My first Burroughs book! And probably my penultimate. I picked this up because I figured Burroughs is enough of a figure to deserve at least reading oMy first Burroughs book! And probably my penultimate. I picked this up because I figured Burroughs is enough of a figure to deserve at least reading once, and appropriately enough I finished Junky on my first visit to Mexico City, where this book also ends, and where the real live Burroughs famously shot and killed his common law wife.
As for the work itself, it's a fascinating enough snapshot of drug culture in the 1950s, but it is equally effective as a expose of seedy criminal underculture, and of beat/cool culture at its infancy. We trace the effectively biographical Bill through his introduction and addiction to junk, a seemingly broad term that encompasses opioids from heroin to morphine to benzedrine.
Through Bill's dryly dispassioned prose (according to the introduction this might be indicative of Burrough's style in general, perhaps shaped by years of his actual opium stupors from addiction), we drink in by the barrel jargon of the seedy underworld our protagonist inhabits. G for a grain, H for heroin, croaker for doctors who sometimes prescribe to addicts for money, tea for marijuana, spade for an African-american.
Burroughs communicates also his ideas of addiction from a time in which the science is very murky. He posits that addiction occurs on a cellular level, and quitting is not a matter of mind over matter but actually waiting for addicted cells to die out and be replaced by virgin ones not subject to the same addictions.
This book does not quite condemn junk, junky culture, or addiction itself. Given Burrough's famous life-long addiction, and that he was never quite contrite about it, I think this is simply meant to be an expose into a corner of American life that he deemed underexposed. It is enormously interesting to read this account as someone who hasn't had major issues with addiction, but it was hard in my mind not to let the dispassioned descriptions of junk condemn it as well. Burroughs simply describes the psychology of junkies and the patterns of behavior, it was in my mind where a normative link was made between just how shitty these lives seem and a condemnation of substance addiction.
At the end of the day the book just didn't do it for me. Perhaps in it's time it was groundbreaking and novel, and indeed the prose does give way to several memorable passages and quotes, but the ideas on addiction and the world it exposes are now tropes in popular culture. Hard for a 60 year old novel to surprise or shock.......more
**spoiler alert** Probably my favorite of the three parts, the entire book is basically fulfillment of the buildup of the latter two. I'm especially g**spoiler alert** Probably my favorite of the three parts, the entire book is basically fulfillment of the buildup of the latter two. I'm especially grateful that the book focused on Minas Tirith and the characters Gondor and Rohan, as I find Tolkien's writings centered on mythology and lore and valiant men much more compelling than his attempt at being "relatable" in his portrayal of the everyman hobbits.
Like the movie, I found the end to have been dragged on, and the scourging of the shire seemed fairly unnecessary and extraneous....more
I'm a little concerned that I'm missing out on how to appreciate Graham Greene. For being one of the best known works of someone praised as the voiceI'm a little concerned that I'm missing out on how to appreciate Graham Greene. For being one of the best known works of someone praised as the voice of the 20th century, Our Man in Havana seemed very pedestrian to me.
It is a work that seemed incapable of deciding if it was a satire on Cold War politics and the absurdity of espionage in this age, or a weirdly existential novel that ends up with a happy romantic ending.
The protagonist Wormold (a name I took as an omen that he would not be a likable character, somewhat mistakenly) is a British vacuum cleaner vendor in Havana. He is a small-time merchant whose wife had left him and his precious daughter Milly. Wormold falls into the world of espionage with hopes of better supporting his daughter and giving her a better life. In the course of this mission he finds himself inventing intelligence to report, which naturally gets him into trouble with both sides.
The prose is pretty good, but the plot and flow just didn't give me satisfaction as to what kind of book I was really reading. It was mildly entertaining enough to be worthwhile but I feel like I'm missing out on the profundity that so many have ascribed to Greene. ...more
This was my constant travel companion during my month-long backpacking trip in China, and it really informed my travel journal. Twain's readily accessThis was my constant travel companion during my month-long backpacking trip in China, and it really informed my travel journal. Twain's readily accessible, and seemingly modern sense of sharp sarcasm and biting humor was charmingly engaging. His combination of self-deprecating jokes as well as hard-hitting jokes on the short-comings of his European destinations and locals offer surprisingly deep insights on at least his perceptions of American and European identities. I (in vain) tried to replicate such a tone and at least some semblance of insight in my travel logs, and with Mark Twain as a model, I never suffered for lack of masterful guidance or literary inspiration....more
Dostoyevsky is great at moral meditations, and he really shined in this cerebral type of moral writing in Crime and Punishment, but he falls short inDostoyevsky is great at moral meditations, and he really shined in this cerebral type of moral writing in Crime and Punishment, but he falls short in The Idiot. The Idiot centers around the character of Prince Myshkin, a simple-minded Christ-like figure, who's innocence helps him become accepted by the aristocracy in St. Petersburg, but he is ultimately proven to be incompatible in this company due to his epilepsy. My main point to pick against this work is the use of romantic relationships and love in service of making moral points. Dostoyevsky seems to use marriage and love as currency, and there is no heart in the description of romance. Due to this, the book suffers from an emotional coldness. None the less, the narrative is relatively engaging and carries for most of the very long novel....more
I was a bit apprehensive about reading this classic novel given its storied reputation. It turns out not at all as smutty as so many people have portrI was a bit apprehensive about reading this classic novel given its storied reputation. It turns out not at all as smutty as so many people have portrayed it to be. Instead, it is a masterful display of the range of the English language in making beautiful playful prose. It is also, in my opinion, the portrait of a madman. The disadvantage of the two above characteristics in one novel is that at times it becomes inapprehensible. Nonetheless it was a fairly enjoyable read and a fairly compelling plot of a very twisted individual....more