Toward the tail-end of Thomas Mann's long life, he wrote this novella, and it was published as a stand-alone book. It's a modern spin on the biblicalToward the tail-end of Thomas Mann's long life, he wrote this novella, and it was published as a stand-alone book. It's a modern spin on the biblical story of Sarah (see Genesis 18:12-15) and is then, thematically, well-suited to a man who'd written the multi-volume biblical epic, JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS. Given that it was set in the 1920s, of course, it's setting is appropriate to an author who'd written many profound books about German society. A reader familiar with Mann will probably have a good idea of how the story will unfold. Someone reading Thomas Mann for the first time may find it off-putting. But almost every scene in the book bears a resemblance to scenes in Mann's earlier works, when he was more energetic. This is not to dismiss this work. But as an introduction to an author whose dedication, wit and purpose generally reward a reader, THE BLACK SWAN may mystify more than not. But if you are patient, I think you will find, whether you've read anything by Thomas Mann before, that, as you think about this book, its essential humanity will make itself known to you. ...more
THE PAST RECAPTURED is the seventh and final volume of Marcel Proust's IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. It was left unfinished at the time of Proust's death inTHE PAST RECAPTURED is the seventh and final volume of Marcel Proust's IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. It was left unfinished at the time of Proust's death in 1922, therefore it has been subject to various editorial changes in the ensuing century. I read Andreas Mayor's 1970 translation. We have a good idea of Proust's intentions for this final volume, but, as the translator makes clear in a prefatory note, there are repetitions Proust did not live to address, continuity problems and loose threads. A Proust scholar can make use of the text as Proust left it, but the published versions (at least the ones in English translation) have tended to be geared toward the general reader. Rough edges have been smoothed. Judging this seventh volume only as something I have read in translation (and only, I must add, in this translation) I will say that the first half, dealing, as it does, with the actions of several of the main characters during the First World War, is riveting. The second half, which consists mostly of the narrator's discussion of his literary Eureka moment, is, while interesting in itself, not especially compelling. I do not hesitate to say that my interest was dependent on my understanding. I found the literary philosophy rather elusive. When, toward the end, the narrator brings us back into the social scene, featuring its parties and gossip, I understood what was going on and loved the various set-pieces. I found Proust's outlook incredibly suited to our times. With disaster looming over Paris, the narrator captures a mood disturbingly recognizable to me.
I'll very briefly say that, in order to post this review, I had to claim to have finished the book. THAT said, I read large sections of it, focusing oI'll very briefly say that, in order to post this review, I had to claim to have finished the book. THAT said, I read large sections of it, focusing on different generations of the Trump family. I have no hesitation in saying this is a very solid multi-generational biography. The writing is clear, the author is perceptive and it is, in fact, very illuminating. It must also be pointed out that it was published sixteen years ago, in 2000. The phenomenon of Donald Trump's insurgency is not foreshadowed here. Yes, he is the same man, but society, by the end of this narrative, had not become his flock yet. If I'd read this in 2000, I'd have come away thinking Donald Trump came from a family of go-getters who knew how to thrive in business by scrutinizing the government's relationship to enterprise. Trump's father, whose father had been an immigrant from Germany who thrived in an Alaskan boom town, was a keen observer of FDR's housing policies. He got building contracts on army bases and became one of the most important developers from the Great Depression through the seventies. Donald Trump negotiated to obtain many properties in and around Penn Station. His father knew how to stage public events. He had a roguish charm. Trump learned, watching his father, that publicity was often more important than winning in business. Being a Baby Boomer, he wanted to take this talent to the stratosphere. And here we are, in December, 2016. We know his name. He's certainly got our number. ...more
I have been reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in order of appearance. I've only read two so far, but I have cheated by reading the short story "I have been reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in order of appearance. I've only read two so far, but I have cheated by reading the short story "Octopussy," which, as a strict piece of writing, is superior to the two novels I've read. ("Octopussy" has a moral. Not so CASINO ROYALE or the book I'm reviewing here, LIVE AND LET DIE.) The editions I'm reading conform to the original British texts, not the US editions. The latter were softened. These reprints are published in Las Vegas by a new (as of 2009) Amazon imprint, Thomas & Mercer. My local library has them. I would seek them out if I were you. You'll know them by their black, white and red covers. Thomas & Mercer is a self-publishing imprint. Go, Ian Fleming Estate! I recommend these because, sixty years on, Fleming must be recognized as an innovator, if nothing else, and a reader should get as close to Fleming's original intention as possible. I agree with virtually all of the other Goodreads reviewers: LIVE AND LET DIE is racist. I imagine its author considered himself an open-minded man. But even for 1954, such a stiff draught of stereotyping had to have been hard to swallow. That's why the American publisher altered it. I've read a lot of mid-century fiction, and LIVE AND LET DIE was callous for its time. That said, I don't think Ian Fleming was what today would be called a "hater." But I get the sense he didn't realize that someone could read LIVE AND LET DIE and feel mortified, vilified, or hurt. This makes Ian Fleming, in a serious way, sloppy. As I've said, "Octopussy" has a moral. Fleming was capable of nuance and understanding. But in the two novels I've read, he is in a rush to thrill (although he takes a long time to build to the thrill, perhaps because he doesn't know what the average reader will thrill to.) But thrills he does supply. He has a highly visual sense. For example, his descriptions of nature, be it plant or animal life, are striking. When Bond feels pain, whether physical or emotional, the descriptions are clinically accurate. Fleming describes the sound a shark makes as it rises out of the water, about to chomp down on a living thing. This sound stays in the reader's ears. Fleming can be funny, too, as when he goes into the retiree scene in Florida. I learned something here. People were going to Florida to die even then. I'd have said that started in the '70s, not, as is obvious to me from reading this book, decades before. LIVE AND LET DIE takes place in Manhattan, Florida and Jamaica. The first half of the book takes place mostly on the train from New York to Florida. His description of the journey gives a good idea of an industry which is now virtually dead. Occasionally, Bond's reflections become little patriotic meditations. If you've been exposed to any British propaganda from the early to mid-twentieth century, you will recognize the cadence. (A Monty Python skit about the Boer War will do: An army captain visits an amputee in his tent, who sits reading with a grin on his face. "Well, Rylance, it seems the lion bit your leg, well, quite...off!" "Oh, yes," says Rylance, "I didn't even know it until next morning. I went to put my shoes on and, well...One sock too many!") Ian Fleming was entirely of that mindset. He worked for British intelligence in World War Two, and, before writing the Bond books in the fifties, reported on intelligence for a British newspaper. In other words, he popularized the love of espionage. It is when Fleming uses actual stories he's heard, bending them to the plot, that he excels. The derring-do of the nearly super-human Bond tends to come from actual things British soldiers did while fighting the Second World War. Fleming's contribution to fantasy was to have one man do all these things and undergo all these torments and come through every time. Bond suffers significant punishment at the hands of his captors and, as Fleming once said, these were the sorts of punishments Allied soldiers experienced at the hands of the Nazis. Bond has something in common with a lot of Hemingway's characters: A romantic attachment to women which is constantly being thwarted. The Bond movies don't convey this. Bond has trouble in bed! These books are cultural artifacts more than they are literature. But they are informative, intentionally and unintentionally. They are dated. But they are not without the sense of yearning.
Twain said (or didn't, but the legend has long since been printed) this, about Wagner's music: It's better than it sounds. Ian Fleming's CASINO ROYALE,Twain said (or didn't, but the legend has long since been printed) this, about Wagner's music: It's better than it sounds. Ian Fleming's CASINO ROYALE, the first James Bond book, should really be lousy. It's vocabulary is bizarre to the American reader (me), but this is not the usual situation when I have difficulty with the vocabulary of a British writer. I mean to say, the difficulty does not derive from words the British use in place of ones Americans use. I'm not saying to myself, "Oh, 'lift' is 'elevator,' 'pissed' means 'drunk', etc." I am, instead, encountering words I've never heard at all. I wrote some down. They include "prinked," "pawky," "swop" (with an "o" and not meaning "to exchange") and triptique (not meaning "triptych," a word I heard in art class meaning "three-panelled" depiction, but, in the context of the book, a travel itinerary.) He also uses "bathe" as a noun, several times, when Bond and the Bond girl are discussing swimming in the bay. "[Bond] told her to hurry up and have her bathe." That may be a plain old Britishism, but I don't think so. This is masculine writing of a very guileless sort, despite the cynical world being described. Fleming is not a poet. There are some Britishisms, such as "reticencies," instead of "reticence," but they are WEIRD Britishisms. Upper class Britishisms they are. They are not for export. But the books are internationally famous and almost seventy years on, an American sees a British writer telling his fellow Englishmen a patriotic story which we, the rest of the world, have simply overheard. The main idea I get from this book is that Fleming is essentially telling stories about extreme events as if these events were ordinary. It is not a stylistic choice and it is not bragging by understatement. This stuff is, well, true! The specifics of the spying derring-do are standard, and therefore plainly fictional, but the actual, physical and psychological struggles are genuine. The torture Bond endures is, Fleming convinces the reader, fairly typical of what individuals endured at the hands of Axis captors during the war, or Soviet intelligence after it. Bond has a Sam Spade moment (and I must remember to put a comment here which I wrote on a slip of paper while reading this, "Bond is Sam Spade with a royal imperative") when, while recuperating form his savage (but apparently relatively common) ordeal, he muses aloud to a colleague that enemy spies are morally no different that friendly ones. But his friend's pep talk is not out of Hammett at all. It is a humorous, BBC-style appeal to the better angels of our nature. Bond pretends to disregard it. But we know he is as self-denying as a Crusader, and by novel's end we realize he might as well have been with the Conqueror in 1066. One thing which really struck me is how close in mood the Bond movies are to the novels. CASINO ROYALE came out a good ten years before the first Bond film, if you don't count a live TV version of that book in the mid-fifties. Fleming was not tayloring his books for the movies. (I'd say "Hollywood," but the movies are beyond Hollywood. They're British with a Hollywood budget; Mod Britain owes a lot to them. There was American money in them, but, Ealing Studios these were not.) The films go at what I think is a snail's pace, as does this novel, which, as I stress, is, nevertheless, diverting. There's elegance, paid for by the British spy organization. (The spies buy fancy cars in cash so the office won't get paperwork showing how much they spent on sports vehicles.) There are the meticulously described drinks and fancy clubs. There is the Bond woman. And here is where Fleming rivals Hemingway in two repects: A thoroughly regressive view of women and an undeniably accurate report on the interaction of the sexes. So, get ready to go Mod and backwards. And be prepared for a brutality which matches the news you hear about hotels being blown up in far corners of the world. Bond is truer than you think. ...more
Olivia Laing's THE LONELY CITY: ADVENTURES IN THE ART OF BEING ALONE is an empathic study of the lives of several artists, most (although not all) ofOlivia Laing's THE LONELY CITY: ADVENTURES IN THE ART OF BEING ALONE is an empathic study of the lives of several artists, most (although not all) of whom, were based in New York City. Among these figures are Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger and Josh Harris. At different points in the book Laing speaks briefly but poignantly about her time in New York, addressing the fact that it was in the exploration of the works of these artists that she found a sense of wholeness. She shares with them a deep loneliness and makes the case that all of us share, to some extent, the quality of isolation. These artists pop up in the lives of some of the other artists, although each chapter focuses on one artist. Hitchcock, without a chapter of his own, weaves his way through the fabric. Warhol touches the lives of many isolated souls. His own life is nearly taken by an equally isolated soul, the author Valerie Solanas. He lives in physical pain for decades afterward, but at the pinnacle of grandeur; Solanas dies in a fleabag hotel, her body undiscovered for three days. David Wojnarowicz, whose graphic depictions of the gay scene in seventies New York and whose AIDS activism took on heroic qualities as he suffered from the disease, is one of the centers of this book. I say one of the centers because Laing's depiction of the life of the so-called outsider artist Henry Darger is the deepest part of THE LONELY CITY. The chapter on Darger is moving and terrifying. It is one of the most poetic works of nonfiction I have ever read....more
My review is based on the Signet Classics edition published in 1961, edited by Milton Rugoff. The translation he used was, he states in his introductiMy review is based on the Signet Classics edition published in 1961, edited by Milton Rugoff. The translation he used was, he states in his introduction, that of "the most widely circulated English translation, made by William Marsden in 1818 and edited by Thomas Wright in 1854...based on the Ramusio version." Ramusio was the 15th-century editor of the first printed edition. Rugoff points out that "Marco Polo's work had to be circulated in manuscript for almost 180 years before the first printed edition appeared...in 1477, only twenty-one years after Gutenberg's Bible." In a certain way, THE TRAVELS OF MARCO POLO was filtered from the start. A writer of chivalric romances of the sort parodied in Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE, visited Polo when he was a Prisoner Of War. (He was one of many captured after a naval battle between Venice and Genoa. He stayed in jail for a year, living the life of a well-heeled gentleman until his death in 1324.) It's as if the Vice-President of Coca-Cola had been placed under house arrest after some turf war between the U.S. and Canada and had talked to a reporter about introducing soda to remote places around the globe. I'll cut to the chase: For all its many matter-of-fact descriptions of landscapes seen and people met; for all that this sort of description forms the bulk of the book, there are startling descriptions of the social structures of major ports and cities covering the near and far east' places virtually unknown to the Europeans of the day. The immediate impact was, as with almost any significant works, negligible. But some scholars did realize that what Marco Polo had described was revelatory, and, over the next few hundred years, particularly in the Age of Discovery (Pizarro, Columbus, Magellan) THE TRAVELS OF MARCO POLO had incalculable influence. Most of the book is dispassionate; a rare quality in a day of enforced religiosity. Much of the account is clearly aimed at the mercantile world. It is as if Marco Polo is saying, "Go to the places where spices and diamonds are. There is a way to get rich if you just set sail." What is apparent to a 21st century reader (I being one) is that a lot of the world has not changed. Pick up a newspaper, read a bit and then switch to THE TRAVELS OF MARCO POLO and you will see that war, ritual, daily survival and outlook never really do change. About two-thirds of the way through the reader learns that Marco Polo has been asked by his hosts to govern a city, which he does for three years. We also learn something we should have expected: Marco's party (led by his father and uncle) has introduced particular weaponry to their hosts. They demonstrate a catapult. It is then used to launch a three-hundred-fifty pound boulder across a wall, smashing a building (and presumably killing the occupants.) This causes the surrender of a town. If you will, they have committed a war crime. Have you read today's paper?...more
Frank Kelly's new collection meets the promise of his first, GROWING UP ME, and expands on its themes. You will rarely find a volume of poetry which stFrank Kelly's new collection meets the promise of his first, GROWING UP ME, and expands on its themes. You will rarely find a volume of poetry which strikes as many chords. There are Joycean epiphanies, focusing on human isolation, but there are also strictly observational ones reminiscent of Dorothy Parker (a more serious poet than her association with THE NEW YORKER allows us to think.) Above all, even when Frank Kelly is being strictly humorous, one must say "ALMOST strictly humorous." In "The Candy Meal" he describes, with a culinary accuracy Dickens would admire, a three-course meal (an at least three-course meal) consisting entirely of brand-name candies. But it is not merely funny, and I wouldn't call it ironic, even though it points out, at one point, the irony of sour candy. It is, somehow, a hearkening back to the days when such meals as the candy meal comments upon did exist. It is not just a poem about making sweets a meal, but about making such a meal as a reflection of something which might have been served on an ocean liner in the Edwardian era. But it is also simply a delightful cataloguing of sugary products. A few if the poems in STILL GROWING which deal with the isolation so many gay people (I among them) felt growing up in the mid-century. But one poem, "My Sister's Prom Dress", may be the best celebration of the self ever written....more
I read this, as anyone looking at the date of my review (June, 2016) might guess, because I saw the Whit Stillman adaptation, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP. II read this, as anyone looking at the date of my review (June, 2016) might guess, because I saw the Whit Stillman adaptation, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP. I had to see what Austen did differently. I'll leave it to readers of this review to see the movie and compare it to the book, but I will say that, judging by most of the favorable reviews of this novella, the 21st century mind seems to miss the point. I can understand readers who consider Lady Susan, the character, "delicious," and, by the same token, I can understand their belief that Austen was rooting for her, but I cannot accept the idea that Frederica is saccharine. For the very heart of this work is the hope Austen instills in the reader that Frederica will be freed from her mother's cruelty. LADY SUSAN may take cues from French farce, but it anticipates Henry James's WASHINGTON SQUARE in its clinical depiction of parental dominance.
What I liked best about this book were the moments when Waters, waking up at the latest motel during his hitchhiking adventure, goes to the lobby andWhat I liked best about this book were the moments when Waters, waking up at the latest motel during his hitchhiking adventure, goes to the lobby and has a look at the so-called "continental breakfast." He doesn't embellish such moments. He simply reports on the abject fare and the abysmal company. The last section of the book, the one containing the nonfictional account of John Waters's experiment in ride-thumbing from Baltimore to San Francisco in 2012, makes this book a genuine glimpse of the American condition. ...more
Somehow, when I started reading BAD KID, I didn't factor in the idea that this was a book about a particular place. As a fifty-five year-old man, theSomehow, when I started reading BAD KID, I didn't factor in the idea that this was a book about a particular place. As a fifty-five year-old man, the Goth phenomenon is not on my radar often, but I do know what it is and have a sense, borne out in this book, that to have been Goth was to be an outcast with a band of outcasts ready to welcome you. The situation of gay people is generally unchanging, so what I went through growing up was recognizable to me in what David Crabb went through decades later. But Texas took me by surprise here. The state from which the USA has yet to secede plays a large role in BAD KID, and David Crabb, without being ostentatious about it, conveys a sense of open spaces ultimately pointing to freedom. While he describes the danger he was often in, surrounded by skinheads, he also describes pivotal moments of self-assertion. The action matches the geography, especially at a moment when a pack of skinheads surrounds a house full of slightly less angry skinheads. The skinheads inside (SHARPS, who opposed racism) emerge from the house (calling for the boys inside to surrender up a black friend) and, through sheer presence, cause the bullies to back off and get back in their cars. This is a car culture. Although grounded by his mother a few times, David is often permitted to get in his car and drive off. He will go hundreds of miles on any given trip. (On Long Island, where I grew up, you CAN'T go a hundred miles, unless you want to pay eight bucks to cross the Throggs Neck Bridge.) One night, he and a friend drive to a slaughterhouse, arriving at dawn. They're on acid, by the way. While Crabb describes a conformist culture, anybody writing about the America of the last forty years is describing a conformist culture. The difference with Texas is, literally, the sprawl. It may be one of the few places on earth where forces of nature give people more choice than not. This memoir is well-written and witty, but it is at its most powerful when a universal loneliness acts as muse. The author's account of an unlikely friendship with a SHARP is the heart of the book....more