Ha! I searched for this as "Dylan: Album by Album". Ain't it funny how time slips away?
Anyway, this is one of the better Dylan books on the shelves, aHa! I searched for this as "Dylan: Album by Album". Ain't it funny how time slips away?
Anyway, this is one of the better Dylan books on the shelves, and I've read way too many of them. All of the studio albums discussed/critiqued by two people, always a musician paired with a critic, or academic, or writer of some sort. No axes to grind, no highfalutin literary theories, no gossip. Structure of lyrics, quality of music and musicianship, studio techniques, some cultural commentary. Quite refreshing and occasionally illuminating. Jason Isbell's comments are really down to earth as a songwriter about a songwriter.
Takes us up to the most recent Shadows in the Night.
I'd have it on my shelf if I hadn't sworn off buying these things....more
I've long understood the fascination with the letters of great people - voyeurism at worst, insight into genius at best - but for me the fascination hI've long understood the fascination with the letters of great people - voyeurism at worst, insight into genius at best - but for me the fascination has always been greater than the fact. I've never been well enough acquainted with the correspondents, deeply enough immersed in their work, or familiar with the cast of friends, minor players, allies, or enemies. Not so with the Beat Generation. These are guys (for the most part) who I've been guilty of idolizing as personalities, and have read deeply. I'm on a first name basis with the likes of Larry, Allen, Gregory, Jack, Bill, etc. So I looked forward to a dive into the life long correspondence of Lawrence (Larry, Lorenzo,) and Allen (Ginzy, Ginsbag,) and have been amply rewarded.
Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were fellow poets, business partners, and friends for an epoch. Ferlinghetti brought Ginsberg to the world with the publication of Howl, the number 4 issue of his Pocket Poets series. Ferlinghetti stayed loyal to Ginsberg, and v.v. with #14 - Kaddish; 18 - Reality Sandwiches; 23 - Planet News; 30 - The Fall of America; 35 - Mind Breaths; 40 - Plutonium Ode. He went to the mat with the US Government paying for Howl's defense in a famous obscenity trial. He also published many of Ginsberg's pals including Peter Orlovsky, Corso, Kerouac, and Neil Cassady. Ginsberg stayed with City Lights until older age loomed, and the big boys offered him mega-bucks for his selected and collected - no hard feelings resulted.
The letters shine a light on the poets as businessmen, arbiters of taste, promoters of the gone world, and great friends. Ferlinghetti is the least likely of the two to share personal matters, though he writes well about other poets, holds Ginsberg's feet to the fire as a spokesperson for the Beats and the Naropa Buddhists, and lacerates what may be left of Corso's reputation by implicating him in thefts from the City Lights till to the tune of three thousand dollars. Seems Gregory had a spare key, and the reason he got caught was that after the locks were changed he was spotted breaking a window. Asshole. Ginsberg in turn provides interesting critiques of Ferlinghetti's writing, pushes favorites upon him, keeps track of advances and finances, and honks and howls about poetry around the world.
The correspondence is honest and open, and I felt part of their lives while reading. The volume ends with Ferlinghetti's good-bye poem to Ginsberg, and it brought a tear to my eye.
Recommended to you latter day beatniks out there.
Onward now to the letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer.
I discarded this book at page 481 because the author went so far off the tracks with metaphysical sci-fi mumbo jumbo there was no way I was going to sI discarded this book at page 481 because the author went so far off the tracks with metaphysical sci-fi mumbo jumbo there was no way I was going to stay on the train to see if it got righted or not. I was really pretty upset that he had strung me along for so many pages just to pull the rug out from under.
I was struck my David Mitchell's gifts as a story-teller until he had to tie the book together. I just don't think he could figure out his own inventions....more
The Laughing Monsters is like a hit of acid. It takes you into realities of the author's making that have enough to do with agreed reality to keep youThe Laughing Monsters is like a hit of acid. It takes you into realities of the author's making that have enough to do with agreed reality to keep you grounded but are, excuse the term, far out enough to have you wandering through the pages feeling a little uncertain, disoriented, maybe even vertiginous, and occasionally floored by hallucinations . This was also true of Tree of Smoke, his National Book Award winner, only to the extreme, and though I worked through its nearly 600 pages I have as much idea as to what it was about as I do Naked Lunch. The Laughing Monsters is easier on the psyche, but still a jolting visit to Johnson's version of a heart of darkness.
The monsters in question are Roland Nair and Michael Adriko, freelance intelligence operatives who sell themselves to the highest bidder, are always up for a good double cross, function at the extremes of hardship, and whose greatest loyalties are to each other. They're in love, but like most brutes have a hard time admitting it. They're the Laurel and Hardy of the nightmare set.
Extreme drunkenness fuels their routines, and bouts of madness, murder, and mayhem lay in their wake. All this in the interests of some strange sort of intelligence gathering operations, couched in the traffic of bogus uranium. The larger issues are the strangeness of the Continent, the questionable intelligence of Intelligence, the cupidity of all, and loyalty between men.
The setting is the worst of Africa. Desolate cities, desolate villages, and desolate stretches in between.
I got a big kick out of this mess. Perhaps the biggest with the introduction of La Dolce, an African woman who styles herself a queen, and spends most of her days in a chair - hoisted into a tree. She is lowered to command her villagers, and then, damage done, hoisted back up to enjoy the wreckage.
Johnson has a grip on his prose, and coming in at 228 small pages with large print, keeps it together throughout.
The Laughing Monsters is a quick and enjoyable read if you like the kind of mess I just described. ...more
Robert Bly, before, after, but not during his Iron John phase has been one of my favorite poets. First contact was with The Tooth Mother Naked at LastRobert Bly, before, after, but not during his Iron John phase has been one of my favorite poets. First contact was with The Tooth Mother Naked at Last, a great poem out of the Vietnam War period. A harrowing poem. His own writing has gotten simpler with time, and he should have much more recognition than he does. I see there's a film coming out - that will help a little. Equally adept as a translator, his work with Nobel Laureate Tomas Transtromer is sublime. A copy of Friends, You Drank Some Darkness should be on everyone's shelf.
Leaping Poetry is a study in writing metaphor. The current crop of American poets seem to have left metaphor behind - they should take a refresher. This would be an excellent place to start....more
The Hotel Florida, Madrid, Spain: rendevous, clubhouse, home, hot bed of intrigue - personal and political - between 1936 and 1939, doesn’t actually fThe Hotel Florida, Madrid, Spain: rendevous, clubhouse, home, hot bed of intrigue - personal and political - between 1936 and 1939, doesn’t actually figure much into the book of the same name but does provide an anchor of sorts for the period. We can be pretty sure that anyone who was anyone in Madrid passed through at one time or another.
A little background: 1931, fair and free elections rid the Spanish people of a corrupt government run by the military and monarchy. Five years of political reform and turbulence follow. By 1936 Nationalist (read: fascist, read: bastard fascist) generals under the command of Francisco Franco, soon to become Generalissimo Franco, and aided by the bastard fascist governments of Hitler, and Mussolini, engage the Republic in all out war. Coming to the aid of Spain’s legitimate government are France (for a short while,) and Russia ‘til the end game sell out. Because every other government decides to play it safe and let events develop on their own, International Brigades are formed and enter the conflict with a modicum of training from the Russians, but often with no training at all. The drama will be played throughout the country, but the cities will be key, and Madrid the key to the kingdom.
Author Amanda Vaill guides us through the three years of conflict known as the Spanish Civil War by connecting us to the public and personal stories of a set of high profile writers and bureaucrats, who are or become couples during the proceedings.
Ernest Hemingway, in something of a slump, saw the war as an opportunity to write the truth about something (anything), and revivify his career. The fact that he was as much a propagandist as a truthful writer tends to get obscured by his own bloviating, but he and Gellhorn were not strangers to truth-stretching, and fabrication for the cause. Martha Gellhorn, a successful novelist and journalist, and opportunist of the first rank, met Hemingway in Key West. They began a flirtation that became an affair, and traveled to Spain together. Hemingway and Gellhorn both made a bundle with their dispatches, and eventually married, and divorced. After the war Hemingway used his material to craft the great novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, continued his career and eventually blew his brains out with a shotgun. Gellhorn became the pre-eminent war correspondent of the 20th century, and commited suicide at the age of 89.
Hungarian photographer Robert Capa (formally known as Andre Friedman ), and Gerta Taro (formally Gerta Pohorylle), met cute in Paris, traveled to Spain, changed their names, and wrote the book on wartime photojournalism, consistently risking life and limb to get the shots. Capa’s maxim was: If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. Controversy exists around Capa’s most famous shot of a Loyalist soldier taking a bullet. Was it or was it not staged? Was it a staged shot that turned into an actual death? Seems to have been the latter, but the argument goes on. If the truth was bent, it was the last time in Capa’s career.
Capa’s career is historic. He was embedded with the first wave of the Normandy landing, co-founded the Magnum Photo Agency with Cartier-Bresson and others, and covered the major mid-20th century conflicts. He died a land-mine victim in Indochina in 1954. Gerta’s life was vibrant, and short lived. She learned photo-journalism as Capa’s slightly older partner (and lover), contributed highly charged photos to the archives, and was crushed by a tank while covering a Loyalist retreat. Her loss almost destroyed Capa, and he never got over the love of his life.
Arturo Berea, the only Spaniard in the cast, and his paramour Hungarian national Ilse Kulcsar were Communist functionaries who ran the press office in Madrid, and dealt first hand with the preening journalists, would be writers, and actual hard-core reporters who covered the war. They, too, had complicated relationships that led to divorces and their eventual marriage. Their job was a tough one, trying to balance truthful reporting with the needs of the party, and fighting none other than Uncle Joe himself in order to get the truth out to the world. Of course, Uncle Joe always won and Berea and Kulcsar fled the country before the end of the war, political exiles in Paris, frightened for their lives. Berea went on to become a successful journalist and novelist, and a primary source for Civil War history. Kulcsar’s career continued in its own right.
Players like John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and Langston Hughes flit in and out of the narrative, but the three couples are the ink of the matter.
Author Amanda Vaill weaves the personal stories into the political and combat narratives with great success, and never loses the thread by veering into tabloid territory. It’s a terrific balancing act. I learned more than I expected, and was quite taken by the story, and story-telling. It was worth the price of admission to learn about Gerta Taro who was, to me, the true spirit of the times.
A terrific read about as motley a band of armed and/or disarming characters you're likely to meet along the British Columbia-Washington State border.A terrific read about as motley a band of armed and/or disarming characters you're likely to meet along the British Columbia-Washington State border. Our protagonist is Brian Vanderkool, a 6'8" rookie Border Patrol Officer who would just as soon spot birds and create environmental art pieces as track and apprehend illegals, and smugglers. Problem is he's what his colleagues call a "shit magnet," and if there's anything untoward going on anywhere near he spots it. It's Brian's extended circle that we spend time with, and they're a hoot, from the Canadian anarchist professor shouting across the ditch that makes the border, to the pot lords in the mansions on the hill, to the love interest that has more problems than you can shake a doobie at.
Border Songs brings some much needed humor to the post-9/11 world of dope and terrorism in an area where it's really the dope that counts. It's current- events-dated what with legalization in WA, but recent news doesn't subtract from the story or the pleasure of the read....more
I'm giving this sweetheart of a book five stars for the sheer pleasure I took in reading it. Emma Hooper has put together a volume as eccentric as itsI'm giving this sweetheart of a book five stars for the sheer pleasure I took in reading it. Emma Hooper has put together a volume as eccentric as its characters, and its characters (except for James, who is a coyote, and wonderful and kind in his own way) are wonderful and kind human beings who spend a life time in relationship.
The eccentricity of form lies in its fractured sense of time, the epistolary nature of some full chapters, some full chapters of three or four sentences, and the almost laconic way the story unfolds.
Etta is a school teacher only a year or two older than Otto and Russell, her students (on alternate days,) the school is closed, they all become close friends. Otto goes off to war. Etta and Russell become closer. Otto returns, a life ensues, and one day Etta, now 83, decides she has to see the sea (to see what she can see.) She meets James en route. None of this is told in chronological order, but the author has the chops to keep it all connected, and coherent. There's tension, conflict, and stakes that are high enough for a gentle story that makes you feel good about being a human being, albeit with a a heartbreak ache, which is also what being human is about.
I loved reading this book. It's a cool breeze on a warm day.
OK, I'm giving this National Book Award finalist a 3 star review, though it's actually in some perpetual bounce between 3 and 5.
As usual with my revieOK, I'm giving this National Book Award finalist a 3 star review, though it's actually in some perpetual bounce between 3 and 5.
As usual with my reviews, you can read the plot summary elsewhere, but in short: An extraordinarily virulent influenza pandemic strikes and within days 90% of the world population is dead and gone. Civilization collapses. Years later The Traveling Symphony made up of musicians and Shakespearean actors tours the Great Lakes region under the banner, "Survival is insufficient." The plot hinges on the degrees of separation between a Hollywood actor making his artistic comeback as Lear - in the gone world - who dies on stage of a heart attack, and the people with whom he had been in relationship, some more tenuously than others, and survived these past 15-20 years.
Here's the good news: there are some set pieces so compellingly written that as I read, in the woods of all places, I was afraid to look up from the page. The writing took me so deeply into the dream that I thought if I looked up it would be my reality. The woods I was sitting in took on a very frightening aspect. (Reminds me of when I was a kid watching Dracula on TV and clutching a crucifix just in case.) There were also pre-plague pieces that drew me into Broadway and Hollywood with equal effect. Wonderful writing. Oddly enough, the first year of the collapse is alluded to as being so awful it's best put out of mind, something all the characters have done.
Here's the bad news: the plotting is immaculate. So precise and flawless as to feel machine-tooled. In an interview, the author says she re-wrote for 2 1/2 years. In her acknowledgements she profusely thanks her editors. I think between them they turned out a work that fails perversely in its perfection. There's a palpable sense of something missing that for lack of better terms I'm calling grit, or even duende, some intangible life-force. My second complaint is with characters that are true to form, a phrase that could be written in caps. They're a bit like the plot, precise and flawless in their development. This book is too clean, and I can't explain it better than that. I must say, though, my critique is a minority opinion.
I can suggest you check it out, it has fantastic aspects, but as with all things, caveat emptor. ...more
Writing from sunny Seattle, where we're supposed to be in the depths of June gloom but are instead in a sunshine filled drought. Southern CaliforniansWriting from sunny Seattle, where we're supposed to be in the depths of June gloom but are instead in a sunshine filled drought. Southern Californians don't think much of our drought, claiming theirs in dryer and much, much worse, but those of us in the NW have always known that SoCal is its own canto of the Inferno.
Good, now that that's out the way...
Seattle is not the wettest city in the US, that would be New Orleans, and Seattle doesn't even make the top 15. We do rank sixth in most rainy days, just 18 days fewer than Rochester, NY. However, we're number one in cloudy days, racking up 226 a year - or 62% of days. So, if you're thinking of moving here just think "Gloomy Sunday," a.k.a., "The Hungarian Suicide Song," and don't.
I like popular science, (actually more the accompanying anecdotes than the science) and swoon over Diane Ackerman, and though "Rain..." isn't quite as florid, it does have its moments while providing lots of fascinating information about weather, climate, and rain. For instance, did you know that after the earth was formed it rained for a thousand years? Or that there's a village in India that traffics in all things attar (or scent) related, where they claim to have distilled the odor or fresh rain? Or that it has indeed rained frogs, and that raining cats and dogs comes from a time of heavy, heavy rains that left the carcasses of strays in the gutters?
And, yes, there is also science, but I'll leave that to you.
Oh, here's a little Seattle humor, it's a weather report that speaks to the 14,000 foot mountain that dominates our skyline: When you can't see Mt. Rainier, it's raining; when you can see Mt. Rainier, it's going to rain.
(Rain won't tell you why most umbrellas are black, but another single word book does. The name of the book is Coal. You can probably figure it out...)
Oh, Harry Hole, you're such a sweetheart, you're such a mess.
In book one, Harry Hole, a tenuously recovering alcoholic, and intuitive and often brilliOh, Harry Hole, you're such a sweetheart, you're such a mess.
In book one, Harry Hole, a tenuously recovering alcoholic, and intuitive and often brilliant homicide investigator is lent to Australia to help solve the murder of a Norwegian national.
The Bat lays out everything good, and everything bad about Harry, and is a well written entrance into the every expanding circle of hell that is his 10 book career - at least to date. Harry is a good man, who works hard at being a good man, but when he screws up screws up royally. It's all here.
I'm a real fan of this series with the last four books finished, and now the first. The writing is not quite as accomplished, but still very good, and it's been great to see Harry before the horror of all that he will see overwhelms him....more