I liked this book, but I did not love it. I think this is because I was hoping for more. Perhaps the hype it has enjoyed led me to believe that I woulI liked this book, but I did not love it. I think this is because I was hoping for more. Perhaps the hype it has enjoyed led me to believe that I would be reading a more transcendent narrative. Perhaps, since I have experienced quite a bit of grief, I was hoping to find the book a solace or a mirroring--and the prose itself, I expected it to work harder for my experience as a reader. I have another of Didion's books, so I will go to that next. My time is very limited for personal reading selections. I want/ed to be blown away. For me, this book felt like a quiet gust, a breeze. Granted, grief is difficult to articulate through--but I think more distance via more time for crafting this book would have made a stronger narrative for Didion's readers. It reads like a lot of going to dinner and a lot of visits to her ailing daughter. All this said, of course one feels for her as a human being who has lost a spouse. No review can even remotely address the personal loss that created the need for this book. It's simply that the book itself--I don't feel that it is a match for what Didion CAN do and found it to be less of a literary accomplishment than an articulation of time spent in a gray zone....more
I like this text since it shows an author's professional and personal concerns regarding the making of literature over a span of years. I've never beeI like this text since it shows an author's professional and personal concerns regarding the making of literature over a span of years. I've never been a big fan of DFW's work, meaning it never struck me as something that lured me right off the bat (I will likely read more of it AFTER having read this), but I am very interested in his process and motivations. I'm also interested in the role depression plays on productivity for other authors. This book is well executed in that sense. So much personal correspondence integrated into the mix makes for a clearer portrait of DFW's many sides.
It also explores, for me, the difference between the way many male literary authors think--and the complete reversal of how a lot of female literary authors think RE professional envy, competition with peers, etc. Anytime you read an in-depth analysis of someone quite unlike yourself, I feel you gain insight. I think the narrative is interesting,too, as a study of fame and the sensitive ones--how certain anxieties can be amplified. In a sense, it makes the average, everyday author without a cult-following feel enormously grateful--glad that they may not yet have a measuring stick upon which each new release will be gauged. I found myself reflecting on the difference between public and private identity quite a bit as I read this--often looking at the mild picture of DFW on the front of the book between chapters--reflecting on how the "face" one puts to the outer world differs so intensely from the real face of life's struggles the individual navigates.
I'd recommend this for authors going in for a long haul with the literary endeavor--not because it is hopeful, but because it does explore the privilege of having a big house and a big audience and all of that--but also the penalty, the ego involved, and how, if this is not closely monitored, an author's life can be taken over by his fear, creating a block to doing what he loves with any sort of satisfaction. It's a good message to absorb--one I think this book drives home in a really interesting way--though one finds oneself feeling sorry for those around DFW, for what they endured, since, whether due to personal mental illness or professional strain, he could not love himself or those nearest enough to rise above the urge for self-evacuation. And I get the sense that the reading world missed out on five or more books that may have come to be-- had he been able to persevere. Alas....more
Cather's Nebraskan plains are gorgeous in this text--and her observations on body language are spot on. At times, one wonders about the book in termsCather's Nebraskan plains are gorgeous in this text--and her observations on body language are spot on. At times, one wonders about the book in terms of structure--Two very long first Books in the narrative and then a smattering of shorter Books at the end? Don't expect conformity there. Also, don't expect a believable male narrator. Still, there are moments of absolute beauty in this text, and its meditations on nostalgia and the human desire for retaining the positive aspects of the past make it well worth reading. She also has a flair for the grotesque that I admire--that was reminiscent, for this reader, of what I enjoy in the work of those practioners of the Southern grotesque.
I found this interesting quote in an article by Sarah Gleeson-White as I was doing some reading (please note the birth and death dates of these important American authors are put in brackets by me so as to add interest to the discussion--Cather's life spanned 1873-1947):
“Writers of the ‘southern grotesque’ or ‘southern gothic’ for example, Eudora Welty [1909-2001], William Faulkner [1897-1962], Carson McCullers [1917-1967] , Truman Capote [1924-1984], and Flannery O’Connor [1925-1964] conjure up the strange worlds of freakish outsiders placed in lovelorn barren landscapes, penetrating heat, and closed spaces, with themes of miscegenation, sexual deviance and bloody violence. Perhaps not surprisingly, critical readers have, on the whole, concurred that the southern grotesque aligns itself with a gloomy vision of modernity, according to which the soul of man is both aimless and loveless. The grotesque worlds of southern literature, it is argued, allegorize the human condition itself as existential alienation and angst.” From “Revisiting the Southern Grotesque: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Case of Carson McCullers” in The Southern Literary Journal, Volume 33, Number 2, Spring 2001.
If we read the definitive elements of much of the text Gleeson-White maps out here, it made sense to me that all of these literary figures could have been impacted by Cather—separate though her landscape is from the American South—because the attributes of rural living can be echoes of each other in a country in the process of being shaped and formed.
So, I think people interested in Southern literature who haven't read this book should check it out. I'm betting a quarter she had influence on some of the famous folks above. :) Please do correct me if I'm wrong. ...more
Unlike most drug narratives--I think I found this collection so compelling since it speaks to the drugging activity--but also the psychology of addictUnlike most drug narratives--I think I found this collection so compelling since it speaks to the drugging activity--but also the psychology of addiction and the permanent loss of cognitive function. Yes, these individuals are still human, and Johnson's moments of kind thoughts or positive assessments keep this book from completely stereotyping drug addicts activities or motivations as standard--because there is always time to have irrational fixations and attractions and connections--but it's a sort of tainted humanity in the end, one that may be irreparable.
I think the narratives worked so well for me because they didn't apologize. 12 step programs or treatment facilities, a lot of times, addicts don't make it. They don't improve themselves. They don't apologize to those damaged. If they do, those apologies are often meaningless until years have passed and the factors that create the betrayals are definitively gone. Most addicts, like a soldering iron Johnson mentions in one story has already been wielded in an addict's brain, no longer have the sort of cognitive activity centers that make full reparations possible.
Oddly, this book, these stories, as depressing as they are, albeit there are glimmers of beauty, felt "true"--mainly because they explored the sides of people that are most often obscured or not discussed. As Johnson's narrator explains about his morality in the following passage about watching the Mennonite woman in the shower, peeping into her home:"How could I do it, how could a person get that low? And I understand your question, to which I reply, Are you kidding? That's nothing. I'd been much lower than that. And I expected to see myself do worse" (147). In many passages of this collection, Johnson allows his narrator to say what most people would neither feel nor admit--which is what makes this text relevant.
In order to write what you know, you have to know the emotional truth of a situation--and most writers don't know the emotional truth of living in a drugging community and watching your friends die while being helpless about your own addiction, owned by it and released from it in turns. But Johnson does. For me, it doesn't matter whether the stories are autobiographical or not--because the pieces are crafted with their own fictive style and voice. It matters that this collection is a window in to the way addicts think and the cycles of those sorts of communities. This is valid for both people who live among them and people who should know the psychology of when or why to stay away.
And perhaps we are like the woman in one story in this collection who sweeps aside the curtain and may think she sees a vague outline outside her safe home but isn't sure--while the addict on the other side of the glass watches her intently, from a remove--only as safe as we can feel at any given moment. Johnson's work with these stories makes us sure of one thing: the brain of an addict is not the same as the brain of someone who is not on drugs.
As is demonstrated in the story "Dundun," morality goes from taking a friend to the hospital because he has been shot to shoving him out of the car, blithely unconcerned for anything but selfish evasion of consequences, if he accidentally dies en route.
The characters in most of these narratives are dangerous because they are unreliable. I actually think this book does a good job of being an anti-drug text. I like that it doesn't glamorize the drug use. It also doesn't obscure its amorality with faux morality. It says what it means to say. And sometimes, the message is damage. The message is mixed recovery, or none at all. ...more
This text, as a book, is not nearly as compelling in its structure as it is in its contents. That said, as a psychological primer, a study of certainThis text, as a book, is not nearly as compelling in its structure as it is in its contents. That said, as a psychological primer, a study of certain personality types, it has a lot to add and some very interesting views. Personally, I find the YouTube videos by Vaknin to be fascinating and would recommend watching them if this interests you. The videos add a layer of interpretive sensitivity that the book sometimes misses representing. If women are attracted to narcissists and Vaknin offers help with understanding their post-idealization experience, their devaluations, despite that it's likely Vaknin is solely after attaining narcissistic supply with either this book or those videos, I say, good for him. Explaining how psychosis or narcissism works IS community service to those average, everyday folks who haven't the slightest idea why or how people could love them and then instantly discard them. This is post-betrayal reading for anyone who needs it--and quite valid for that endeavor. I'm going to give this 4 stars not because the book is crafted like a work of literature--but because, right on, Sam Vaknin! Help people for your NS! If narcissists must pander for praise one way or the other, at least it is amply deserved when they reveal themselves so clearly and aid in interpretive arts for other human beings navigating their lives. There are far worse things a narcissist could do with his time. In fact, I think I'll give this book five stars for that reason. Five stars, Sam. Good work revealing motivations for cruelty--and how they have more to do with the narcissist than the victim. Your work, on the whole, has aided my understanding. And I'm feeling generous today. ;) ...more
This book is excellent. I love how it doesn't simplify the difficulties of being both a parent and a female artist. I applaud. Working on a formal revThis book is excellent. I love how it doesn't simplify the difficulties of being both a parent and a female artist. I applaud. Working on a formal review and will replace these remarks after the publication of this review....more
The concepts of libertinage that Sade embraces, part of his mad worldview, are interesting, if repellent. I'm reading another book now that analyzes SThe concepts of libertinage that Sade embraces, part of his mad worldview, are interesting, if repellent. I'm reading another book now that analyzes Sade and what he or his work represents in terms of releasing dark impulses. Still, his flauting of convention smacks of a total will for degradation--of the self of the practictioners and of the idea of love in general. His complete focus, or routine focus on the "ass" of the situation, paired with cruelty, make this an interesting read if only in abnormal psychology. Some conventions should be blasted, but when all are, at least all that come into play regarding human decency, what you have here is an enjoyment of the destruction of innocence, sadly not nuanced with enough complexity as to make a world that seems real enough to ponder. Anyone can read or write dark fodder. I like this book in that it is instructive in how not to do it when my audience, I feel sure, has more desire for hope, for empowerment, for sexual narratives in which the lovers are tender and unafraid of the intimacy that is real love, rather than being reminiscent of a teenage male's masturbational fantasy. ...more
I enjoyed many things about this book--notably the construction of identity on the basis of book learning, participation in the art scene, cinema expeI enjoyed many things about this book--notably the construction of identity on the basis of book learning, participation in the art scene, cinema experience, and personal history. It is a strange book--one with pictures of pieces of an exhibit that involved sculpture and film. Textually, most of the analysis is about the work of Franco. His drives. His integration of fine arts and collaborative masking and personas. This is a book about boyhood, about obscenity, about depiction of selves. It is not a traditional narrative. Many people will find it vulgar, pointless, a biopic of a young artist's art that may not have been done had that artist not already been a film star. I love it. I think it shows a man willing to flaunt a typecast identity and subvert constructs of gender and home narratives. It is only as obscene as the reader who reads it. Personally, I found it refreshing. And I applaud a celebrity whose ego does not forbid a willingness to expose himself at many levels. Masking as a permission for freedom is an idea I identify with--and support. I found this at the UCSD library. Love that place. I particularly enjoyed the theatric narrative in this book about Kirk and Spock in a homosexual exchange. Little jems throughout. I hope to see more from Franco. Considering my fictive bent, I think I'll pick up his book of stories. Enough said....more
What I love about this book is that it is an accumulation of journals and, as such, has the sort of urgency and private feel to it that almost represeWhat I love about this book is that it is an accumulation of journals and, as such, has the sort of urgency and private feel to it that almost represents voyeurism. Between lists of Sontag's readings and cinema rankings, ideal short fiction collection ideas, glimpses at her analysis of how some of her work was experienced, and general thoughts about intellectualism/intellectuals of her acquaintances, there was also this extreme analysis of self and identity. In tiny parcels. I loved the parts about her relationships and perception of roles--probably loved those most of all--because the journals were where she parsed all matters of belonging or not belonging, longing and remaining apart. I also enjoyed this because I hate journaling and reading her truncated clips--lack of narrative fabric between, shorthand journaling--made me feel like I might want to do it too, not to describe the minute details of every day, but to simply note what's of note--elegantly, concisely, and give myself permission to eschew a fully realized narrative form. Fragmented thoughts work. Perhaps even their fragmentation, frequency, and ordering are plenty revelatory. :)...more