This is a solid volume compiling the author's most notable work with some of his lesser known poems. I had never heard of Richard Brautigan until read...moreThis is a solid volume compiling the author's most notable work with some of his lesser known poems. I had never heard of Richard Brautigan until reading a local news piece on his connections to the Pacific Northwest, his untimely end, and his dream of a library for unpublished manuscripts. While a very modest affair now operating in Vancouver, Washington, the architect in me has visions of something more tailored to this brilliant concept. If not a project of my own someday, perhaps one that can be used to challenge future students.
Perhaps it's not a surprise that I find the same admiration for his writing that I find in the library itself: it is open, it does not judge, it is erratic and deeply personal. It trades in mischief and unpredictability. Reading this in 2013, it certainly feels like this is what we are supposed to know and understand about counterculture in the 1960s, especially given Trout Fishing's widespread popularity and influence at the time. Whether or not this is an fair portrayal, and it probably isn't given the absurdity of the notion the one writer's oeuvre can ever truly capture the spirit of its age, it is still a voice worth hearing for its keen observation, its originality and its fuck-all attitude.
Is writing an art form, a pastime, a practice, a lifestyle, a mission or calling? I don't honestly know. Nonetheless, Brautigan's work seems like an invitation to find out for ourselves.
PILYBYBMD, hereafter known as 'the book', is a pretty solid contribution to at least three or four heavily saturated and eternally popular genres: the...morePILYBYBMD, hereafter known as 'the book', is a pretty solid contribution to at least three or four heavily saturated and eternally popular genres: the travelogue, in which a stranger finds fulfillment and revelation in giving themselves over to a foreign situation; the office expose, in which the quirks and aspirations of one's coworkers are documented and arcane work practices and dynamics of power are brought into the open; and the city fetish novel, of which the Parisian love song is a highly common strain. One might add the autobiographical account of an aspiring artist/writer struggling to find their own voice and pay the bills to boot.
In all honesty, I can think of a far superior work (or several) in each genre, but none that has woven them together so fluidly and enjoyably. I continually deferred reading on books with possibly more educational value or artistic merit, but finished 'the book' in the course of a few evenings and commutes to work. I found myself recommending it to friends, offering to lend it out or planning to purchase copies as gifts. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux timed the release of the book perfectly; it has broad appeal and rewards for only a small commitment, equally perfect for plane flights or poolside. It's the kind of book that was meant to be read with one's sunglasses on.
The best of these works are successful because they tap into the potential for projection and escape that literature allows, but they do it in such a way that connects with one's own experiences and generates sympathy for the author's point of view. This is essentially what we have here. Perhaps the thing that I rate most highly is that Baldwin's style counters the sense of disconnect I would likely have felt in a straight presentation of the facts: the plucky way he oversold his skills to land the job; his rapid ascent through the ranks, the expat/trust-fund set parties, the celebrity dishing, the exotic location shoots, the book deal, etc. Cooked down, it reads like an unusually optimistic Whit Stillman script than an actual chain of events. It's the character of the voice and the quality of description that sells it.
God, where to begin. Other than to say *possible spoilers*.
Is it possible for one book to be perfectly balanced between addictive and repulsive, luci...moreGod, where to begin. Other than to say *possible spoilers*.
Is it possible for one book to be perfectly balanced between addictive and repulsive, lucid and impenetrable? This is my second novel by Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke being the first) and both left me feeling completely hollowed out by the end, which is appropriate for a story that involves the creation and re-animation of empty vessels, empty lives.
I picked up this book in a Pacific Northwest airport, and nearly missed my flight because I could not stop reading. There was a shock of recognition in that he was spiraling into a part of Northern California that I know and love, and that he had nailed the sense and sweep of it so well that a flood of memories came back almost instantly.
This is not unknown territory for writers, it is almost a complete geographic overlay with Pynchon's Vineland, and perhaps the slightly more southern cousin of Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. I count both books among my favorites so I figured I was in for roughly more of the same. Eccentric characters with intertwined lives. Desolate towns. Forbidding, beautiful landscape and sense of place.
What I was not expecting was the darkness, the almost operatic sadness that fills nearly every page. Like every good gothic or horror story a few cracks of light break though, but they seem weakened here, almost to reassure the reader that there really is no return from the Lost Coast, at least, not for everyone. And also like all the best, almost a prerequisite for the genre, it has a truly original and charismatic monster in Carl Van Ness.
Johnson is a master at conjoining the obscene and sublime, renderings of ugly truth with the surreal and magical. They are his treble and bass. However, I found the chronological rambling and difficulty of sensing the players in the various interpersonal dialogues to be disorienting. Perhaps this was the intended effect, but I can tell from the 8 months I've spent with this on my bookshelf, nightstand or suitcase that it is not easily left off and returned to. It deserves and rewards your attention and careful scrutiny.
Already Dead is not for everyone. It's not for the casual reader, the squeamish or easily depressed to be certain. It will definitely be coming with me though on my next trip into the dark and wild corners of Northern California.
While I don't consider these to be masterpieces of fiction, they provided a good window into the insanity of the Hundred Years War. The savagery and h...moreWhile I don't consider these to be masterpieces of fiction, they provided a good window into the insanity of the Hundred Years War. The savagery and human tragedy of this conflict have never been more clear to me. The quest for the grail itself seems almost too obvious a device for this journey from battle to battle and region to region, but it does perhaps shine a light on the religious fanaticism that was playing out against a more cynical political and economic conflict, and that was often recruited to the ends of the rich and powerful. Thomas, with his own internal conflicts, is a nice microcosm of the struggles, sufferings and hopes of the era.
Also, for someone who is just taking up the longbow, the trilogy also proved to be great 'archery porn'. If I could ever put an arrow through a bracelet at 100 paces, I'd be one step closer to bliss...(less)
Wildwood earns four stars. Why? Because, as a book, as a physical object with a hard cover, dust jacket, paper and ink, color inset illustrations and...moreWildwood earns four stars. Why? Because, as a book, as a physical object with a hard cover, dust jacket, paper and ink, color inset illustrations and maps, it is a wonder. It surrounds the story so well. A rare thing these days to feel such substance, that you are holding a work of art. Hats off to Meloy, Ellis, and their book designer, who should be acknowledged somewhere in the next edition. And to Harper Collins for not cutting any corners in its production.
The story itself is inventive and ambitious enough, but ultimately feels less refined. Much like Meloy's songwriting, Wildwood takes a 'more is more' approach, and at over 500 pages, it seems to lose momentum and focus at many points. I pre-read the book to see if my own hip, forest loving daughter would enjoy it, and I believe she will and we'll have fun reading it together in chapter-size installments over the winter. But as a matter of style (and excuse the pun) it's often too hard to see the forest for the 'twee. So many rococo flourishes and knowing winks, overt kid-lit references, et cetera. My hope is that the world that is created in this book can find more room to breathe in later installments.
Lastly, and most personally, as a Portlander who frequently explores the 'Impassable Wilderness', I can't help but admire a book that is essentially a love song to this city and one of it's greatest and most overlooked treasures. Our urban forest is so many things - a labyrinth, a sleeping dragon, a cathedral - and magical even without the aid of talking animals and hidden civilizations. If Wildwood helps raise awareness, appreciation and preservation of Forest Park, then it will go down as one of the author's greatest achievements.(less)
Lived up to the hype and the impulse buy that followed. Beautiful graphics, great flow, emotional without being overly sentimental, critical of societ...moreLived up to the hype and the impulse buy that followed. Beautiful graphics, great flow, emotional without being overly sentimental, critical of societies / behaviors without being condescending. Characters are somewhat stereotypical, or at east they began as stereotypes and then were consciously inflected away. Some haunting hilarious moments, all the same. (less)
Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt) is an amazing artist who is grossly under-appreciated in the anglophone sphere. Also has one of the best designed catalogu...moreGego (Gertrude Goldschmidt) is an amazing artist who is grossly under-appreciated in the anglophone sphere. Also has one of the best designed catalogues / chronologies that I've ever seen in print. (less)