I enjoyed Swann's Way, though reading it was not without occasional struggles. The meandering form, which can be enrapturing, is just as often daydreaI enjoyed Swann's Way, though reading it was not without occasional struggles. The meandering form, which can be enrapturing, is just as often daydream inducing. And the endless carping of the fin de siècle French upper class was a frequent annoyance for me (though the argument that Proust was laudably equitable in his treatment of myriad social classes is a compelling one that shouldn't be overlooked). Yet, it's is ultimately a delightful book that revels in memory, nature, art, love, and life, and, thus, worth a read....more
Jane Jacobs’s four recommendations for successful neighborhoods (p. 124):
1. Streets and districts should serve a variety of industries and purposes. 2.Jane Jacobs’s four recommendations for successful neighborhoods (p. 124):
1. Streets and districts should serve a variety of industries and purposes. 2.Blocks should be short and feel comfortable to pedestrians. 3. Buildings should vary in age, condition, and use (a.k.a. “mixed use”). 4. Population must be dense.
In a place like Denver, Colorado--where I live, and which, at the moment, is growing by leaps and bounds, especially in the urban core--Jacobs’s recommendations are commonplace in discussions about what the city should look like, now and in the coming decades. But her ideas weren’t always a given, in fact they were initially viewed as crackpot, dangerous, and unfounded. Having a chance to glimpse of the origin of these ideas, and to examine their first major applications, is reason enough to pay Wrestling with Moses a visit.
Luckily, Anthony Flint’s text is also a lively biography of an astounding person: a woman without a college degree who, beginning in the 1950s, exposed political, financial, and intellectual fraud at the core of some incredibly powerful institutions and individuals. Most famously, Jane Jacobs defeated Robert Moses, New York City's "master builder," multiple times at a point in his career where he was more or less untouchable. It was a fight that was about as David versus Goliath as it gets.
But Jacobs's legacy had a much larger impact than saving her community from the wrecking ball. In the process of battling Moses’s widespread brand of urban renewal, Jacobs pioneered public participation in urban planning, proved that ordinary citizens can successfully challenge authority, and exposed the democracy-undermining practice of funneling public money into private ventures. Echoes of her community activism would resonate broadly in the civil unrest of 60s.
However unwittingly, though, Jacobs’s approach did lend itself to gentrification–take look at Greenwich Village today–and Flint is careful not to gloss over this, and other, critiques. Likewise, he shows that, for all of Moses’s missteps and heavy handedness, he was very much a product of his era, and, even then, some of his projects have paid dividends (the creation of New York City’s extensive park system is one example). It’s this complexity that gives both Jacobs and Moses a well-roundedness and, in turn, renders their relationship–which provides the backbone of Wrestling with Moses–all the more intricate, substantive, and fascinating. So, while this is a biography about a humble visionary who took on a giant and won, it’s also a book about how we live now, and, with the majority of the world’s population now found in cities, how we will live....more
A lyrical fever dream that’s labyrinthine in subject and form, Under the Volcano is a book about trying to escape--one’s self, one’s weaknesses, one’sA lyrical fever dream that’s labyrinthine in subject and form, Under the Volcano is a book about trying to escape--one’s self, one’s weaknesses, one’s failures, one’s environment. It’s an experience that’s at once colorful and dreary, vast and oppressive, hopeful and hopeless, though ultimately a journey redolent of doom, a portent which grows at a dizzying rate with each passing chapter. It’s an obscured book, enveloped, as the title suggests, by massive shadows--a darkness that the central character, Geoffrey Firmin, wishes desperately to emerge from.
But Under the Volcano is not merely a document of Geoffrey Firmin’s demise. Sure, that’s the “plot,” but, true to his modernist roots, Lowry cobbles together a manic collage composed of shifting narratives, varied languages, ornate symbols, memories, inner conflicts, global collisions, a love quadrangle, and events of sudden violence, all of which are situated amid the wreckage of the Mexican Revolution and imminent war in Europe. It’s these types of tensions that permeate the experiences of Geoffrey, his half-brother Hugh, and his estranged wife Yvonne, as each struggles with what should be done, what can be done--with their lives, with their relationships with one another, and with these larger, looming conflicts that are consuming the world. Taken together, this vibrant tapestry of a text is a powerful consideration of one’s place and role amid life’s perennial chaos....more
Identity is a force that can edify or destroy; it’s also an artificial construct, culled from class, gender, and race by society. That something so arIdentity is a force that can edify or destroy; it’s also an artificial construct, culled from class, gender, and race by society. That something so arbitrarily created can determine one’s fate is a devastating tragedy. This is what Light in August is about and why it is a powerful and important book....more
A tale chock full of dualities, wherein characters, events, and themes find themselves paired with one another in manners that are at once complimentaA tale chock full of dualities, wherein characters, events, and themes find themselves paired with one another in manners that are at once complimentary and contrapuntal. Queneau is wonderful at imbuing a single moment with competing forces that, rather than cancel each other out, add nuance and complexity. An ordinary day in Queneau’s Paris is at once tragic and hopeful, bitter and hilarious....more
A much needed addition to the *Ulysses* bookshelf, in that *Ulysses and Us* directly confronts the Joyce industry and attempts to reassert Joyce's popA much needed addition to the *Ulysses* bookshelf, in that *Ulysses and Us* directly confronts the Joyce industry and attempts to reassert Joyce's populist (for lack of a better term) aspirations for the novel--a work that, truly, has a much wider appeal than academia and the Joyce industry would lead us to believe.
For those well acquainted with *Ulysses,* the first couple of chapters will bring the most insight, as Kiberd grapples with how *Ulysses* failed--in terms of Joyce's hope that, at least in some senses, *Ulysses* would have a tremendous and far reaching impact on the whole of society--as well as what significant benefits the text still holds for a wide range of readers now.
For those just embarking on their *Ulysses* journey, the thematic, chapter-by-chapter, "guide to life"-esque breakdown of *Ulysses* that makes up the bulk of Kiberd's text provides great food for thought (I'd highly recommend reading Kiberd's text after finishing the corresponding chapter in *Ulysses*).
All-in-all, this is a great addition to the world of *Ulysses,* as Kiberd convincingly reasserts everyone's ownership of this magnificent work....more
At page 454, I am abandoning this text, at least for a while.
*You Can't Go Home Again* is such an influential work, especially within American literaAt page 454, I am abandoning this text, at least for a while.
*You Can't Go Home Again* is such an influential work, especially within American literature, that I had to continually remind myself that what struck me as "old hat" or cliche, was, in all reality, fairly innovative; the passages that reminded me of Kerouac, were, in fact, the passages that inspired Kerouac. This work has some exceptionally beautiful and affecting passages--I'm thinking, most recently in my reading, of the suicide scene at the Admiral Drake hotel in Brooklyn, which I especially loved for its narrative shift, in which the narrator latches on to a detail as minute as the name of the hotel from which this victim leapt to his death, and begins to address Sir Francis Drake directly in an attempt to explain the history of modernity through this single event. In other words, the "story" behind the "news".
This is Wolfe's strength. He is able to look at individuals and seemingly unique events--someone or something that piques his literary interest--and execute an analysis of these singularities in such a way that they are rendered universal. The guy selling tobacco and newspapers on a lonely street corner; the pompous actor throwing an extravagant party amidst the stock market crash; the unmarried sister whose oddness cements her spinsterhood; the impoverished author living in squalor in the basement of a brownstone in Brooklyn; each of these characters embody "America" and the struggle that we call "life" in the America of the late-20s and early-30s. For this, I give Wolfe a tri-stared rating.
What Wolfe does not grasp is brevity. Admittedly, my favorite works of literature are often large-scale novels--think Joyce, Pynchon, Dickens. All I require from a text, when you really get down to it, is insight in theme or plot--be it wholly innovative, or merely a universal problem shed in "new" light--or fabulous writing, be it orginative, quirky, or just solid. If a text possesses an abundance of even one of these traits, I am generally satisfied. Of course, my favorite texts (*Ulysses*, *V.*, *Bleak House*, to echo the authors above) contain a delightful combination of them all.
Wolfe does not, in my opinion, possess much of any of these traits, thus, entailing that *YCGHA* is, ultimately, long, boring, and inconsequential, in my opinion. He is certainly eloquent--when writing of his home in Asheville, NC, he executes marvelous description, as the text was just as I experienced when I was there a few months ago--but his writing, as a whole, is nothing out of the ordinary, in fact, it's rather plain.
And he's really not insightful. When, in the text, George Webber very proudly claims that he is not an intellectual, it is all-too-obvious that he is acting as the mouthpiece for Wolfe himself. Not that writers need to be endowed with a monstrous intellect, but if one's writing is commonplace and unalluring, I at least hope that reading their plain script will prove affectingly insightful. I, sadly, did not find this to be the case here....more
A detailed and readable historical/cultural account of Berlin between WWI and WWII. A great read, especially for Berlin enthusiasts or those travelingA detailed and readable historical/cultural account of Berlin between WWI and WWII. A great read, especially for Berlin enthusiasts or those traveling there, or even if just desultorily in occasional chapters....more
I think that I love this collection more for the associations I have with it, than with the poems themselves, in all honesty. Id est, my drunken EngliI think that I love this collection more for the associations I have with it, than with the poems themselves, in all honesty. Id est, my drunken English acquaintance Ed, who, clad in perennial tweed and converse, as a grad student at Trinity, would regale me with the merits of Stevens by the statue of of Kavanagh along the Grand Canal in Dublin or while quaffing numerous ales at my Ringsend flat and ashing his hand-rolled cigarette into my sugar bowl. Ah, memories! ...more
Nostalgic in a way that I feel one likely is toward the end of one's life, especially a life lived in letters, as Hugh Kenner so admirably did. It's aNostalgic in a way that I feel one likely is toward the end of one's life, especially a life lived in letters, as Hugh Kenner so admirably did. It's a short but enjoyable meditation on the "elsewhere community" that writers and artists necessarily create, and it utilizes some of my favorite modernists in order to illustrate these ideas. ...more