I like this book very much - it should get four to four and a half stars - but I hate hate hate HATE that the town the main characters live in is call...moreI like this book very much - it should get four to four and a half stars - but I hate hate hate HATE that the town the main characters live in is called Lovecraft. It's so distractingly obvious and stupid that I'm hoping the book reboots in the second volume.(less)
Being able to relate to something is the most boring reason to like it, but it's just as true and honest as any other, and this reminded me of my own...moreBeing able to relate to something is the most boring reason to like it, but it's just as true and honest as any other, and this reminded me of my own childhood so intensely that I fell in love with it within the first three pages and loved it until the last one. It is not a great book. It is not terrifically well-written. I don't care, though, because it's like someone transcribed a few moments that I thought I was the only observer of. Of course, there are millions out there who agree with me.
Craig Thompson was born in the same town in Michigan as I was, probably the same hospital (because there's really just the one in Traverse City, Michigan). I took part in the same religious hysteria as both an active participant and later as a tortured doubter. Thompson gets the brutal winters that roll in off the Great Lakes and the muffled silence - most of the story takes place in winter. The art here is interesting in that it's a bit Art Spiegelman-like, except more fantastical - he's not an allegorist, but he's also unafraid of deforming reality a bit in a way that reflects memory's vagaries - and he does that a lot more than Spiegelman.
My own health is not excellent, it's a funny thing to admit at 32 but it's nonetheless true, and although it's similarly mawkish to admit it, I spend more time thinking about my childhood now than I used to. You get to a point where you realize that these things matter only to yourself, that you were always effectively the only participant, and once I arrived at that realization, remembering became more precious somehow. I had my own Raina - a girl who I went to great lengths to visit in the faraway city in which she lived, whose irksomely brilliant whitebread family were unfailingly kind to me despite the pretentious, presumptuous, irritating wannabe Camusian permafunk in which I spent my teens. We talked on the phone all the time. We even had phone sex once. I told her the accent in "Aquinas" was on the final syllable and she patiently told me I was wrong but stopped bothering when I insisted. I made her read John Berryman and she said she didn't get it so of course I pretended to grasp every reference. She dumped me over the phone, too, after a relationship that lasted about nine months, and I never really found out why, though when you're 18 it's really a question that answers itself. We tried to rekindle it once but I was so angry three years later that I would only tease her. We're Facebook friends now, kind of the ultimate in perverse insults, though she seems happy, which makes me glad. When I was cleaning toilets on a golf course in Indiana to fund trips to see her I would've said the same thing, that I just wanted her happiness - and it's only now when that whole time is so far away that I can actually muster the generosity of spirit to be glad about it again. That kind of generosity maybe has more to do with forgetting the slight than it does with any actual comfort or joy.
Anyway, Thompson remembers very clearly what it was like to see a whole hopeful world in someone you're with. It's a lesson that gets beaten out of most people, and that's what Blankets is about. There's not much story to it - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, with a little bit of fraternal alienation and Dostoevskian questioning and high school cliquishness mixed in. It's not a masterpiece. But you would still have to pry this book from my possession with a heavy fucking crowbar.(less)
Reading too many books about Hitler threatens to plant one in the demographic of middle aged American white guys who go to Pennsylvania wargame cons i...moreReading too many books about Hitler threatens to plant one in the demographic of middle aged American white guys who go to Pennsylvania wargame cons in full Waffen gear, then go home to have their wives put on dirndls and spank them. I am not a part of that demographic (...though I've played more rounds of Europe Engulfed than is probably healthy). This is for work. This. Is. For. Work.
So there are a few brands of German writing about the war. There's the Sebald-style, revisionist, it's-time-to-look-at-this-with-clear-eyes-also-it-wasn't-my-fault thing. There's Gunter Grass: how-awful-this-was-for-everyone. And there's Fest, who (you might have seen this coming) goes for I'm-so-objective-I-can-even-relentlessly-chide-my-own-people-for-their-fuckedness-see-see-SEE?!.
There isn't much new material here that I can discern - he draws heavily on Hugh Trevor-Roper, which he excuses by saying that Trevor-Roper was closer in time to Nazis who took interviews. This is partly plausible, because if one thing is clear about the final days of the Reich, it's that the German bureaucracy and Hitler's own inner circle had quit taking careful notes, leaving the bunker itself as a bit of a black box: no information out, and not much going in. He also draws on Hitler's own body man, whose name I forget, and Traudl Junge, who were both there and seem to have misremembered surprisingly little.
But there isn't anything here to surprise anyone who's seen "Downfall," which I believe drew on Fest's work. In fact, the book is so plainly derivative that I'm not sure it's worth reading. Fest perpetuates the myth that Hitler's death room smelled like "bitter almonds" due to the chemical Eva used to kill herself - in fact, the poison doesn't smell like that at all, so if you were so inclined, you could perform a little amateur historiography just by tracing that minute piece of bullshit.
On one hand, it's satisfying to read about the quick collapse of the German military structure and the interesting ploys everyone tried to escape to friendlier turf. There are some pleasing anecdotes here, like how just before the Red Army came in, Berliners would walk by each other whistling a tune the lyrics of which translate to "After all, it's not the end of the world..." Then there's the ghoulish, like Goebbels' wife playing solitaire in her room after killing her own children. And maybe I'm about to throw in my lot with the reenactment crowd and start buying fake used daggers on Ebay, but I find the stuff about Hitler's affect the most interesting. He rants! He raves! He eats cake! More cake! He suddenly gets all sullen. Oops, no more Fuhrer! I mean, what could possibly be more interesting than the emotional state of someone who has just locked down a string of evil acts that's earned you and your people the universal horror and derision of the rest of the world to last until the end of time, someone who's done something that'll be remembered for its sheer insanity for as long as there are words to tell of it? I'm not sure it's really possible to generalize about the worst tendencies of human nature from the account of Hitler's blaming, scapegoating and paranoia in these last days, but it sure is tempting.
One complaint I have about most Hitler work is that historians have a hard time avoiding this tone of "...and of course Hitler reacted to the news of his brother-in-law's escape to Austria or whatever in the most childish and ludicrous way possible..." Why, we might ask? Because he's Hitler! is the standard answer. No one has ever been more thoroughly psychoanalyzed without the benefit of an actual analyst than Adolf, but a lot of that work doesn't end up on the page. Kershaw does this, too, and when I'm done reading his book I'm going to discuss it more there. But it's not enough to only say that Hitler was an emotional wreck all the time and a cranky piece of shit who blamed everyone else for his monumental failure. I'm not sure it's ever helpful to say that, in fact, because it doesn't do anything but confirm what we all think we know from watching movies dating back to The Great Dictator. It's worth explaining why he fell prey to these habits of mind; why he was always blaming other people; why he felt so chronically betrayed. (less)