underworld, teasing out all the little idiosyncrasies, ironies and details, but ultimately keeping a cool distance. "Speed Tribes" was revelatory when I read it before going to Japan, but ultimately this book feels just as hollow. Every time it brushes up against a larger analysis or explication of the Japanese underworld it slips back into individual observation.
For a much better (and real insider) look at Japanese organized crime and its weird relationship to the conventional business world check out Toppamono....more
A life story too disparate and weird to be fiction, Manabu Miyazaki's memoir is a fascinating first person account of the past fifty years of JapaneseA life story too disparate and weird to be fiction, Manabu Miyazaki's memoir is a fascinating first person account of the past fifty years of Japanese history by someone who always seemed to be in the middle of something huge.
Written for a Japanese audience, this book may not make much sense to anyone unfamiliar with modern Japan. It is also not the best written book, and doesn't have much of an overall arc, sometimes the narrative is interrupted completely to go on a tangential anecdote that would have been better placed elsewhere. (I've heard that Japanese editors are VERY hands off, and that a lot of Haruki Murakami's fiction has been heavily edited in translation, mostly because there wasn't much of an initial editing job. It shows a lot here.)
But what stories! Growing up the privileged son of a yakuza (Japanese mafia) boss in a Kyoto slum, his portraits of the neighborhood he grew up in are unforgettable, from the "Grandma undertaker" who had to break the legs of corpses to get them to fit into the only size coffin available, to the untouchable class so destitute they had to catch dogs to get any protein. Unbelievable stories of being a leftist radical in 60s Tokyo, fighting with other leftists and police, the skin-of-his-teeth work as a tabloid reporter, and his thirty odd years as the head of a demolition company, scrambling amid Japan's postwar boom. This is not to mention his being a suspect in one of Japan's most famous kidnapping cases and his involvement with real estate speculation in Japan's bubble economy. ...more
This book was the equivalent of a can of coke. It is a well crafted bit of sugar, fizz and nonsense that doesn't aim for anything higher than poking fThis book was the equivalent of a can of coke. It is a well crafted bit of sugar, fizz and nonsense that doesn't aim for anything higher than poking fun of book publishing, Minnesota and the Danish. You couldn't live on nothing but stuff like this, but it just totally clears your palette (or... brain). I think I was done with it in a painless 36 hours....more
Ok, let's list all the non-textual reasons I gave this book five stars.
1) In hardcover, the book was a beautifully sized 8 1/4 by 5 inches, which I haOk, let's list all the non-textual reasons I gave this book five stars.
1) In hardcover, the book was a beautifully sized 8 1/4 by 5 inches, which I haven't really encountered in American books, but is an extremely comfortable size (and portable) size.
2) Maybe it was to pad out the relative brevity of the book (236 pages), but it had really big lovely margins on the outside of the text. About an inch, which comes to (by the above dimensions) about 20% of the width of the page. I haven't seen this before, but it made reading the book extremely satisfying. Pages were easy on the eyes, and you had a sense of quick progress, even though it had just reduced the number of words per page.
3) The book is littered with fascinating illustrations, sketches, and early lithographs of bears, many of them tucked neatly into those big margins.
The text itself is well written and concise, an amalgam of anecdotes and history that sketch our Brunner's inquiry into how humans have identified with or categorized bears over the course of their existence. Most interestingly, he shows how humans have always identified strongly with bears, especially in Europe and North America, where knowledge of apes was especially scant and bears seemed like our closest relative in the animal kingdom.
Some choice bits:
On page 25 I learned that the word berserk derives from the Old Norse "berserker", warriors who served Odin and were turn into bears when enraged. ("Beri"=bear, "serkr"=shirt, "berserker"= clothed as a bear.)
On page 98, I learned that despite being primarily solitary, bears communicate with one another by rubbing their scent on areas or scratching trees, often to mark a watering hole or a deer crossing.
And this mind blowing little tidbit from pages 107-108:
...the Ainu captured cubs and kept them until adulthood... One aspect of the Ainu's dealings with bears however, has tended to disturb folklorists or to be dismissed by them: in Ainu traditional society the women were responsible for raising the bears they captured. Ainu women... cared for the animals with great patience and also frequently nursed them -- a practice that was not at all "secret"... The Ainu are not the only women to have nursed bear cubs. Samuel Hearne... reported that "it is common for the Southern Indians to tame and domesticate the young [bear:] cubs... the Indians oblige their wives who have milk in their breasts to suckle them."
Holy. Crap. This is why I read, for little gems like that last passage which blur the lines on how I thought the world worked.
Okay, so I only read a few short stories in this. They were all excellent: beautifully drawn characters with sticky conflicts and problems that they wOkay, so I only read a few short stories in this. They were all excellent: beautifully drawn characters with sticky conflicts and problems that they would read and address a psychologically consistent manner that nevertheless always seems wrong. While each individual story held my attention with its prose and rhythms, I never really felt a drive to keep reading. This just feels like a writer who I'm not reading at the right time. ...more
It always feels like there's something missing from Paul Theroux's fiction, and it's hard to pin down exactly what. He is unparalleled as a travel wriIt always feels like there's something missing from Paul Theroux's fiction, and it's hard to pin down exactly what. He is unparalleled as a travel writer, but his brilliant turns of phrase and breadth of knowledge are somehow cast adrift in his fiction. He can't seem to find an overarching theme or device to propel the stories beyond themselves. The individual anecdotes and observations are brilliant and nuanced, but the central personalities or points seem slippery, undefined.
But for some reason or another I enjoyed "London Embassy" more than any other fiction I've read by Theroux. At first I expected a long narrative arc but after a few chapters it reveals itself as a collection of short stories linked by their narrator, an unnamed mid-level CIA functionary at the US embassy in London. Just a bare minimum of espionage, instead each chapter is a character study, a British or an American individual lovingly drawn.
The ending feels a bit flat, less a summation or conclusion to the sketches than a weird THE END just plopped there. Still, the whole thing was a quick, satisfying read, and a lot of fun. ...more
My conscious brain keeps on telling me to give this four stars but my habits and memories have been indicating something else. I picked this up idly fMy conscious brain keeps on telling me to give this four stars but my habits and memories have been indicating something else. I picked this up idly from the staff picks section of a book store a while back and found myself standing around for close to half an hour, plowing through a good chunk of the book. Little images and lines kept on popping up at the strangest times, and I eventually bought it for my mother for Christmas this year. She's sitting across from me right now, a good halfway through it without even realizing it....more
A fascinating and almost unclassifiable book on the role of gift-giving and sharing in human culture and society. While he could have taken a much morA fascinating and almost unclassifiable book on the role of gift-giving and sharing in human culture and society. While he could have taken a much more facile and thin look at the subject and still produced something interesting, instead Hyde uses anthropology, history, psychology, folklore, economics and literary analysis to really get at the heart of his subject.
The book is worth reading just for the chapter on the evolution of the concept of usury and the development of capitalism. However, I did get bogged down in the second half when he inexplicably goes off on a whole chapter about Walt Whitman that seems shoehorned in. ...more
Many people have commented that they didn't like this book because of John Nathan's ego. I found that the most fascinating thing about the book, aboutMany people have commented that they didn't like this book because of John Nathan's ego. I found that the most fascinating thing about the book, about how this guy is ruthlessly criticizing himself and his decisions, trying as much as possibly to view his younger self clearly, to say point blank how his own arrogance may have tripped up his entire life.
Filled with anecdotes to thrill total Japan geeks (inside gossip on Japanese literary and arts world of the 60s and 70s, ooh!), but basically just a hodgepodge of stories without any real narrative arc or particular flair for language. ...more