Everyone’s done it and few like it — buying a new car — and fewer still can make a living selling them, though it is, almost, a necessity. Almost ever...moreEveryone’s done it and few like it — buying a new car — and fewer still can make a living selling them, though it is, almost, a necessity. Almost everyone needs one – the cars, they almost sell themselves. But, the whole thing is just smarmy. (Thank goodness for that ‘new car smell.’) A lot of money changes hands, quickly. Maybe that’s it. You leave with a new car, that smell, and dazed and confused. Well, in Mason A. Crow’s raw, rough, gritty, primal novel, Car Store, you get to experience it from all sides – the Buyer, Seller, Management. Yes, it is ruthless. It’s just something that has to be done – like killing – and some are really good at it. Mark Stapleton, thirty years old and two years sober, a former high altitude ski-bum, is a quick study – smart, yet uneducated, he views the world through Pop Culture and cliché; and answers an ad in the paper for a sales position at a Front Range Colorado dealership, and what follows is a four-week education, for him and us. A wild ride. This is how it’s done. We get, also, to re-experience all the anxiety and self-doubt that accompanies every New Job start. I cringed all over. I recoil at the thought! The desperation is so, so unpleasant – to be broke, in debt, with a brand new baby and wife that you’re not even sure you love. It’s not supposed this way – but wtf – you can do this. You have to. And then well – I feel really good about recommending this book – read it and find out what happens. You’ll live on the edge, scratching and clawing … and you’ll find yourself rooting for mister Stapleton. You’re gonna love this ride! I guarantee it.
This book (112 pages) is a collection of short stories, loosely connected, concerned with society today and the future, which seems to be written by a...moreThis book (112 pages) is a collection of short stories, loosely connected, concerned with society today and the future, which seems to be written by a semi-smart teen, maybe a seventh grader. Written by a fourteen year-old boy, the stories could be, could be … considered clever. For me as reader, it’s juvenile drivel – trite, lazy, and full of clichés. Here are six from the book’s title story, in one short paragraph: “the old spiel; I wax poetic; why they pay me the big bucks; I lay it on thick; invaders are knocking on our door.”
I don’t doubt there’s an audience for this, it’s just not me. I am in the book, sort of. I am a baby-boomer w/a ponytail, destined for the “Generation Gap,” a large canyon used as a mass grave for me and my ilk. The younger generation pushes the older generation into the ‘Gap’ to get rid of them, because they are sucking up resources. “And so on and so forth.” Hardy harhar.
Oh the wit! There are in fact some 85 “supporters,” Bridges thanks in the “THANK YOU” part of the book, following the “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS” page. There are many blurbs from this group of ‘friends’ on the back cover.
This is a symptom of the new world of publishing – get a bunch of people to “like” you, to be your “friend,” get them invested in you, and then sell them your book, everybody’s happy. What else can they do, or say? It’s a new version of an old way of business, “The Good Old Boys Network.” This book is published by MONKEY PUZZLE PRESS, which somehow couldn’t even lay out a Table of Contents correctly. According to the TOC, “Justice, Inc., the story, begins on page 60, where in my copy it begins on page 84. But there are five (5) pages of Praise for Justice, Inc. to lead the book, all likely from the above list. Welcome to the future of writing and publishing — Frivolous drivel. Justice. You want it, you got it. How ironic. I fell for it … .
I think it matters what you read, that reading is Zero Sum, and that what you read matters. It affects you as much, if not more, than what you see and hear. What you read has influence, on what and how you think (consciously or unconsciously); and that has influence on what you do, how you be. It helps shape you. Again, this writing could be considered clever if it were written by an eighth grader; and it is a free country – you can read and write whatever you like. YOU can, spend your free time and your entertainment dollars however you wish.
I screwed up. I can’t get my time or money back, which makes me the chump, the mark. I think I spent more time thinking about, and writing, this review than it took me to read the book. The author ‘friended’ me on facebook and I accepted, not knowing anything of him, except that he wrote and he lived near me. I guess the jokes on me. I have now unfriended him, which, I felt I had to do. I mean him no harm or malice. It’s not his fault. It’s my fault.
Note to author: If you want to make a difference, to change things – be honest, go deeper.
This is an awful book – for three reasons. First, it’s unfinished and poorly constructed. It reads like a first draft, which it probably was. It was t...moreThis is an awful book – for three reasons. First, it’s unfinished and poorly constructed. It reads like a first draft, which it probably was. It was taken from a dead man’s computer and published by his wife. The man was Michael Hastings, and if you’re familiar with his work you’ll probably want to read this novel. Hastings was a journalist, the one who’s 2011 article in Rolling Stone, forced Four Star General Stanley McChrystal, the man in charge of the Afghan war, to retire. This is a novel about what it’s like to work for a major magazine at the time of the invasions of Iraq & Afghanistan, after the attack on America in September of 2001. This book, like all first drafts, needs work. There’s a whole portion (See below, ‘Secondly’) of it that’s seriously off-putting and serves no purpose – unless it’s true; and then maybe it should have been a separate book—a memoir; but he already wrote one, represented, perhaps, by a fictional memoir in the novel. As with all novels, there is interplay between the author and the reader, and the story is subject to the interpretation of the reader; and also, like in many novels, the author sometimes inserts himself in the story, consciously or not. In this case – there’s a character named Michael Hastings, who works for The Magazine as a young ambitious, calculating intern; but there’s another protagonist, A. E. Peoria, who also works for the magazine, as a reporter, a war correspondent covering the Iraq war. Two sides of the real Hastings? Probably. If you’ve followed Hastings (TV & YouTube); which I have, you’ll notice he’s rather twitchy, giggly, hyper, almost manic. Here’s a description of Peoria from the character Hastings: ‘I wonder what kind of medication he’s on, and how long it’s going to last. There’s something in his eyes, a layer of air bubbles on an algae-covered pond. Distracted. His upper lip keeps making a quick motion, like a snarl, the meds going to work on his synapses as they battle his true nature and find expression in a twitch. He’s trying hard to seem calm and relaxed and to not just spaz out, right there at the table.’ (pg.266) A self portrait?
Secondly – if it’s true, the depictions of the war correspondent and his behaviors, his obsessive/compulsive sex additions and their realization, everywhere – that’s awful. Disgusting. All the sex scenes were not necessary, adding nothing to the story, or the character. And they consumed a lot of the text. Why? Unless they were true, confessionals of the author – like the character A. E. Peoria – Hastings, the author, suffers from CDD, compulsive disclosure disorder, which sounds made up. (At least it didn’t exist when I was in the mental health field.) It, the graphic sex, detracts from the story and Hastings, the author’s, major themes – which are important and worth looking at and thinking about. Such as: ‘We live in a society of assholes. The media is a reflection of these assholes. We’ll [I’ll, the author] show you what the inside of the asshole’s asshole looks like.’ (pg. 244) And, ‘… what was hidden inside him was a true patriot, his true self, a self that was prepared to go out and take criticism for revealing the government’s lies. We are beyond that, we are beyond that, don’t you see? We have to know the government lies, there is no shocking us—every soldier, or most, with a brain, know on some level that the government lies.’ (pg.276)
Thirdly – if it’s not true it’s awful, because it, indeed all books, influence. Fiction, believed or known to be imaginative, pushes the boundaries and seeps into the readers consciousness giving him, or her, if not permission something close to it; and there is horrible stuff in this novel—sexism, racism, perversion, selfishness, egoism to the extreme. It’s not funny, it’s awful.
This could have been a great novel. Hastings could have made all his points, without all the gratuitous sex and gimmicks. There is a section that speaks to a tortured man’s soul, his inner most thoughts and fears. That has great value! It rings true. Maybe that is what drove Michael Hastings, the author, to the edge – where he lived and then crashed and burned – literally. RIP Michael Hastings, & thank you.
Why do I write book reviews – a couple reasons: To help me process what it is I have read and to put that in a context so as to help me remember, if s...moreWhy do I write book reviews – a couple reasons: To help me process what it is I have read and to put that in a context so as to help me remember, if someone should ask; and also for my own benefit in understanding phenomena – the world we live in. The other reason is – because I enjoy reading reviews and they help me decide what I should read next. What is Anna Karenina, and should you read it? It is, for me, one of the most depressing, yet well-written and intriguing books I have ever read. It’s not an easy read, not because the language is difficult or supercilious, but because it is so thought provoking and real. The detail is marvelous—too much at times of subject matter you might not be interested in. For me, that was the farming, labor relations, economics, and politics of such, in Russia in the 1870’s. But, it might be to you – it is in fact not so different than ‘things’ of that sort in America today. I am mostly intrigued by the man/woman marriage, children, love relationship thing, which also has not changed much in 150 years. Some have called the book a massive character study. There are scores of them, and I find them all to be disagreeable, to me, for one reason or another. For me, character and personality are synonymous. There are narcissists, solipsists, egoists, nihilists, spiritualists, artists, capitalists, rationalists, humanists, existentialists, pietists. And so thus what Anna Karenina is, is a massive study in personalities, different personalities; and that can be difficult to look at, at times for some people. There are many, ‘Oh … hmmm, well,’ moments, and after all, many people don’t like to look so closely at themselves in the mirror. There is also a heavy philosophical/spiritual component represented by the characters’ struggles with those issues – meaning, what is the meaning of this world which we inhabit: What is our responsibility to it, to other people, and how do we manage that and contentment, happiness, and desire. Passion. Is that even possible? The book depresses me because the characters depress me, I don’t much care for them and the decisions they make – their thinking and beliefs. In other words, I don’t agree with the author’s conclusions, not that they aren’t accurate and real. I think they represent the world as it is for many, just not for me. Should you read it? I’m glad I did. It took me five weeks. I can say I learned some things about Russia in the 1870’s, the land and the people and the politics. The stuff about love and people relationships’ – I knew that – the book just confirmed it, and solidifies the position that people are people, and have been locked into the same struggles for a long time — about how should a person be. July 10, 2014 (less)
“ … is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle …” is what the author said about his work. So, what is it, and should y...more“ … is not a novel, still less an epic poem, still less a historical chronicle …” is what the author said about his work. So, what is it, and should you read it? I’ll try …
War and Peace begins much as Gone With The Wind begins, at a festive event in a time and place that seems unreal and a long, long time ago: Petersburg, Russia, 1805. But Tolstoy, subtly at first, then without any pretense, turns from what is a story into an argument, a non-fictional argument, about free will versus determinism, and the cause of all things and how to cope with the unknowable. This transition happens somewhere during Napoleon’s march towards Moscow, about 5/8ths of the way into the 1,247 page “story.” Tolstoy states: “The totality of causes of phenomena [war/conflicts & peace/love] is inaccessible to the human mind. But the need to seek causes has been put into the soul of man.” (p. 987) That is perhaps the main theme of War and Peace. Who or what put it there? And what can be done? Tolstoy HAS an opinion, and weaves it into the tale – as he does just about every human emotion and phenomena known to mankind at that time [and they haven’t changed.] His writing is masterful – it puts you there, on the battlefield, in the drawing rooms and at the dinner table. He puts you inside the minds of men and women, lovers and rivals, soldiers and generals, emperors and adjutants. There are some 600 characters in War and Peace. He’s got you covered. His descriptions of the weather and landscape are incomparable [Maybe David Foster Wallace rivals him. Maybe DFW is Tolstoy reincarnated.] Here’s a taste: It was already turning winter, morning frosts gripped the earth moistened by autumn rains, the winter wheat was already tufting up and stood bright green against the strips of brownish, cattle-trampled winter stubble and pale yellow summer stubble with red strips of buckwheat. The hilltops and woods, which at the end of August were still green islands among the black winter croplands and stubble, had become golden and bright red islands amidst the bright green winter crops. The hares had already half shed their summer coats, the fox cubs were beginning to disperse, and the young wolves were bigger than dogs. It was the best time for hunting. (p. 493) Too wordy? Try this: “Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored.” (p.1055)
Tolstoy gives you everything, too much for some, no doubt. He is redundant and wordy and can stray into descriptions of things, like the actual theater performance being watched by principles, which has nothing to do with anything, but, nevertheless, is an amazing detailed description. AND, his argument is good and sound and he uses remarkably thought through analogies to make his points, such as a bee hive for human activity – which just blew me away. I wondered: ‘Is this us, now?’
The principle character, Pierre, is without doubt an avatar for the author. But he, Pierre, alone does not hold all the positions that Tolstoy does – he spreads them out amongst the different characters, even some female ones. He, the author, argues positions with dialogue – masterfully – even with the cultural and linguistic and scientific constraints that naturally must inhibit writing and thought from 150 years ago. Charles Darwin had just published The Origin of Species (1859); and William James and Sigmund Freud hadn’t yet made their contributions to knowledge of the human condition. However, Tolstoy, somehow, anticipates much of it.
In War and Peace, Tolstoy mocks all of authority and conventional wisdom – much as Wallace does in Infinite Jest (1996) especially truth tellers, but unlike in IJ, the “hero” finds what he’s looking for. I put hero in quotes because the concept of a heroic man is something that Tolstoy takes particular aim at. He argues against free will and consequently – no man can be heroic because he has no choice in what he does, and what he does has little effect, if any, effect on outcomes. Determination comes from causes outside of mans’ power. … Contentment, love, and joy are possible with this understanding.
It took me six weeks to read War and Peace, three weeks longer than it took me to read Infinite Jest. More serious, I guess. More to think about, yet easier to read – if that makes any sense. Have at it, if you’ve a mind that likes to delve deep into the human condition - war and peace, - war within and war without.
I just read a chapter, that probably has no significance to the plot, but what was so enjoyable to read. It was as if Tolstoy was saying - 'See - I know what JOY is, I know what it is to experience life in its exuberance. (pgs. 508-514) I have been there. He speaks/writes the truth - suberbly.
Ok, I read Infinite Jest (the 1st time) in 20 days, but this is going to take longer. And yet, it's easier to read, but harder - does that make sense? This guy, Tolstoy, is simply the most cogent, insightful, writer in the history of the world. Which is to say he is not for everyone. He is for serious thinkers. Period. Full stop. Keep in mind he was writing this BEFORE FREUD and the uncovering of the unconscious, etc. and so on.
So now he explains in (V. III, Part One, p.602) the why of war. Why that war not only, Napoleon's war of 1812 into Russia, but his monologue might as well - does in fact - apply to any war!!! It is a discourse on Free Will, Determinism, and Fatalism.
His characters represent the spectrum of persons - as valid today as they were 150-200 years ago. They/we are all represented; but he had not the names, the diagnosis, we have now - but we know these people ... Yes, we do. Nothing, really, has changed - despite all the technology and science.
Reading this is like traveling back in time, and yet, OH! There's Vladimir Putin! There's your uncle, your sister, your brother, your father! YOU!(less)
Having read many of the reviews of this novel – I can say I don’t disagree the criticisms. Steel is, and this novel is, all of those: Simple, clichéd,...moreHaving read many of the reviews of this novel – I can say I don’t disagree the criticisms. Steel is, and this novel is, all of those: Simple, clichéd, unrealistic, trite, underdeveloped characterization, underdeveloped setting, voice, style … and on and on. But; I loved it!
My father (93 years of age) sent this book to me with this note: “I think this is 2 good stories – in one.” It’s actually far more than that, but I admit – I’m not sure what he was getting at in his note, and he’s never been good at explaining himself. The novel is the stories of two separate couples, one taking place in 1975, the other in 2013; but the point is, what Steel is getting at, is the idea of reincarnation and that true love, AND the people who are consumed by it – they and it never die. It/they just keep on living throughout time, through the lives’ of people, the same people but in a different time and in different bodies and different circumstances. But, they are the same souls, throughout time – no matter their discrete and finite lives. And then there’s this: I write stories, novels, about very similar themes as does Steel – such as attraction. I write about writing and publishing, and rural living and technology, and addiction and religion, feminism, and strong and weak men and women, family relations, forbidden love, and the impact of all of that on children.
I think Steel is aware of what she’s doing. She even mocks herself: “He felt like he had the glass slipper in his hand … (pg. 245). Which is exactly what I thought when reading this – this, this story, is nothing but a repackaged Cinderella story! And/or Romeo and Juliet. It’s almost a joke it, the lovers lives’ and deaths’. Come on! And yet, Steel explains why that must be, and compares one protagonist, a young and beautiful 21st Century Amish girl, to Jane Austen. It’s amazing, really. I wouldn’t want a steady diet – but at this time in my life – it was the perfect story. It was as if – it was meant to be. Bahahahah. “… two stars together, forever.” (pg. 201) ‘“I love you [__] and I will until the end of time.”’ … “And just as she said the words, two bright stars drifted past them overhead and disappeared into the night sky together, … .” (pg. 364) Gotta love the unreality, the irresolvableness of the thesis – the hopefulness. Five stars!
The only Tolstoy I’ve read is what has been excerpted in this book … so I am at a huge disadvantage to the author, A.N. Wilson. However, I suspect he...moreThe only Tolstoy I’ve read is what has been excerpted in this book … so I am at a huge disadvantage to the author, A.N. Wilson. However, I suspect he is probably one of only a handful of people who have read The Complete Works of L.N. Tolstoy. I suspect David Foster Wallace might be one of those handful, who has bragged, Wallace, that he’s read everything you have. I say this because I see things—things that make me think Wallace got some ideas, not only philosophical ideas, but ideas for characters (The character Mario in Infinite Jest. That’s all I’ll say here about that.); phrases, and situations, also, from Tolstoy. In addition to that, I see similarities in the genius of both writers – the way in which they saw the world was in so much more detail than the average and/or ‘normal’ person. Wilson describes it thus: “One of the things which makes him [Tolstoy, and I will say, Wallace, too] such a memorable writer is his extra-consciousness, or super-consciousness, of existence itself.” [p.19] Wilson goes on: “We all know that there is such a thing as life, that we are alive, that the world is there, full of sights and sound. But, when we read Tolstoy (Wallace) for the first time, it is as if, until that moment, we had been looking at the world through a dusty window. He flings open the shutters, and we see everything sharp and clear for the first time.”  “Tolstoy, like all true writers, carried his life about with him, created the very cocoon of observant detachment, indolence and sensuality in which a creative mind flourishes. [p.105] Like many detached minds, Tolstoy was perfectly capable of deriving enjoyment from the company of those he despised. [p. 106] We will never know how much is embellishment, and how much the truth.” [p. 22] And both men had the education, background, and abilities to put that down on paper, using precise language and words. Both men were privileged white boys in their respective countries. But there does seem to be one big difference, besides the fact Tolstoy was born in Russia in 1828 & the Literary Field was in its infancy, and that is the anxiety factor. Wallace appears to have been born with an anxiety disorder, while Tolstoy’s troubles didn’t manifest until after he was mature. So … everyone has heard of Tolstoy’s novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877) which Tolstoy finished at age 49; but he continued to write up until his death at age 82, mostly non-fiction – personal, political and religious books and essays. He progressed in his thinking and writing from Historical Fiction (W&P); to Contemporary Fiction (AK) to memoir (A Confession) to philosophical and religious books & pamphlets (What I Believe, 1883; Where Love is, God Is, 1885; What Then Must We Do, 1886; On Life, 1887; The Kreutzer Sonata, 1889; Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?, 1891; The First Step, 1892; The Kingdom of God is Within You, 1893; Christianity and Pacifism, 1894; What is Art?, 1898; What is Religion?, 1902; I Cannot Be Silent, 1908; among others, one of which was Resurrection, a novel, 1900, which got him formally excommunicated. Like Wallace, he suffered because of his genius and, like Wallace, thought of suicide after finishing his great works of fiction. Like Wallace, Tolstoy was complicated and conflicted and saw the ambiguities and paradoxes that living a meaningful life present. But unlike Wallace – he married young and had many, many children and responsibilities; and his readers and followers began to think of him as a holy man. And maybe he, Tolstoy, began to believe that, too. The author, Wilson, asserts that Ghandi learned the idea of passive resistance from Tolstoy (p.411). Maybe that’s so, I certainly don’t know. Wilson is very opinionated and makes a lot of assertions, conjectures, and assumptions. Such as: Male’s make great [better] fiction writers because of their innate ogling prowess developed out of the drive for sexual conquest. I don’t disagree. As Wilson says, we, males, see a lot more than just the girls. (Trust me, it’s true!) And that, “… prodigious literary geniuses” elements’ of genius tend to only “… coalesce after a period of total indolence.” [p.64] And but so I think he, Wilson, has every right to these assertions – he’s qualified, having read everything there is to read from and about Tolstoy (including the diaries of the man and his wife) as well as being a journalist, biographer, and fiction writer himself. We’ll never know what and how Wallace might have progressed had he lived past his great work, Infinite Jest, and the unfinished The Pale King. The thing about Tolstoy is that his writing and thinking seemed to evolve, whereas Wallace’s didn’t – he was stuck, kept worrying the same problems of being human. Maybe Tolstoy was crazy, thinking himself Christ-like … but times were different then. Darwin had published The Origin of Species in 1859 and evolution and atheism were hardly accepted ways of thinking about the world. Science was in its infancy, also. Freud didn’t come onto the scene until Tolstoy was nearly finished, so the idea of unconscious motivation was something unbeknownst to the Russian genius. All thought was God/Christ centered. There was no psychotherapy or Alcohol Anonymous or 12-Step programs. And but so I think the two great writers had similar minds, just in different times with different influences. I’m looking forward to reading War and Peace and Anna Karenina; but I’ll probably skip the rest – time is running out for me. So many books, now. However, if you’re young and love literature, I think a PhD dissertation comparing and contrasting the work and lives of Tolstoy and Wallace would be a very worth while project. Should you read this biography? Yes, if literary genius is of interest to you. If the process of fiction writing is of interest; and Russian history. And marital relations. And of course, the life and times of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. PS YouTube is a great resource. There are clips of Tolstoy; and Anna Karenina is available as audio book – free! (Which I’m going to indulge. The reader, a woman, does all the hard work for you – all the Russian names.) April , 2014
The Interestings is an ambitious work. It is, IMO, Women’s Fiction—meaning that it is mostly written from a woman’s point of view about things that co...moreThe Interestings is an ambitious work. It is, IMO, Women’s Fiction—meaning that it is mostly written from a woman’s point of view about things that concern women, or at least concern the author, Meg Wolitzer, a late stage Baby Boomer (And 1st Tier Author.) The story is about a group of six friends who meet at a summer camp for artists and creatives, and then follows their lives for 37 years – 1975-2011. That’s a lot of material to cover in 468 pages & appx. 200,000 words. Wolitzer has said in an interview (It’s on YouTube) that a writer should write about what matters – so from that I take that the text of the novel is about what matters, to Wolitzer. She also says, in the interview, that the book is about “talent,” and what happens to it over time, and the people who possess it. A central theme revolves around another book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, summed up by one character, Nathan Figman, to his wife, Ash Wolf, facetious/snidely, with this haiku: “My parents loved me, narcissistically, alas, and now I am sad.” (p 222) Another theme is a counter-balance to the idea of psychoanalysis in TDOTGC: Do not look too closely at things lest you not like what you see. Confusion reigns. Especially with all six characters and especially with regard to that which also matters to most everyone: Sex. Wolitzer devotes a lot of time and attention to sex, in the novel, which caught my attention; and so I delved deeply into her treatment of that subject and found: She devoted 34 (at least) scenes/mentions to it, and far more than 1500 words. I went so far as to read aloud and record said scenes and sometimes I could not restrain from laughing out loud. I don’t know, but I don’t think she intended the scenes to be funny. Which brings me to this: There is no humor in the novel, the characters are devoid of humor, and so for me, there is not much to like about them. The main character, Jules Jacobson, while successful, in that she’s a good & decent wife, mother, friend, and professional – is unsatisfied and unremarkable with/in her life; and so unhappy she suffers “unhappiness puking.” (p 299) Which makes her, to me as reader, uninteresting. [Protagonists should be either super-typical or sub-typical] Her profession is that of therapist, which I know something of, and she presents as something of a fraud, an “intimacy prostitute.” (p 42) She, Jules, has a “client” for over 20 years! And then there’s this: She, Jules, looks up JEALOUSY on-line and quotes what is an incorrect definition of the emotion. (p 363) I object to that representation because the author doesn’t set the record straight. The conflation of JEALOUSY and ENVY is significant and leads to a great deal of misunderstanding in real life. It’s a serious problem and this is a serious book. There are, however, some really good scenes that ring true, just not enough of them. Reading a major book, for me, is like dating – I’m spending a considerable amount of time and attention with a person(s) – the author and/or his/her character(s). [This is NOT internet dating.] I don’t like to waste my time or be mislead. I want the good stuff – fearless communication. I think Wolitzer avoids that, knowingly or not. She broaches a lot of subject matter, but as I mentioned before this is an ambitious work and in the end comes up short. It scratches the surface, but, like her characters, the author seems unable to go deep. Two stars. This is my third date with her, and my last. I won’t ask her out again. December 3, 2013 (less)
Difficult Men: Behind the scenes of a creative revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad. (2013) Brett Martin
Difficult Me...moreDifficult Men: Behind the scenes of a creative revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad. (2013) Brett Martin
Difficult Men is a non-fictional story about fictional men, and the real men, creators (“Showrunner.”) writers, and actors, who are responsible for their coming alive in serialized TV shows from 1999 – 2013. All of these men, fictional and real, being similar in that they are deemed difficult. Maybe disagreeable, narcissistic, neurotic, obsessive, and antisocial are better descriptors; but the title was long enough as it were. The title of the book is apt. The story is the Who, What, Where, When, How, and most interesting, the Why, at least partly, in explaining the “Third Golden Age” of television. I have watched 11 of the 29 shows mentioned, which are laid out in a timeline that I found useful. I came to this phenomenon late, beginning in 2007 with Mad Men. Some reviewers complain that not all the shows are covered, and some object to the leaving out of the female protagonist shows – well, refer back to the title.
Things I gleaned reading this book: • Difficult men are that way for a reason, and not because they chose to be. • Difficult men can be very creative. • Writing, producing, and acting in these shows is very stressful, and rewarding. • The best ideas come early, and are often in the first season. (Watch, again, Mad Men.) • Difficult men can be powerful, violent, & unpredictable. • So true for many: “After years of reflection and working with specialists, I have recognized that alcohol is not an issue in my life. What I really needed to get at the heart of was my complicated and often very difficult love relationships with women.” Chris Albrecht, HBO CEO (p236) • Females are complicated, too. • George W. Bush & the wars he waged had a huge impact far beyond keeping America safe. • Having nothing to lose can be liberating. • Difficult men don’t change. They can’t be saved, (girls) that’s who they are. • Freud was mostly right. • Unconsciously or consciously, all people understand that the peopled world is about comparison, competition, & combat. • “Real people are [xxxd] up.” Alan Ball, showrunner, Six Feet Under (p 106) And way more interesting than traditional heroes. • “Life is messy and unresolved.” • It takes, “the freedom of fiction, to let the truth soar.” • Actors often become the characters they play (Or maybe the role simply unleashes “the beast within.” • Being the boss is lonely. • Even an unpopular TV show will have 30 times more eyes on it than a best selling novel (=100,000 sold). • “The audience is a child.” David Simon (p 208); but will respond to great writing. Sometimes you have to make them eat their vegetables, before you give them dessert. • Endings are the hardest part – all endings. • “Women just really want to be rescued.” Quote from SATC, the harbinger.
Should YOU read this book? It does contain many spoilers, but these shows, like life, are messy and don’t really have endings – it’s the ride that’s fun; and this book, I think, makes the ride even more so. Makes you think about things, big ideas, other than who did what to whom.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian born philosopher and Cambridge professor (1889-1951): “Was convinced that...moreWittgenstein’s Mistress (1988) David Markson
Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian born philosopher and Cambridge professor (1889-1951): “Was convinced that language creates a picture of the real world and that most philosophical problems are merely the result of philosophers’ misuse of language; experience only seems complicated because of our confused descriptions of it, which represent knots in our understanding. Untangle the knots and, according to the theory, philosophical questions will simply dissolve. [p. 326. An Incomplete Education. (1987) Judy Jones & William Wilson.]
It seems to me David Markson’s novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988) is an attempt to untangle Wittgenstein’s philosophy as laid down in his book (Wittgenstein’s) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, via the workings of the mind of a mid-aged woman, Kate, left alone in the world – all alone. Her mind’s workings, or “inconsequential perplexities” (= anxiety); is the subject matter of the story. There is not really a plot in the conventional sense. Kate puzzles over (among many other things) a book she found in a carton of books, in the basement of a house she’s taken to living in, on the beach of the northeast coast of Italy, sometime in modern times because there are cars and trucks for the taking and driving and playing of music in tape decks (electricity and all power energy is defunct.) There are tennis balls, rackets, and a court. Perhaps a domestic cat has survived with her. She remembers, if not always accurately, the history of writing, philosophy, art, and music. The book she puzzles over is titled Baseball When the Grass Was Green (a real book) which throws her for a loop, or ties her mind in knots. Kate thinks that the book ought to have been called, “baseball when the grass IS real,” and then decides “baseball when the grass is growing,” would be better still. (p 95) Subsequently, she finds another carton that contains some artificial turf (fake grass) and that then further confounds her – she apparently having no known or actual experience of baseball, calling Stan Musial (Of whom there is a huge bronze statue of out in front of Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Really.) “Sam Usual,” and later “Stan Usual.” And also, she calls Lou Gehrig, “Stan Gehrig.” In fact, she even mixes up her dead son, Simon, with her dead lover, Lucien, and can’t remember if her dead husband, Adam, started drinking to excess because she had had lovers, or she took to taking lovers because he drank to the degree of being drunk. And then of course – What does any of anything matter anyway if no one is around to talk to, or with, to argue with or against, except only the voices and/or recollections of what you remember, or have read, and what did the writers’ of books know anyway – of what was real and what was not real – what with words only to explain what was observed. What is real grass anyway: “I [Kate] imagine what I mean is that if the grass that is not real is real, as it undoubtedly is, what would be the difference between the way grass that is not real is real and the way real grass is real, then?” (p 193)
Well that question hardly seems worth one’s time considering, in that it is an “inconsequential perplexity.” Which is sort of the point, here. Is she mad (crazy) or not. She can’t quite remember if it was Heidegger, who she HAD corresponded with, or Nietzsche, or Kierkegaard who had wrote about inconsequential perplexities. (p 216-7) And that anxiety was the default, or “fundamental” mood of humans. And so on and so forth.
So the question is as it always is: Should YOU read this book? I say yes. If. …
There are three populations of people who I think would enjoy this read. Picture a Venn diagram of three circles (=categories of people.) One circle would be persons formally educated in Philosophy, Art, and/or Literature, to include persons who have read and enjoyed reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I say this because there is a great deal of references to philosophy and thinking, art and artists, and literature and writers. I say DFW and Infinite Jest (1996) specifically because you can see how Markson’s book gave permission to Wallace to do what he did within the pages of IJ. Moreover, there is the exploration of, or untangling of, or application of thinking, of mine and perhaps yours, and of the thinking of Ludwig Wittgenstein, in both WM and IJ – both writers’ book’s playing with the concept of words and language and how they shape thought, which then impacts a person’s subjective reality. Both writers explore, in great detail, the idea that language is, as commonly used, very imprecise. There is the idea of reading/using footnotes, in both books. There is a great deal of redundancy and repetition of words, sentences, and ideas, in both books. There are hundreds and hundreds of characters, in both books, albeit in WM they are mostly historical characters and in IJ they are fictional. And the whole idea of thinking itself. Kate imagines that these hard thinking men, like Ludwig Wittgenstein, you can actually observe, see them, thinking – that there is an observable difference between a person who is thinking hard, and a person who is hardly thinking. I’m thinking that thought, expressed by Kate, was in fact integrated into Wallace’s being, his Self, as you can certainly see Wallace thinking, observe his mind working, if you watch him converse with interviewers on YouTube. There is the technique of the author being aware of what he is doing, and mocking himself and what he is doing in the text via the thinking of a character/narrator. “Am I just showing off?” Kate asks of herself several times, speaking to the reader, who she hopes may read what she is writing, someday. There is the concept of being alone, loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and depression. There is tennis. There is the idea of where does a thought originate and how do we learn. Which brings me to a problem I had with the book: How much of it is true. I believe that in fiction, all the little things should be true, so as to get the reader to buy into the big lie – which is, of course, the fiction itself, the story. In WM, Markson, via Kate, asserts that Michelangelo said something like, “There is no better way of being sane and free from anxiety than by being mad.” (p 192) When I read that, which is repeated in the text several times, I thought —I have heard or had that thought before … and then it came to me: It was in a song written by Waylon Jennings in the 1980s, I’ve Always Been Crazy. The lyric is: “I’ve always been crazy but it kept me from going insane.” Which might, or perhaps not, have been intentional by Markson – the confusion. I have no idea about what he, Markson, was thinking.
A second circle, or population, would be persons who are overly anxious, or score high on neurotic indices, to include creatives and artists (= writers, painters, thinkers, etc.) for obvious reasons. Most people like to read about others like themselves, to know that they are not alone, that there are other people on the planet with similar attributes [In this case anxiety(s).] Thus one might think, Maybe I’m NOT so crazy after all.
The third and last circle of the diagram would be persons who have experienced, or are curious about, what it is to be all alone for a long period of time, such as solo wilderness hikers, solo sailors, fire lookouts back-in-the-day, or the sole survivor, of something or another, on planet earth. The ideal reader would be a person who fits into the section of the Venn diagram where all three circles intersect. I’m close, and so I loved this book! I highly recommend it to you if you think you fit into, or are curious about, any of the three populations. It is unconventional, experimental, and like Infinite Jest, the plot is almost irrelevant, though this novel is way, way, shorter, 240 pages. [I did not read the afterword, The Empty Plenum, (1990) 32 pages, by David Foster Wallace, before writing this review.] It is a quick read, and fun. You need not be familiar with all the historical references to get it, is my thinking.
Gone With the Wind is THE Great American Novel. The story takes place between the years 1860 and 1872 in the Southern state of Georgia, mostly in and...moreGone With the Wind is THE Great American Novel. The story takes place between the years 1860 and 1872 in the Southern state of Georgia, mostly in and around Atlanta and concerns itself with Southern Culture and Society, Slavery, the Civil War, and the personalities and relationships between and within men and women. It was written sixty years after the fact by a woman, Margaret Mitchell, in her 20s & 30s, and so my question was: How accurate is it? Ms Mitchell lived most of her life in Atlanta and died there at the age of 49, in 1949, struck by a car driven by a drunk man. GWTW won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1937. Her sources were, reportedly, mostly two grand aunts and her grandmother, who would have lived through the times. To simulate that I imagined what and how my grand niece (Aged five at the time of this writing, so lets say 20 years hence, 2033.) might tell the story of life at the time of the next great American Revolution, that of the 1960’s (Drugs, Sex, & Rock & Roll; and civil and women’s rights) having interviewed me (now 83), and also her grandfather (85) and grandmother (82), and grown up listening to our stories. She, no doubt, would get differing accounts of the same events and of the times, but would probably be able to put together a pretty accurate composite of what the life, culture, and society were like in the late 60’s and early 70’s, of the 20th Century.
[I watched the movie Gone With the Wind (1937) last night. It’s my opinion that you should not watch the movie before reading the book, to be fair to the author. Although much of the dialogue is word for word – because of compression, interpretation, and the music score, the movie is more cartoon than not.]
The story told is from the POV of Scarlett O’Hara, a 16 year-old girl who lives a life of privilege on the plantation Tara in northern Georgia. She is the most sought after prize in the County and very spoiled. Is she a case of normal adolescent ego-centrism, or is she truly a narcissistic personality? Scarlett, “… was constitutionally unable to endure any man being in love with any woman not herself.” (p. 35) She was, “… the least analytic of people.” (p. 50) And, “… had not a subtle bone in her body.” (p.51) More on this later. Perhaps the most common objection to the story is Mitchell’s depiction of the slaves and slavery. They are referred to as “Niggers,” “darkies,” “pickaninnies,” “Negroes”; I’m going to call them Blacks. The blacks on Tara are all slaves but view themselves, and are viewed by their owners, differently, according to whether they are servants or field hands. The blacks are as judgmental as the whites. Servants are respected, field hands – not so much. The slaves are ordered (assigned position) by ability (task tested) and treated well, and accept their lot in life—are mostly happy. I checked on this b/c there seems to be a difference of opinion. Records were kept on some plantations w/r/t whippings etc. by occurrence, but not by name. My thought is that it was likely that some were, and some were not, happy. Some were, and some were not, disagreeable to their situation. Probably the 80/20 Rule applies, i.e. 80% of the ‘discipline’ was rendered on 20% of the population – meaning that most slaves probably were content, if not happy. The ‘trouble’ was likely caused by a minority of the population—troublemakers, just like in any population. Back to the story: Freeing the slaves caused serious problems, and led to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, an anonymous organization of the Old Guard, to punish (hang) freed blacks (the stupid field hands) who took advantage of the new laws and protection of the Yankee imposed government to steal property and rape white women. The freed blacks were stupid, lazy, looters, and rape’rs. They sometimes joined with the white trash (Crackers) to wreak havoc on what was once a perfect world. The Old Guard (democrats) were denied the vote, unless they swore allegiance to the new Yankee government. Which true believers (to this day) would not do. Atlanta, and many of the plantations, was/were shelled by canon and burned to the ground. The old way of life (The Cause) was gone, “… gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia.” (pg. 380) I found (there may be more) forty-one references in the text to Wind, of which 13 referred to it as chill or cold; i.e. the wind that swept through Georgia and swept away the old life was a bad/nasty one. –The freeing of the slaves and reconstruction of the South was not a good thing. It was a power grab by “Damn Yankees,” helped by “Scallawags” and “Carpetbaggers,” all who profited from the ruin of the Old Guard. The population of southern men, “Gentlemen,” –who were “born with guns in their hands,” (p. 40) and were created by God to only ride and shoot and drink and gamble and lord over the land, animals, women, children, blacks, and tell stories and lies– was decimated. These men loved war over every thing and were so, so arrogant – which was propped up and held together by “Ladies,” the Gentleman’s wives’ and daughters’, who were governed by a strict set of formal rules emphasizing simplicity, kindness, truth and love. “… all Southern girls were taught to make those about them feel at ease and pleased with themselves.” (p. 163) “A woman alone could accomplish nothing. Men were omniscient and women were none too bright.” (p.580) “A wife should be guided by her husband’s superior knowledge, should accept his opinions in full and have none of her own.” (p. 595) “All women needed babies to make them completely happy.” (p. 601) Pregnancy was always hidden and divorce was unthinkable. Natural female functions were scandalous. “It was this happy feminine conspiracy which made Southern society so pleasant. Women knew that a land where men were contented, uncontradicted and safe in possession of unpunctured vanity was likely to be a very pleasant place for women to live. So, from the cradle to the grave, women strove to make men pleased with themselves, and the satisfied men repaid lavishly with gallantry and adoration. In fact, men willingly gave the ladies everything in the world except credit for having intelligence.” (p. 163)
Into this milieu comes Captain Rhett Butler, a blockade-runner, a “rogue,” a “blackguard,” a “varmint,” a “scoundrel.” “Insulting and imprudent and offensive.” And yet Scarlett was attracted to him against her will, it was the Law of Attraction [my assertion] spoken by both Gerald, Scarlett’s father, & Rhett, that only like persons will be happy together. Twice her age, Rhett loved Scarlett completely and would do anything to win her love, but never would he let her know … and yet she loved Ashley Wilkes, a Gentleman, and her crush since she blossomed into a woman, who married Melanie Hamilton, a proper Lady, at the onset of the war. —A complex love matrix with all the usual complications, and then some.
Religion and Psychology. At the time of the Civil War, Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory was brand, brand new – almost everyone accepted the Christian God and Bible as fact, but not Rhett Butler who was an atheist and spoke to Scarlett of, ‘“ … some thing he [Butler] calls the survival of the fitting.”’ (p. 855) Butler was a realist and always blowing up the pretentious, “pinchbeck” world that was the norm in Southern Society. He was a truth teller, and opportunist, and also very wealthy. Moreover, he was an alcoholic and probably an anti-social personality. Scarlett believed in God, when it was convenient, and tried to make bargains with God and often thought she was being punished for her improper behaviors: Engaging in man-only endeavors (business ownership and oversight); Loving and coveting a married man (Ashley); Wishing harm to good people (Melanie and later Rhett.) Murder, she felt okay with, figured God was with her on that one, as perfect Melanie even sanctioned it. I don’t know how much of Freudian theory, or psychology in general, Mitchell was aware of, but certainly it didn’t exist in the mainstream at the time of the Civil War, so the characters would not have been aware of it as far as exposition for their behaviors. That being said – the complex relationships are classic. Consider the psychological ego defense mechanisms of projection, displacement, and repression, and the ‘phantom lover syndrome’ (Scarlett’s love of Ashley, and to a lesser degree, Brett’s love of Scarlett.) In addition, there is this near the end: [spoiler, OR skip to THE END] . . . Finally, Scarlett agrees to marriage with Rhett, her 3rd marriage (the first two ending with widowhood) and they have a daughter, her 3rd child, having had one with each of her first loveless marriages. She’s had enough, of children, and doesn’t like them – thinks they are a nuisance and fun spoilers. Moreover, she doesn’t particularly like sex, if she can’t have it with Ashley. In fact, she likes the game (courtship) way more than the consequence (marriage, sex, & children.) And so she decides to freeze Rhett out and “locks her bedroom door” not understanding man’s sexual drive when Rhett had tried to explain it to her, ‘“What a child you are! You have lived with three men and still know nothing of men’s natures. You seem to think they are like old ladies past the change of life.”’ (p. 831) Rhett was very much self-aware and aware of Scarlett’s game, ‘“The truth at last. Talking love and thinking money. How truly feminine!”’ (p. 544) Butler later reacts with Freud’s early Seduction Theory – courting his daughter and turning her into his love object – which fuels Scarlett’s hatred of him, and jealousy of Bonnie Blue, their daughter. When Bonnie dies via an ‘accident’ showing off, Rhett turns to drink, shuns Scarlett’s faux love (or is it?) and abandons her. And so then Scarlett, true to narcissistic form, believes she can get Rhett back and declares, “‘Tomorrow is another day.”’ (p.959) THE END
What a fabulous book, timeless, and I give it my highest recommendation. There is much more to it, and many more characters than I mentioned above. The writing is nearly flawless and the language, dialect depiction, as well as dialogue – perfect. I quite simply loved the exchanges between Scarlett and Rhett. And there are the “catch phrases.” I don’t know if Mitchell was the originator of them, or if they were common place at the time – but they remain in the language today. Such as: a hair trigger temper; the hand of fate; irons in the fire; sour grapes; round pegs in square holes; the ‘creeps’; bored to distraction; thoughts whirling madly as squirrels in a cage; crying jag; easy come, easy go; a shot in the dark; pigs at the trough (greed); a leopard changing his spots; life as an ironic joke; jumping through hoops; lips smiling while the eyes do not; politics makes strange bedfellows – to name a few. And lastly here, though not in the least, the least of the book’s significance – it makes me think. It is an anti-war novel. It makes me think about forcing the issue at the point of a bayonet. In other words, Self-determination versus, I’m forcing this upon you for your own good. What if the Yankees had let the Southern States have their way, their slavery, States Rights, and secession? What if the blacks had been allowed to free themselves? (In due time, as did women and now the LGBTs are.) How might the world be different today? Maybe the world would be less violent today, with less hostility and rancor. That is, I think, what makes Gone With the Wind THE Great American Novel. It makes me think about the very nature and history of the country as well as the people and personalities that inhabit it. Friday, October 18, 2013 (less)
My father just sent me this book, yesterday. (He's 93 & has read every Nora Roberts book and is now into DS.) So I read it this AM. Ok, I just rea...moreMy father just sent me this book, yesterday. (He's 93 & has read every Nora Roberts book and is now into DS.) So I read it this AM. Ok, I just read Hilary's part. I don't know how I feel about these types of books - if they do no harm or in fact, are harmful because they take serious things and kind of make them unreal. Domestic abuse, infidelity, murder, rape, foster care, abandoned children, abortion, juvenile jail, love & romance, marriage, etc. and so on. And there's always a happy ending - love conquers all. The writing trivializes human emotion, the human psyche ... and yet, people love this kind of book. DS & NR are probably the most read authors, ever. This is the 1st Steel book I've read. I've read a few of Roberts. Like I said - I don't know.(less)