Addressing, head on, the abundance of myths surrounding the life of Malcolm X, Marable's biography ultimately reconfirms Malcolm X's multiplicity by e...moreAddressing, head on, the abundance of myths surrounding the life of Malcolm X, Marable's biography ultimately reconfirms Malcolm X's multiplicity by employing vast research to detail his many and varied metamorphoses. While the exact reasons and ramifications for these transformations are not always apparent, Marable reminds us that, like his political and cultural legacy, our understanding of Malcolm X is still evolving. This is a very illuminative text that situates Malcolm X solidly within the tumultuous civil rights era and the decades since and offers a full and nuanced portrait of a complex figure.(less)
“I didn’t want to pin it down at all. I was interested in that before, but I found out it was not in my nature. I didn’t work with the idea of perfect...more“I didn’t want to pin it down at all. I was interested in that before, but I found out it was not in my nature. I didn’t work with the idea of perfection, but to see how far one could go.” (p. 342)
How does one pin down Willem de Kooning, the master of impasto and ambiguity? An artist that refused any reconciliation, de Kooning’s reputation for enraging and enthralling is writ large and real in this vast biography. The success of this text is two-fold. First, through exhaustive research and analysis, Stevens and Swan manage to give a detailed and clear picture of this fickle painter. But it’s the narrative qualities that make reading this book such a joy, as the authors bring not just de Kooning but the entire tumultuous mid-century New York art world to life—the time when “the individual refused to be contained by the conventional boundaries established by either European or middle class taste.” (p. 364) Sections about de Kooning laboring in his studio are incredibly vivid (as well as inspiring and, often, exhausting), and, with each struggle for artistic breakthrough, I became more and more invested in his journey. Considering how conflicting, cruel, and infuriating of a person he could be, this is, perhaps, the greatest testament to the achievements of this book.(less)
Shoot the Piano Player—or Down There, as it was originally titled—is a very fine piece of noir. It has all of the hallmarks of the genre: a cool and d...moreShoot the Piano Player—or Down There, as it was originally titled—is a very fine piece of noir. It has all of the hallmarks of the genre: a cool and detached protagonist that finds himself in more and more trouble, hardboiled language, gangsters, and, of course, a dame. It’s a tale about the other side of the coin, the calm and confident character with an unlikely past and a dark, wild side. It’s a reminder that you can’t escape who you are and where you come from, that what seems buried and forgotten may just catch up to you after all:
“…it was like you were telling me something. That I couldn’t really get away. That it was just a matter of time. That some day I’d come back to stay.”
What makes Down There such a unique and wonderful work are the rapid shifts in narrative voice and the lyricism of Goodis’s prose—in regards to the latter, it makes perfect sense that the main character is an accomplished pianist, seeing as Goodis obviously has an ear for melody and rhythm. This musicality provides a counterpoint to the barrage of hardboiled rhetoric, a back and forth that, in addition to the novel’s action, propels the narrative forward at a precipitous rate. What a fun read. (less)
Classic Bukowski, at once disgusting and delightful, Factotum is a very unflattering yet heartfelt tale about scraping by in WWII-era America. It's ea...moreClassic Bukowski, at once disgusting and delightful, Factotum is a very unflattering yet heartfelt tale about scraping by in WWII-era America. It's easy to resort to extremes when dealing with Bukowski--people seem to either love or hate his writings--yet his texts are noticeably more varied and complex than many seem to acknowledge (especially his detractors). For just below the surface of every element that's offensive or vile, there remains a stubborn hope that propels his tales along (and keeps his characters struggling on)--bold testaments to our strength and will. Bukowski's readiness to march forth with such shocking candor really can't be underestimated--whether you like his writings or not--and Factotum is as good of an example of this brutal (and fairly unique) honesty as any of his writings. (less)
Stegner's control of language and gift for storytelling are quite wonderful. While the tale, at times, descends into a nostalgia that can be a bit clo...moreStegner's control of language and gift for storytelling are quite wonderful. While the tale, at times, descends into a nostalgia that can be a bit cloying--mostly due to the the story's heavy reliance on a single narrator's recollections--it is this shifting in time within the narrative that also keeps the text progressive and engaging. There is wisdom, too, to be gained from this rich account of extended friendship, notably the idea that enduring love and companionship--despite its apparent trappings--is not only possible, but essential in realizing one's purpose.(less)
I’m not sure when, if ever, I would’ve actually sought out and read *Revolutionary Road* had it not, rather serendipitously, appeared before me on a b...moreI’m not sure when, if ever, I would’ve actually sought out and read *Revolutionary Road* had it not, rather serendipitously, appeared before me on a brief stop in to the library a few weeks ago. To my somewhat surprise, I found this book to be a pretty spectacular specimen of writing, in that very crafted, realist kind of way.
I think much of my initial aversion to *Revolutionary Road* was due to my feeling that dispelling the myths about the '50s is just not that interesting anymore. This is why I feel that, for all of its aesthetic splendor, *Mad Men* fails, as the “deeper” elements of the show rely too heavily on upsetting the notion of the '50s as some kind of golden age for America, a subject which is completely rote, except maybe to those who grew up as kids in the suburbs during that era and still struggle to reconcile their nostalgia with the truth.
This issue still holds true for Yates’s novel, as Daphne Merkin, in Book Forum, so aptly points out:
…Yates’s evocation of an insistently disappointing world epitomized by ’50s suburbia—one of bright hopes and desolate outcomes, of marriage begun in a romantic haze and ended in disenchanted lucidity, of talent unrealized or delusionally pursued—was never that alluring to begin with.
But, unlike *Mad Men*, there is so much more to *Revolutionary Road* than just debunking the candy-coated ideas surrounding the '50s. To return to Merkin, once more, to focus too much on the subject of the darker side of the '50s “…would be to overlook the crucial thing about Yates, which isn’t the trapped plights of his characters but his articulation of that entrapment: the seamless arrangement of sentences, the knack for dialogue, and the acutely observant style. It is a style on which nothing is lost.”
*Revolutionary Road* is a great piece of literature in terms of its writing and its character development. Yates somehow manages to create characters that grow more nuanced and intricate all the while self-destructing. While I tended to latch on to the character of April Wheeler much more than her husband Frank, on whom most of the text is focused, Yates doesn’t allow you to fall entirely on one side or the other (Mendes’s film tips the scales in favor of April a bit too much, I feel). Nobody is perfect, in fact, nobody is even functional enough for the reader to convincingly get behind.
And, yet, you do. Or, at least I did. Before I’d realized how invested I was in these strange and confusing people, the Wheelers began to crumble, and I was fairly devastated. What happens is not so surprising; what’s shocking is how affecting it all is, and this is entirely due to Yates's incredibly articulate writing, not the era or the characters themselves. Through Yates's pen, it all goes beautifully up in flames and ends, as Frank once says, in “hopeless emptiness.”(less)
"They say that love and hate are very close together. Well, that's a fact."
Baldwin manages, through simultaneous passion and patience, to explore tha...more"They say that love and hate are very close together. Well, that's a fact."
Baldwin manages, through simultaneous passion and patience, to explore that which seems a polarity but which is actually divided by a very thin line. Every time I felt the text was getting out of hand and descending into melodrama, Baldwin deftly asserted his intention and craft, revealing balance, calculation, and a master plan. An often difficult but affecting book.
Definitely the most inimitable and powerful book that I somehow never read during the course of my literature studies. Honestly, I picked-up *Invisibl...moreDefinitely the most inimitable and powerful book that I somehow never read during the course of my literature studies. Honestly, I picked-up *Invisible Man* amidst a pre-grad school attempt to breeze through many of the "classics" that I'd missed in college and found myself completely riveted and utterly obsessed.
Cue hyperbolic platitude: there is absolutely no reason why everyone, especially every American, should not read this text. This work resides in a most precarious place in our cultural subconscious that, I believe, one needs to confront.(less)
A favorite of Pynchon and Farina's during their undergrad stint at Cornell, this western contains not only an intriguing plot, but it also plays with...moreA favorite of Pynchon and Farina's during their undergrad stint at Cornell, this western contains not only an intriguing plot, but it also plays with the notion of narrative in a way that was exceptionally progressive when it was first published in 1958. In addition to Pynchon, Wallace Stegner, Larry McMurtry, and Cormac McCarthy, among many others, owe much to Oakley Hall.(less)
As I tend to find Bukowski a rather lackluster writer, I should point out that I did enjoy this collection of poems. Definitely my favorite Bukowski t...moreAs I tend to find Bukowski a rather lackluster writer, I should point out that I did enjoy this collection of poems. Definitely my favorite Bukowski text.(less)
'The experience, the experience. Haven't you learned?' Profane didn't have to think long. 'No,' he said, 'offhand I'd say I haven't learned a goddamn...more'The experience, the experience. Haven't you learned?' Profane didn't have to think long. 'No,' he said, 'offhand I'd say I haven't learned a goddamn thing.'"
Moral of the story: our entire trajectory, as animate humans, consists of nothing more than an inevitable progression from being animate to being inanimate. What? You don't find solace in this point? It makes you feel a bit uneasy, and, dare I say, paranoid? Welcome to Thomas Pynchon's world.
"V." is my favorite Pynchon novel--quite the boast, as he is one of my very favorite writers. It holds this esteemed place for two main reasons: because in it he lays the thematic/philosophical foundations upon which all of his other texts are built, and I think that it is his most solidly written novel, at least in terms of "the novel" as a form, or structure, of writing. Yes, many of the themes and ideas are inchoate, and the text, at times, seems immature compared to his later works. But I think it lacks a lot of the over-calculation that tends to impede some of his other works.
Pretentious? Perhaps, but I challenge you to write a novel like this at age 23. This novel flows (yeah, I said it!), challenges the reader, and draws from such disparate sources (hundreds of years of history, science, pop culture, high culture, art, etcetera). These aspects, among so many other in which Pynchon indulges, help to make this one of my most beloved books.(less)