The Captain Alvarado pushed in from the sunny square for a moment. He looked across the fields of black hair and lace at the trooping of the candles aThe Captain Alvarado pushed in from the sunny square for a moment. He looked across the fields of black hair and lace at the trooping of the candles and the ropes of incense. "How false, how unreal," he said and pushed his way out. He descended to the sea and sat on the edge of his boat, gazing down into the clear water. "Happy are the drowned, Esteban," he said.
A bridge collapses in Cuzco, killing five random Peruvians of disperate social classes and backgrounds. A Franciscan priest sets out to write the biographies of the dead.
Like Ecclesiastes and the book of Job, The Bridge of San Luis Rey asks the question Why do bad things happen? but, in searching out the matter, the narrative is incapable of offering a definite answer. Instead it offers several possible but unsatisfying answers and a series of even less satisfying questions. Why does the bridge collapse, sending five people to a premature death? Was God impotent to help the victims, or merely cruel in ordaining their demise? What good, if any, can come of such a tragedy? Are the lives of men governed by random chance and superstition (as the Marquesa of Montemayor believes) or by the invisible, inscrutable benevolence of God (as Brother Juniper believes)? Do good men deserve to live? Do bad men deserve to die? "Either we live by accident and die by accident," asserts the Brother Juniper at the outset of the story, "Or we live by plan and die by plan."
I was surprised to read in the afterword that The Bridge received popular and critical praise when it was first published. It was even serialized in major American newspapers. The book netted for Mr. Wilder the 1928 equivalent of a million dollars. I find it hard to believe that a book of such high, poetic diction and complex themes was a hit among regular reading folk. What tops the bestseller list now? Twilight?Harry Potter? Sorry. I know it's easy to complain about how things were better in the days of yesteryear. But can you imagine a time when the common man went about with a copy of a Thornton Wilder book tucked under his arm?
Ah! I am so often nostalgic for an era in which I never lived.
Thanks to my friend Kevin for recommending this book to our book club. Kevin: you are a genius....more
Some poets attempt to disassemble the hulking metaphysical machinery of the universe. And that sort of poetry has its place, I suppose. But I usuallySome poets attempt to disassemble the hulking metaphysical machinery of the universe. And that sort of poetry has its place, I suppose. But I usually find grandiose poets exhausting. I'm not huge on poetry, but when I'm in the mood I usually prefer the type that Heather Christle writes. It is simple, funny and pretty.
Good job, Heather. A solid three and a half.
Also: have you seen my shelf of books I've read in 2011? Apparently I'm a sucker for a book cover with an animal on it....more
1. I've discovered that I really like to read books about people who write books. As a casually aspiring author I find it's easier to reObservations:
1. I've discovered that I really like to read books about people who write books. As a casually aspiring author I find it's easier to read about people writing than it is to actually sit down and write myself. I like to live vicariously through authors, looking over their shoulder as they labor. I like to think that I can do what they do. I cannot. Oh well. It's still fun to watch the greats at work. It's like football: a bunch of fat guys at home watching a healthy guy run around on the screen (this metaphor makes sense in my mind---I'm the armchair quarterback and Kafka is Brett Favre).
2. Also, as I have previously mentioned in another review, I am about a million times more likely to read a book is it has a large picture of an animal on the front. Or a woodcut print. Or a woodcut print of a beetle.
3. This book's title is misleading. A better title would be: "Kafka: You might think he's like this, but really he's like THIS." That's the gist of the book. It's a fun tour of Bohemian Germany and... a not so fun trip into the twisted mind of Franz Kafka. Kafka was a real angry, manipulative, bitter, spoiled weirdo, that's for sure.
In conclusion: fun read. The author, though, often gets too wrapped up in how clever he is. He constantly refers to trivial things that a layman would have no way of knowing about. That's frustrating. ...more
Two stars because this book was hit and miss. Some parts made me laugh out loud and some made me glare at the page in disgust, like, "Hey, that's not Two stars because this book was hit and miss. Some parts made me laugh out loud and some made me glare at the page in disgust, like, "Hey, that's not funny." Like, "That's not funny in a way that isn't just 'oh man, what a corny joke' but more like 'that's not a joke at all. That's just a labored, cumbersome and random pop culture reference a la Chuck Klosterman or 30 Rock Season 4 and maan am I tired of that shit.'" Like, "Is this author even trying to be funny?"
This book reminds me of this theory I have. It is mostly speculation and admittedly it sounds like I was high when I came up with it! But I wasn't! It's just a half-baked idea! I'm just putting it out there! A brief dissertation on my stupid theory follows!
Let me set up my theory with an assertion. I assert that the 1990's was the decade of pop culture references and irony (see: Weezer's "Buddy Holly" which is a 90's band making a video about a TV show from the 70's about characters who live in the 50's. Also, the rock band Pavement who tried hard to prove to everyone that they weren't trying. Also, the Simpsons.).
Then along came the post-irony of the 2000's. This is like Napoleon Dynamite and Michael Cera. And waalaa! Thanks to Post-Irony, moony-eyed sincerity and social awkwardness is the new snarky (I have ANOTHER theory that this chic naiveté is proof of a psychological regression that happened to our culture en masse in the wake of 9/11. Like, everybody looked into the abyss of human evil and we ended up getting all emotionally weird. "Down home values" were en vogue and everyone wanted to sit at home in jammies, eat comfort food and watch good guys win.)!
So, as technology progressed through the late 1990's and into the next millennia (especially as the Internet blew up) society had quicker access to newer and newer shows. Pop culture began to move at such a breakneck speed that our ideas about what's funny began to become rapidly outmoded (don't believe me? Watch Seinfeld or even Homestar Runner. See? Not funny now.). Thus, irony quickly was replaced by Post-Irony (Michael Cera, remember) and THAT was quickly replaced by Post-Post-Irony in a matter of some years. As a young tech-savvy culture we just couldn't add the prefix "post-" to things quickly enough.
This is all going somewhere. I swear.
So, into what category does this McSweeney's collection of essays, lists, and out-and-out cornball jokes fall? I reckon (and, again, I'm talking completely out of my ass) that it's Post-Post Irony, a brand of humor that was at its inception in the mid-2000's when this book was published. Post-Post-Irony is when you say something but it's buried so deep in irony, so many layers and layers of pop cultural references and parodies of parodies and topical jokes that it becomes completely irrelevant and not at all funny because THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY DEGREES OF SEPERATION and NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THE HELL YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. Thus, anything you say can be Post-Post Irony. If the listener doesn't get it, well, that's because "getting it" implies that there is something to be gotten and that whole notion is soooo pre-1990's. Everyone knows that not-funny is the new funny.
Call me old fashioned, but I like a joke that has a set up and a punch line. I'll take a list of corny puns over an faux erudite crack about homeland security ANY DAY.
Do I explain myself coherently? Does my theory hold water? Probably not. Who knows. It makes sense in my head, though. I gave this book three stars because there were some parts that made me laugh out loud and that's a great thing. Right? ...more
"It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to"It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood." — Sherwood Anderson
In this collection of short stories, the talented Ms. Highsmith writes like Flannery O'Connor's evil twin. The sardonic authoress introduces a character, endows them with a lofty moral attribute and stands back to watch them self-destruct under their own principled standards. It's extremely fascinating to watch well-intentioned folk end up in a nut house or a pine box.
If morbidity is your bag (or, if you just like great short stories) pick up this collection pronto-like....more
Before reading this book I feared the book-publishing industry the same way I fear the housing market or a Roth IRA: I know this works somehow, I thouBefore reading this book I feared the book-publishing industry the same way I fear the housing market or a Roth IRA: I know this works somehow, I thought. I know there's some way millions of people do this complicated, scary thing. But how do I do it? Who will dumb it down for my layman's brain?
A: Relax. Betsy Lerner, professional editor, will explain all. In "The Forest for the Trees" Ms. Lerner acts as a Virgil who walks clueless readers like myself down through the concentric circles of publishing hell. An excellent tour guide she is, pointing out pitfalls full of hot lava, explaining patiently what a copy editor does and how to avoid pissing off publicists.
Lerner's tone is comforting but no-nonsense, like a wise older sister looking out for you. Plus, it's always great to read a book written by an editor: there is an economy of prose here to die for.
Ironically enough, there is a typo on page 223 on the top line. The word "skill" appears with three l's. Check it out. ...more
By all accounts Carson McCullers was a complicated woman. Opinions of her personal life tend to be curiously polarized so that her acquaintences portrBy all accounts Carson McCullers was a complicated woman. Opinions of her personal life tend to be curiously polarized so that her acquaintences portray her either as an angel with gossamer wings or else a despotic bitch.
Mme. Savigneau endeavors with this biography to present an apologia for Ms. McCullers. Yes, Carson could be at times an alcoholic wretch. But, as Savigneau rightly points out, Ms. McCullers was part of a generation of hard-drinking enfant teribles from the South. Substance abuse was part of being a writer at the time. If Carson was a pariah, or was narcissistic or self-destructive then she was in good company with Truman Capote and her personal friend and mentor Tennesee Williams. Mme. Savigneau posits that Carson was a remarkably progressive woman for her time, and as such she was misunderstood, and continues to be misunderstood by her critics.
The "Carson is so great" tone of the book got a little old after two hundred pages or so. This is not an objective biography. At times it felt like I was reading a giant fan letter written from Savigneau to her subject.
* * *
I picked up this biography to learn more about the twenty-three year old author who penned the most beautiful book I have read this year, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. What I learned is that Carson grew up to become the cliche of the Unhappy Author: suicidal, sick, neurotic, chasing her problems to the bottom of a bottle. I am currently reading a biography of John Cheever, and I find the fates of these apparently disparate writers to be sadly similar: constantly drunk, desperate, self-absorbed, locked into destructive relationships.
I set down this book wondering if this is the inevitable plight of the serious artist. Is there any way to create a masterpiece without sacrificing your sanity, not to mention the sanity of your friends and family? Does the pursuit of greatness ultimately end in destruction?
Blerg. I will now go out happily into the afternoon sunshine to purge myself of the raincloud that this book left in my brain. ...more
I read this book today to celebrate Ti Jean's eighty-ninth birthday and to say "thank you" to the first guy who really inspired me to write.
"Big Sur"I read this book today to celebrate Ti Jean's eighty-ninth birthday and to say "thank you" to the first guy who really inspired me to write.
"Big Sur" is a roman a clef, an all-too-true story of a man haunted by the wrong kind of fame. Our tale opens in 1960. "On the Road" has hit disenfranchised post-war American youth like a tsunami of lava and all of a sudden newspaper reporters and misguided opportunists want to pigeonhole its author, our hero, as a long-haired twenty-year old king beatnik. But in reality Jack Kerouac’s footloose days are over. At this point in his life he's nearly forty years old, living with his elderly mother, and trying to just get some privacy so he can write. He tries to cope with the stress of fame by crawling down the neck of a bottle. Disaster ensues.
Jack decides to get the hell out of Dodge. He figures that maybe he can run away from his problems, at least for awhile. He'll hit the road one last time. He'll come out to the West Coast to try and sober up once and for all in an isolated cabin on the beaches of California. Alas. To no avail. He falls off the wagon, and he falls off hard.
Jack rapidly descends into an alcoholic’s hell, dragging several friends with him. The book describes in detail the horrors of Kerouac’s delirium tremens. Jack gets the whiskey shakes and suffers from all-night Bosch-like hallucinations that climax in a vision of the glowing cross of Christ. ___
I originally read “Big Sur” in high school. That is, I read half of it before giving up. I thought at the time that the book had no real plot or conflict or structure. It resembled a long journal entry. But when I read “Sur” this time I was aware of more tension boiling under the surface than I remembered (Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Nature, Buddhism vs. Christianity vs. guilt, etc.), and even foreshadowing and symbolism. “Sur” is not a poorly-punctuated two-hundred page rant. It’s a novel, god damn it. And a decent one at that.
I found that reading it all in one sitting was the way to go. If you are able to do so, I recommend reading "Big Sur" quickly. Like a painting with pointillism, if you stare to hard at the composition it'll make your head swim. But if you allow your eyes to quickly scan the surface your brain will assemble all of the apparently disjointed blobs of color into a cohesive whole.
“Big Sur.” Not my favorite Kerouac book, or even my second favorite one, but a good one nonetheless.
Happy birthday, big guy. I miss you. We all miss you....more
A great book. Based on the premise, I thought it was going to be corny. But it isn't. This is the sort of novel that I would like to write some day: aA great book. Based on the premise, I thought it was going to be corny. But it isn't. This is the sort of novel that I would like to write some day: a book that is a self-contained universe of likeable (as well as downright disagreeable) characters who fail, seek redemption, and are redeemed. Michael Chabon, for what it's worth, I offer you my five orange "goodreads" stars as a tribute to your genius....more
Yowza. Dark book. To wit: (*SPOILER*) there's a part where a man grinds his knees into a woman's back and gives her a cigarette burn that hurts her soYowza. Dark book. To wit: (*SPOILER*) there's a part where a man grinds his knees into a woman's back and gives her a cigarette burn that hurts her so bad she pees herself. Also, the book opens with a guy getting hit in the guts with a baseball bat. Etc. (*END SPOILER*)
Jim Thompson. I'm going to read more of his books. He seems like a thinking man. This book read almost like a psychological case study than a thriller proper. I particularly liked the character of Moira. Good book. Good twist ending. ...more
You know me: I like my polemicists to be passionate (what's the point of having a watered-down opinion?) and in this sYow!
You know me: I like my polemicists to be passionate (what's the point of having a watered-down opinion?) and in this small but explosive tome B.R. Meyers delivers. And how! He gives a rousing horn toot, alerting (post)modern readers to the fact that in today's pretentious literary climate, now more than ever, we are in desperate need of clear, concise, "workmanlike" prose, as it was in the days of yore. Myer takes on several big name authors (two of whom, Paul Auster and Cormac McCarthy, I happen to admire) and shows their often shoddy writing for what it is: high-faultin' style devoid of substance; pretense masquerading as highbrow art. "C'mon guys!" you want to cry as you read the excerpts cited by Myers, "How did this blase oatmeal prose ever get past the editor's desk?"
Myers writes in a terse, ascerbic style that makes Hemingway look florid, and you can tell the guy firmly believes in what he is saying, not merely posturing to make a point. Though I don't agree with 100% of Myers' statements, I have to admire his way of looking at writing objectively instead of just swallowing whatever au courant pablum the lit crit clique is trying to shove down our poor throats.
Yes. I will be a better reader from now on. I will be a better writer, too. No longer will I indulge in tautology. Nor will I string together run on sentences in an effort to create a mantra-like cadence. Never again shall I adopt a tone of half-assed irony to mask the fact that I have no real opinion on the subject matter at hand. And don't even think that I will mix my metaphors. No sir. No more!
Also, hats off to Melville House Publishing. I keep running across their books, and I've enjoyed them all. Way to go, you indie publishers! Keep 'em coming! ...more
Yes! I am the first person on Goodreads to write a review of this book! Which makes sense, because this little paperback gem from Robert Coughlan (RobYes! I am the first person on Goodreads to write a review of this book! Which makes sense, because this little paperback gem from Robert Coughlan (Robert who? you ask. Exactly.) seems to be pretty obscure. If "The Private World of William Faulkner" doesn't seem to have much web presence, it's probably because it was put out almost sixty years ago by Avon Books. Yes, the same Avon that now publishes trashy romance novels. Only in those days, according to Wikipedia, Avon was peddling pulpy trash of all genres: sci-fi, whodunits, westerns, fantasy, and, apparently, they dabbled in (WTF?) literary biography. This curiosity of a book seems to have been written potboiler-style: "let's get it to the presses, boys, don't bother with the editing." Let me just say that this is not the best way to write literary biography or, even worse, literary criticism. As a result of its rushed publication, TPWOWF has a very poor outline. It begins, as most biographies do, with the history of the "Falkners" (the "U" was removed by William's ancestors) and runs kind of chronologically up to the point when the Great American Author receives his Nobel Prize. But it is not a comprehensive portrait of its subject. Details are spotty. The majority of the content is anecdotal and major episodes of the author's life are more or less glossed over, like, "Oh, by the way, William Faulkner spent a few years in Hollywood. He did some crazy things there. Oh! did I mention this other thing that he did?" The crazy part about this book is how evident it is that Robert Coughlan loves William Faulkner. This is taboo, right? Aren't biographers supposed to be objective? To wit: Faulkner's very disturbing alcoholism is barely mentioned, and when it is it's treated with a chuckle and a wink ("Ho ho! Another three-week bender! The old coot sure loves to drink, eh boys? What an author!). I'm not sure, but I think Coughlan is just echoing the prevailing social attitude of the time toward drink. Alcoholism was more acceptable then. It wasn't understood as a serious disease with majorly deleterious social effects. So, yeah. This is not the best book ever. But that's okay because you'll probably never read it. I got my copy at Third Place Books when they were having their forty percent off sale. I paid, like, eighty cents for it and read it on my lunch breaks this week. At least my purchase wasn't a total waste. I can cut out the black and white photos of Faulkner and put them up by my desk. Enough of this cheap biography. I need to read me some "Light in August." I will, as always Goodreads, keep you posted. Much Love, Richard...more
This super-local pictoral history book was really fun for me to read because I was like, "WOW, they're talking about land developer Guy Phinney and IThis super-local pictoral history book was really fun for me to read because I was like, "WOW, they're talking about land developer Guy Phinney and I LIVE ON PHINNEY RIDGE, right across the street from his former estate (now the Woodland Park Zoo). I recognize this and this and this, and if I go outside I can see this place where they cut down trees to build that road. And I walk around Green Lake, like, five times a week. And there used to be this giant Aqua Theatre on the lake where 1950s women in bathing caps called the Aqua Follies swam in synchronized patterns." That's what reading this book was like for me. Fun. I do love you, Seattle. You are beautiful. If you were a woman I'd buy you a slice of pie, a glass of milk, and then marry you....more
The essayists in this book (accomplished authors, all) aren't too concerned with discussing the basic technicalities of writing. That is, nobody in thThe essayists in this book (accomplished authors, all) aren't too concerned with discussing the basic technicalities of writing. That is, nobody in this book talks about getting your tenses aligned or how to "show, don't tell." Rather, because this book is a collection of essays that have been delivered at a writer's workshop the assumption is that you, reader, are already a writer and have written something. Thus, the essayists speak to some of the more difficult aspects of writing: how to jump start and/or kill a dead-ended plot point, how to stave off writer's block ennui and keep the ideas flowing, how to overcome the second book jitters. The best part is that the essayists (with one exception) seemed down-to-earth, though they are all accomplished professionals. I felt like Michael Chabon wasn't talking down to me, you know? Three stars! ...more
I made it to page 248 before I finally set this book down. I just couldn't do the last 100-odd pages. Malmont clearly did his homework and has a realI made it to page 248 before I finally set this book down. I just couldn't do the last 100-odd pages. Malmont clearly did his homework and has a real enthusiasm for the pulps. But his writing is just bad. He tells instead of shows using long, information-heavy monologues that sound like Wikipedia entries. He goes stunningly breathtakingly maddeningly overkill on adverbs and melodrama (she gasped!). His characters are prefabricated sterotypes. And he completely lost me when the POV kept switching back and forth from New York to an apparently unrelated subplot in China. I know that the whole point of the book is to pay homage to the corny writing of the pulps, but there's no excuse for such shoddy craftsmanship in a full-length novel.
Dang. I had really high hopes for this book. The first few chapters sucked me in. But then the inertia wore off.
On the plus side it got me back into reading H.P. Lovecraft......more