On vacation in Martha's Vineyard, this book had me screaming in my sleep, nightly. I had to stop reading it until the vacation was over. Shall we sayOn vacation in Martha's Vineyard, this book had me screaming in my sleep, nightly. I had to stop reading it until the vacation was over. Shall we say it touched a nerve......more
These essays may at times seem too truncated and the editorial policy of the New York Times, where they first appeared in a column called The Stone, mThese essays may at times seem too truncated and the editorial policy of the New York Times, where they first appeared in a column called The Stone, may be partially at fault. However, for someone who quickly glazes over at the massed abstractions of the Great Systematizers, I find the better essays clear and cogent. I'm still reading but here's my crème de la crème so far. My gratitude to the editors for their approach which touches on current social, political and cultural issues.
"Of Cannibals, Kings and Culture: The Problem of Ethnocentricity" —Adam Etison "The Limits of the Coded World"—William Egginton "On Modern Time"—Espen Hammer "Stormy Weather: Blues in Winter"—Avital Ronell "On Ducking Challenges to Naturalism"—Timothy Williamson "The Core of Mind and Cosmos"—Thomas Nagel "Things Fall Apart"—Philip Kitcher "Bursting the Neuro-utopian Bubble"—Benjamin Y. Fong "Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?"—Eddy Nahmias "Is the 'Dumb Jock' Really a Nerd?"—Jason Stanley and John W. Krakauer "The Dangers of Certainty: A Lesson from Auschwitz"—Simon Critchley "The Importance of the Afterlife. Seriously."—Samuel Scheffler "Why I Love Mormonism"—Simon Critchley "The Light at the End of Suffering"—Peg O'Conner "Should This Be the Last Generation?"—Peter Singer "Questions for Free-Market Moralists"—Amia Srinivasan "What is Economics Good For?"—Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain "The Taint of 'Social Darwinism'"—Philip Kitcher...more
An excellent overview of the work of Diego Velazquez and his standing among the Old Masters. It's also the story of one man transfixed to the point ofAn excellent overview of the work of Diego Velazquez and his standing among the Old Masters. It's also the story of one man transfixed to the point of monomania by one of Velazquez's works, John Snare, a 19th century bookseller and collector. Highly recommended....more
Epistemological inquiry in the form of self-denigrating autobiography. Written in the third person, at times overbearingly acerbic. Author Henry AdamsEpistemological inquiry in the form of self-denigrating autobiography. Written in the third person, at times overbearingly acerbic. Author Henry Adams was grandson of President John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of President John Adams. He was a Boston Puritan born in 1838 who at sixteen attended Harvard College—severely berated here—and went on to pursue a career as a journalist, novelist and historian.
His historical gamut stretches from the American Revolution to the years just before World War I. His writing is wry with patches of brilliance and, less often, turgidity. There are some extraordinary scenes. In one it's 1860 and Henry Adams travels as a courier for the American consulate to Sicily to find Garibaldi "in the Senate house toward sunset, at supper with his picturesque and piratic staff, in the full noise and color of the Palermo revolution." He also meets William Makepeace Thackery, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, Charles Lyell, Ulysses S. Grant, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few.
It was fascinating for me to learn that in 1861, when the author arrived in England as a private secretary to his U.S. diplomat father, that the British recognized the legitimacy of the Confederate belligerency and came close two years later to recognizing the Confederacy as a state. Then came the Trent Affair in which two Confederate diplomats (Mason and Slidel) were seized by a U.S. vessel from a British mail steamer—clearly an act of war. The author describes the tentativeness of their position in London at the time.
Mostly the first half of the book is a merciless dissection of British royalty, society, manners, dining (ugh), and eccentricity in general in the latter half if the 19th century. Adams views it as wholly self-centered and self-regarding, a closed world without lessons to offer him. He's says so in a singular, scabrous overview that's at times very funny.
It occurs to me that the The Education of Henry Adams (1906)—whether intentionally or not—serves as a kind of corrective to James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson (1819). In it many of the assumptions underlying that earlier work are called into question. Dr. Johnson's famous bromide—"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."—gets a thorough refutation.
Adams' insights come at the expense of himself and anyone nearby. His irony morphs at times into vitriol. Lauded as a unique view on the American story. I think it very well may be. This has for me been one of those great interstitial reads, in which, using the framework of autobiography, the writer is able to cover many of the nooks and crannies of history often overlooked in more general texts. Neil Sheehan does much the same thing but with biography in his Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. I recommend both books highly, though from a literary point of view Sheehan's is the better written work.
Time has not been kind to Adams' style. Though there must have been a day when it was considered muscular, its phrasing today strikes one as slightly archaic and stilted at times. Its historical insights may be unique, but the text's omissions are as telling as its inclusions. Indeed, Henry Adams' world seems strangely Islamic with half its population going unmentioned. Women had virtually no role in the society of his day—they certainly did not have the vote—except as helpmeets and incubators of heirs. It's very strange to read historiography which excludes them so painstakingly.
(Tellingly, Clover, his wife of many years, is completely written out of the book. This seems truly strange when one learns by way of a Wikipedia search that in 1885 she killed herself by drinking darkroom chemicals. Adams takes a page or two to rhapsodize about the Augustus St Gaudens' statue he commissioned for her grave, in Rock Creek Cemetery, but he never tells us it's for his wife. This we must learn by independent means.)
It is the ultimate form of self-denigration to declare that one is beyond education. The kind of almost omniscient learnedness that Adams pursues is a literary convention that dates to the ancients. He returns to this hobbyhorse over and over. It wears thin, for he is only able to keep to his steed by views increasingly abstract. The writing—always a challenge—grow less coherent the deeper into the book we go. So an at times fascinating if ultimately problematic read....more
A learned and textually dense exegesis. An unmatched resource providing a unique overview. There's nothing like it out there in English, not with suchA learned and textually dense exegesis. An unmatched resource providing a unique overview. There's nothing like it out there in English, not with such breadth. The author has taken over two millennia of speculation about angels—what she calls "the four levels of discourse: literal, moral, allegorical and mystical"—and transformed it into something genuinely readable. Praiseworthy....more
A story of the artist's despair told through the unique circumstances that made him who he is—a writer for the ages, a bastard and a socially inept peA story of the artist's despair told through the unique circumstances that made him who he is—a writer for the ages, a bastard and a socially inept person masquerading as an adept. The section showing the young Pat and Vidia in love is too long but contains too much matter relevant to the later narrative to be cut. Still reading......more
An almost seamless narrative with a large and voluble cast. Author Ferrante opens Vol. 1 of her tetralogy with a classic framing device (presumably noAn almost seamless narrative with a large and voluble cast. Author Ferrante opens Vol. 1 of her tetralogy with a classic framing device (presumably not closed until the end of Vol. 4). It's the present day and Lila's son calls Elena, who's living in Turin, to say his mother is missing from her Naples home. This sets Elena to writing about the hardscrabble yet eventful upbringing she and Lila shared in post-World War II Naples.
The families are blue collar, desperately poor, for whom education is viewed as a luxury. Lila, the smarter of the two, the "brilliant friend" of the title, has a dream of writing novels with Elena one day. But there is no money for textbooks in the Cerrulo family, so Lila is taken out of school to help in the family cobblery and at home. Extremely shrewd and calculating, once education is excluded for Lila, she must resort to woman's traditional means of securing her future: marriage.
Elena, meanwhile, partly due to coaching from Lila, makes it all the way to high school where she excels in languages and writing. But the fire for learning that Lila kindled in her begins to wane without her friend's eager presence. It's no longer much fun. Moreover, Lila's approval is the constant standard Elena aspires to, even as she meets and exceeds it.
Lila and Elena's families do not live enlightened lives. Their skin is extraordinarily thin. There is an almost mystical belief in honor accompanied by its cruel machismo. They possess almost no ability to mitigate their quarrrels through language. There is much acting out, things said that would be better left unsaid. There is the threat of enormous violence which may erupt at any time.
When as teens they travel to an exclusive section of Naples, because Lila wants to see it, the young men in the party, enraged by the splendor, insult a chic local couple and start a mêlée. Remarkably, though they are clearly in the wrong, the reader understands their anger and hopes they make it through unscathed. At the last moment, the hated Solaras arrive in their shiny new Fiat in a neat example of the neighborhood circling the wagons and joining forces against the outsider rich.
Everyone hates the Solaras, who are successful bar and pastry shop owners as well as Camorra and live well. Rino, Lila's brother, especially hates them. When Rino is frustrated in a get rich quick shoemaking scheme with Lila, he becomes first a braggart, telling of his coming good fortune, and then a brute. He beats Lila since she will have nothing to more to do with him. Ultimately the Solaras seduce him with their money and "prestige." Pathetic.
Don Achille Carraci has made a career out of loan sharking and intimidation, especially of the poor. The carpenter Peluso, who gambles away his earnings every week in the Solara bar, conceives a murderous hatred for the gangster, eventually stabbing him to death. Peluso is jailed but the neighborhood breathes a sigh relief now that the menacing Don is gone. But the Don's work is in a sense finished. For the Carracci sons have taken over the convict-carpenter's shop and turned it into a grocery, which seems to continually expand and prosper.
Lila grows to become the most beautiful of the two friends. Marcello, a despised Solara, shows up at her parent's flat with food and a television and wine and other goodies. He dines over there every night for weeks on end, providing much of the fine food himself. Expensive items the family could never afford. All this as a means of allying the parents with his suit, but Lila hates his guts because he's Camorra, a mafioso. Her ultimate rejection of Marcello reduces him to sobs. Later, like a child, he retaliates with ridiculous calumny, besmirching her reputation.
Lila is headstrong. Her beauty captivates men and makes women jealous—including, sometimes, Elena, our narrator. Lila has turned from ugly duckling to magnificent swan. When she dumps Marcello and Stefano Achille, the Don's son, whisks her off in a car full of money, we begin to wonder if she's sold out. The end of Vol. 1 is a humdinger. I don't want to give it away. Suffice it to say, that Stefano and Lila marry at a hugely expensive wedding and Marcello, whom Lila does not want there, attends anyway.
I've had the good fortune to read two excellent literary memoirs in the last week or so. This one, and Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow. Prime Green:I've had the good fortune to read two excellent literary memoirs in the last week or so. This one, and Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow. Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties is and superbly written. The author's ability to compress this picaresque decade of his life into a mere 230 pages is a marvel. Stone has long been considered a writer's writer, still, I would lay odds that some of his nimble phrasing here came from honing these tales at dinner parties and other venues over the years. The book is very funny.
It opens with Stone at the helm of the USS Arneb. At sea he keeps two pictures over his desk: one of Bridget Bardot, the other of the New York City skyline. These he calls the poles of his desire. His descent into yellow journalism is interesting. On discharge he went to work for the New York Daily News, perhaps no worse then than it is today, and later for a few scuzzy National Enquirer-like rags. There he was responsible for headlines such as "Mad Dentist Yanks Girl's Tongue" and "Skydiver Devoured by Starving Birds." He goes to Hollywood with Paul Newman to make his novel A Hall of Mirrors into an apparently bad movie called WUSA. I've never seen it, have you?
He introduces us to Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and other works. I'm very grateful for the introduction because I've always been led to believe Kesey was a charlatan. Au contraire. Stone eulogizes his friend here as a great—if often drug-addled—man of superior learning and charisma. Kesey and his Merry Pranksters are probably most famous for setting off from Northern California in a psychedelic bus for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Neal Cassady was the driver. Yes, that Neal Cassady, Kerouac's friend, the one immortalized in On the Road.
One tale of the Pranksters in Mexico—Kesey was on the run from drug charges—has Cassady clandestinely using a hypodermic to dose a roast pig with LSD and amphetamines, thus sending the many diners—Stone was one—on an unexpected journey. That LSD was originally intended as a Cold War weapon, coming out of CIA-funded studies at Stamford University, and ultimately became a popular drug which "changed the minds" of Baby Boomers and others in many ways during that time of heightened social consciousness, is an irony that resonates to this day.
When Stone goes to Vietnam as a stringer, the narrative grows thin, the prose seems rushed, fragmented. But this is only in the last fifteen pages or so. The rest of the book is quite wonderful....more
A real corker. The action is set around abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859, which helped precipitate the American CiviA real corker. The action is set around abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859, which helped precipitate the American Civil War (1861-65). Brown's plan was to steal tens of thousands of rifles from the sleepy, rural armory. With them he would arm fugitive slaves hiding in the Blue Ridge Mountains against their so-called masters. It didn't quite work out. Brown and nineteen others were hung for the attempt.
I like that it's a folksy tale without literary hi-jinx. The whole thing—prefaced by a hilarious news story dated 1966—is said to be gleaned from the newly discovered slave narrative of one Henry "the Onion" Shackleton, the only survivor of the raid. The beauty of this sort of writing is that it gets out if its own way, leaving the greater narrative arc open to view. It's interesting how some of the constructions here—the tropes—their economy and method of proceeding, remind me of E.L. Doctorow. I'll have to think some more about that.
To create convincing speech of the period, McBride makes interesting use of solecisms—such as runned for ran, set for sat, gived for gave, throwed for threw, hisself for himself, and incorrect subject-verb agreement as in: "We has come to free the Negro. And you is our prisoner." There are intentional clichés, too, figures of speech which are key to the Onion's idiom. Because this non-standard English is consistently rendered throughout, it never seems a burden to read, as overwrought dialect can often be. See William Faulkner's Flags In the Dust, his third novel, for an example of such overwrought dialect. By contrast, McBride's novel is fresh, broadly funny, a delight. Highly recommended.
N.B. — A movie is in the works with author McBride as producer and Liev Schreiber, who will play the fiery abolitionist John Brown, also serving as producer. Henry "the Onion" Shackleton is to be played by Jayden Smith. Let's hope they do a good job....more