Just beautiful - this may be the perfect fishing book, (and makes me wonder if a lot of 300 page books wouldn't be masterpieces if they were cut downJust beautiful - this may be the perfect fishing book, (and makes me wonder if a lot of 300 page books wouldn't be masterpieces if they were cut down by 2/3rds.) ...more
For some reason, I'm always a bit abashed about reading this kind of book. Nevertheless, this caught my eye, and I'm perusing it to help me think abouFor some reason, I'm always a bit abashed about reading this kind of book. Nevertheless, this caught my eye, and I'm perusing it to help me think about what sort of creative enterprise I may want to pursue in the times ahead. Pretty good, though I confess all these kinds of books seem pretty much the same to me (with the possible exception of Zen and the Art of Making a Living)....more
I love Gideon Defoe’s pirate books. Humor is such a tricky, subjective thing. I generally don’t go for things that get too cartoonish and outré, at leI love Gideon Defoe’s pirate books. Humor is such a tricky, subjective thing. I generally don’t go for things that get too cartoonish and outré, at least when this is combined with an attempt at making me care about the characters and invest in their progress. I have a hard time caring about cartoons. Human comedy and droll narration are more my style. Until a book goes so far beyond that pale that it goes totally round the bend. Then I’m back in, all the way. That’s what the Pirate books do. They are giddy, loony, ridiculous, delightfully inspired nonsense, crammed with sight gags, outlandish fancies, and the kind of infantile, elastic-faced hijinks of a Bugs Bunny Cartoon or a Monty Python episode or Marx Brothers movie. In this installment, the Pirate Captain, in a funk after losing the Pirate of the Year award to some corporate ass-kisser, decides to hang up his cutlass and take up bee-keeping on the island of St. Helena. Sadly, his attempt to retreat from the pressured popularity contests of piracy backfires when he is joined in his island retreat by the insufferably perfect Napoleon. Never mind the plot. Defoe is just very good at tickling the funny bone with images like a butter covered pirate swaggering around in a thong, or the fabulous Pirate King punctuating a sentence by punching a Great White shark in half. Defoe keeps filling your glass with this smartly stupid, intoxicating nonsense until you are tipsy, drunk, blotto, and laughing all over yourself. ...more
I must have read dozens of thrillers set in Germany during World War II, but even the best of them (possibly Marshall Browne’s Eye of the Abyss) cannoI must have read dozens of thrillers set in Germany during World War II, but even the best of them (possibly Marshall Browne’s Eye of the Abyss) cannot touch Fallada’s unforgettable novel of life under and in the midst of the third Reich. The death of their son in the conquest of France provokes taciturn factory foreman Otto Quangel and his meek wife Anna into an act of resistance that is no less dangerous for its smallness and ineffectuality. They drop subversive postcards around the city like messages in a bottle, in hopes of waking the sleeping consciences of the fellow citizens, and slowing down the war effort bit by bit. They hope that these seeds will grow and spread, but in fact many of them are turned in to the authorities. The Gestapo go to work tracking down the source of the cards, with results that are both woefully expected and tragically surprising. The Quangels are unlikely heroes, as was Fallada, a man wrecked by life under the Nazis. Fallada (his real name was Rudolph Ditzen) spent the much of the war in an asylum and died soon after the end of the war of an overdose of morphine, shortly after writing this novel in just 24 days, a truly heroic – and astonishing – act. The story is based upon a Gestapo file of a family that participated in the resistance, and the moment by moment truth of the account is obviously drawn from Fallada’s own lived experiences as a troubled, fallible and deeply moral man who made his own share of compromises to get by. The book eschews the easy generalizations and simplifications of most such stories, exploring the daily realities of life under the Nazis, and the countless shades of gray that exist between black and white. It is not a story of great men or dramatic acts of courage or villainy, but of small adjustments, little denials, expedient compromises and real struggles that take place not in the abstract realm of ideals, but in a world of groceries, careers and families. Reading the book, you can’t help but ask yourself just what you might have done if you had been living in Berlin during the war. You look at your friends and coworkers and imagine which of them would hunker down or go along to get along, which would fight back, and which would be basking in the glow of success within the party ranks, rising stars of the Reich. After all, the Nazis were people. There is no difference between a toady and a Nazi toady, a bully and a Nazi bully, a bureaucrat and a Nazi bureaucrat, a zealot and a Nazi zealot. The Reich played upon those same personality traits that exist within us all. There is a staggeringly short distance between not valuing one’s fellow beings, and committing acts of genocide upon them, and the very same kind of casual cruelty and apathetic selfishness that put Hitler in power is at work each and every day in the streets of our cities, and our own lives. The book has the rough texture of documentary history, yet ultimately it is a work of tremendous moral heft. In fact, I think it just might be one of the best things I’ve ever read. Yes, it is desperately bleak, and yet there are small moments of kindness, and a resounding sense of how even a small, doomed act of rebellion can be a triumph of the spirit, and a triumph in God’s eyes, if there is a god, and if he’s watching....more
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita… In the middle of my life’s journey, I came to myself in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. That’s how DaNel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita… In the middle of my life’s journey, I came to myself in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. That’s how Dante’s Inferno begins, and this is pretty much the starting point for Rosales’ hellish little novel about Cuban exile William Figueras. After his American relatives greet him at the airport, expecting a successful man of letters but finding a bitter and irrational husk gibbering insults, Figueras finds himself shunted to a succession of psychiatric wards and asylums, winding up at long last in the circle of hell realized by a converted Miami home packed to the gills with dazed and suffering souls, watched over with casual cruelty by the demons of this place – a sports fishing capitalist and his degenerate, abusive flunky. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Or as Figueras says, “The house said ‘boarding home’ on the outside, but I knew that it would be my tomb.” The book is completely unflinching in its depiction of these lower depths, and the hapless castaways that populate its cells and hallways, enfeebled by age, insane, crippled, or simply abandoned by the living, breathing world that exists all around them, and yet seems at an unbridgeable remove from their sordid, shambling existence. But the reek of urine or the tang and stench of other vile bodily frailties and exigencies are not the most disturbing thing. For many readers the book will cross a threshold when the narrator himself, a man of learning if questionable sanity, takes part in the cruel treatment of his fellow inmates. This happens in Dante also, when the narrator does terrible things to the damned like kicking at heads that emerge from the brimstone, but Dante enjoys a rock-hard certainty about the damned and deserving status of his victims, while for Rosales/Figueras, life seems to have more to do with chance than karma. There is hope here, too – the kind of hope that noir buffs such as me can spot a mile off – and a romance, of sorts. I shouldn’t say more, but I hope I’ve given enough of a window on the various debasements of this book that when I say the book is beautiful, it will resonate with the sort of reader who knows what that means, and drive away the rest. It is beautiful, not like a car crash, or like a ruin, or like cancer. It is beautiful like Dante....more
Here is the magic of libraries again, those fathomless oceans of story that cast up rare marvels and monstrosities, and unimagined jewels lost to timeHere is the magic of libraries again, those fathomless oceans of story that cast up rare marvels and monstrosities, and unimagined jewels lost to time in their obscuring depths, for us beachcombers to find. Coloane was a much beloved writer in his native Chile, and is only just now reaching America with this and one other collection of tales. I think there are some other things in English, and hopefully much more to follow. A jacket blurb compares him to Jack London, which is apt in a number of ways. The world of his stories is the furthest verge of South America, a stark landscape of rocks and sea, windswept pampas and cliffs. And gold. Gold that appears in traces among the dark ferrous sands, beneath the bleached bones of a whale. Gold that drives men mad. Men who struggle and strive in the vertiginous chasm between great riches and starvation, while migratory sea birds cast a cold eye on it all from above. Most of the men just get by, clinging to their ships and rocks like crabs, clinging to their superstitions and beliefs, including a childish faith in the myth of the self-made man. Here too, Coloane and London meet in their unsparing view of society – a hard and mostly indifferent world where men are not masters, but subjects, all. Coloane was a communist while London was a socialist; both have the skeptical sympathy of men who have lived hard and seen a great deal. One story about a strange, hidden valley and the strange ones who dwell there even recalls London’s fantastic side. And finally – and this may be all you need to know – there is the great sense of adventure, which was heightened by the fact that Patagonia and the Straits of Magellan are so strange and unfamiliar to me. It reminded me of reading London as a child, my wondering soul harkening to those mythic lands far to the North. I will definitely be looking out for more Coloane....more
It has been a while since I've read a big social novel (my recent re-read of Huck Finn aside), and I greatly enjoyed this. Like others, tempted towardIt has been a while since I've read a big social novel (my recent re-read of Huck Finn aside), and I greatly enjoyed this. Like others, tempted towards it because I so much enjoyed "There Will Be Blood," and was curious about the book from which that movie departs, very far in fact - the film feels more like William Faulkner than Upton Sinclair to me, though there are some nice echoes. One of these might be Plainview's attitude of sublimely jocund disgust in the midst of Eli's revival meeting, which resonates with the fact that in "Oil!" it is Ross (the Plainview character) who gets Eli's career going with a mocking joke in which he tosses out a lot of prophetic hokum that the prophet-to-be then latches ahold of and uses as the basis for a vast revivalist movement known as the "Third Revelation." But Plainview would never subsequently find himself drawn to spiritualism, as Ross does, in his waning days: indeed, he fights such spiritual nonsense quite literally to the final frame. In the end of "Oil!," in contrast, it is Eli who has the upper hand. The character of Joe Ross is somewhere between Daniel Plainview and, say, Sinclair Lewis's hapless Dodsworth, well intentioned and conventional and at prey to forces larger than himself, rather than seeming to embody some self-made force of nature himself. (Sinclair himself was a bit of a kook in matters theosophical, I gather, and the book's openness to spiritualism certainly reflects that).
Ross's son, Bunny, is the real central character here, playing a role somewhat like Jack Burden in "All the King's Men," except that rather than haunted and cynical, Bunny is if anything too generous of spirit and open-minded for credulity. Continually coming-of-age, Bunny almost never fails to be admirably self-aware and reasonable in the face of the direst political upheavals and ideological disagreements. He is a seeker caught somewhat between the Reds and the Pinks, yet never stooping to demonize the arch capitalists and superficial Hollywood types who are his family and friends. When at one point Bunny compares his own choice to forego the rose-petal path and go his own road and learn a workman's trade to the path of Gautama Buddha, it seems apt. He's that good a fellow.
The real attraction of the book for me, and what kept me reading happily along, was my pleasure in the omniscient narrator's worldview, which is almost as good natured as Bunny's, but a good deal more cynical, too. One has the sense of looking down at all the squabbles and struggles of these people with the amused and sardonic beneficence of a deity or philosopher who views these humans for the gobbling, distracted children they are, to be loved but not much trusted as individuals. It is a basically liberal world view, and one which I agree with (and here we come across one of these curiosities of terminology, which would suggest that to be 'liberal' must mean to simply allow everyone to do as they please, to each his own, which is far from the liberal mindset: the liberal distrusts human nature; the libertarian trusts it. But I digress...) So it is spending time with Upton Sinclair, his forthright attitudes and clear amusement at the circus parade, seemingly so much less anguished than Steinbeck or Nathanial West, that was the fun. I'm not sure how I'd feel about Sinclair's abilities as a writer if I were, say, an Ayn Rand fan, anymore than whether I can ascribe my own disdain for her writing style to my strong disagreement with her ends and aims. Both are writing political novels, but the one seems to me a full and authentic picture, while the other seems a warped and turgid fantasy. But there you are.
I'm also not sure how many more I'll read out of the astonishingly large number of works there are by Upton Sinclair, though I am curious how the character of Bunny evolves and what journey he takes as Lanny Budd. But that's eleven long novels, and they're kind of hard to come by, too....more
I'm reading this now, and the horror, the horror ~ sort of puts movies like "Audition" into context. As perverse as Poe, but way creepier. Like "The CI'm reading this now, and the horror, the horror ~ sort of puts movies like "Audition" into context. As perverse as Poe, but way creepier. Like "The Caterpillar," this story about a woman's relationship with her war hero husband, now a writhing trunk without arms, legs, speech or hearing who lays on the floor wrapped in kimonos, looking at her. SHUDDER!!...more
I very much enjoyed this episodic reminiscence of one girl’s coming of age in a village at the far north of Denmark. The title refers to the narrator’I very much enjoyed this episodic reminiscence of one girl’s coming of age in a village at the far north of Denmark. The title refers to the narrator’s childhood dream of making a railroad journey across the continent to the crystalline wastes of what is for her an exotic storybook land. The early scenes in which she follows her brother (and hero) Jesper on various escapades are written with a naïve vividness that truly evokes glowing sights and fresh sensations, fears and pleasures of those childhood experiences that retain an air of enchanted memory. We may never have cuddled up with a warm cow on a cold winter’s night, but we fully grasp the unexpected wonder of it, having viewed the world through those eyes ourselves. There is a disappointing trip to the island of Skagen during a rainstorm that perfectly recalls just those small disillusionments that felt so huge. There are darker, more mysterious phantoms that flit across the stage as well, such as the death of a classmate, or the suicide of her forbidding grandfather, a doomed and drunken farmer; plangent chords that will remain unresolved. The siblings’ adolescence coincides with the coming of the Nazis, which circumstance proves too tempting to Jesper, a devout communist, leading to some taut passages and much whistling in the dark as the Dutch resistance comes sluggishly to life to throw of the oppressor’s yoke. In the end, we follow our narrator to the threshold of full adulthood of unflinching resignation that, in a sense, finally transports her to that ice palace – or bleak gulag – of her girlish fantasies. I haven’t yet read Out Stealing Horses, so I can’t compare the two, but the wistful, haunted quality of this book reminds me a bit of the impressionistic, memory-filtered novellas of Andrei Makine (Dreams of My Russian Summers). It is a little what I imagine reading Proust to be like, if Proust weren’t too long for me to read....more