More Baths Less Talking (2012) is the fourth installment of the collected "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns from Nick Hornby. I always enjoy these col...more More Baths Less Talking (2012) is the fourth installment of the collected "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns from Nick Hornby. I always enjoy these columns and come away from them with good ideas for new books to read, however, in this short set of columns there are some lean months as life and other projects take away from his prospective reading time. There are a number of books that look interesting to me: American Rust by Phillip Meyer, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, Just Kids by Patti Smith, the short novels of Muriel Spark, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje, early Dickens (I'm thinking about starting with David Copperfield), A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey, Madcap: The Life of Preston Sturges by Donald Spoto, and Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson.
And now homage to Hornby's books bought/read lists for the month:
More Baths Less Talking Nick Hornby, The Driver's Seat Muriel Spark, Just Kids Patti Smith, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste Carl Wilson, The Immoralist Andre Gide, Year Zero Ian Buruma
Burnt Water Carlos Fuentes, The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 Donald Richie, More Baths Less Talking Nick Hornby, The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson(less)
I bought Reframing Japanese Cinema (1992) edited by Arthur Nolletti, Jr. and David Desser for Desser's article "Toward a Structural Analysis of the Po...more I bought Reframing Japanese Cinema (1992) edited by Arthur Nolletti, Jr. and David Desser for Desser's article "Toward a Structural Analysis of the Postwar Samurai Film" to use in an essay I wanted write on a revisionist Samurai film (Twilight Samurai). However, there were several other essays of interest to me as well. William B. Hauser's essay, "Fires on the Plain: The Human Cost of the Pacific War," was a excellent analysis of Kon Ichikawa's finest film. I recently saw Kenji Mizoguchi's film The Life of Oharu, so I found Robert N.Chone's essay, "Why Does Oharu Faint? Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu and Patriarchal Discourse," enlightening as well. My interest in major directors like Kurosawa, Oshima, and Ozu led me to read the essays about them in Part 1: "Authorship": Kurosawa/Desser's "Ikiru: Narration as a Moral Act," Oshima/Max Tessier's "Oshima, Nagisa or The Battered Energy of Desire," Ozu/Kathe Geist's "Narrative Strategies in Ozu's Late Films" and Donald Richie's "The Inn Sequence from Ozu's Late Autumn." In Part 2: "Genre" I read the following in addition to Desser's article on Samurai films and Coen's article on Fire on the Plain:Lisa Spalding's "Period Films in the Prewar Era," Keiko Iwai McDonald's "The Yakuza Film: An Introduction" and Gregory Barret's (translator of Japanese critic Tadao Sato's Currents in Japanese Cinema) "Comic Targets and Comic Styles: An Introduction to Japanese Film Comedy." All of the essays had fascinating interpretations of the films discussed and were enlightening on some level. For various reasons (lack of interest or knowledge) I haven't read the following yet: Arthur Nolletti, Jr.'s "Woman of the Mist and Gosho in the 1930s," and Part 3: "History": Hiroshi Komatsu's "Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I," J.L. Anderson's "Spoken Silents in the Japanese Cinema; or, Talking to Pictures: Essaying the Katsuben, Contexturalizing the Texts," " Kenji Iwamoto's "Sound in the Early Japanese Talkies," and David Bordwell's "A Cinema of Flourishes: Japanese Decorative Classicism of the Prewar Era." (less)
Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany (2012) edited by Jay Jennings might only be of interest to those of what Ron Rosenbaum calls, from his es...moreEscape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany (2012) edited by Jay Jennings might only be of interest to those of what Ron Rosenbaum calls, from his essay included in the appendix "Our Least-Known Great Novelist," the Society of Portis. This and two other seminal essays, Roy Blount Jr.'s "Comedy in Earnest" and Ed Park's comprehensive "Like Cormac McCarthy, but Funny," extolling the virtues of the prose of Charles Portis. In fact Park uses many of the miscellany included in this book to tell the story of the elusive Charles Portis and was the essay that was most instrumental in spurring me to read all five novels owing to my status as a huge Cormac McCarthy fan as well. I believe the collection is worth it for the three act play, Delray's New Moon, alone. But the early news reporting on the desegregation of schools and various other pieces shows the reader how he developed his fine sense of observation and his ability to turn a phrase and create realistic dialogue, this especially true in his "Our Town" columns for The Arkansas Gazette. As a writer at the The New York Herald Tribune he was a contemporary of co-workers Tom Wolfe and eventual Harper's editor Lewis Lamphan and rose to London Bureau chieff before quitting to write fiction. I also enjoyed his travel writing and it seems that "An Auto Odyssey through Darkest Baja" was an invaluable inspiration for Dog of the South and Gringos. I have to admit that the short stories weren't among my favorite pieces in the collection, but I did enjoy his memoir, "Combinations of Jacksons." I have since read both Donna Tart's introduction to his American classic True Grit and agree with Wells Tower that is aside from the brilliance of that novel Gringos is probably a favorite. But that's like saying you love one kid more than the others-all of his novel are wonderful in their own way and there are only five (and Norwood is barley 200 pages long), so there's no excuse not to read America's "Least-Known Great Novelist." (less)
The author Paul Fussell recently died and while reading one of the obituary pieces I noticed that he wrote an acclaimed essay called “Thank God For Th...moreThe author Paul Fussell recently died and while reading one of the obituary pieces I noticed that he wrote an acclaimed essay called “Thank God For The Atomic Bomb,” which sounded intriguing to me. So I was interested in hearing Fussell’s perspective, since he served as a soldier in the European theater in WWII. It turns out that I had to hunt it down since the book is no longer in print. But it seems that his main reason was to save American soldier’s lives and it follows Japanese civilian lives that would have been lost had the US been forced to invade Japan. This book of essays, from 1988, also has several other war related pieces: “An Exchange Of Views” with a historian who challenges Fussell’s assumptions about the war, “Postscript (1987) on Japanese Skulls” points out that Americans did take grotesque wartime souvenirs such as skulls home as war trophies, and “Writing in Wartime: The Uses of Innocence” about a wartime memoir that was a fake and used for the propagandistic purpose of bringing the US into war with Germany. Being a George Orwell fan I also found his essay “George Orwell: The Critic as Honest Man” interesting and informative. Orwell was also inspiration for his essay “A Power of Facing Unpleasant Facts” about the need for intellectual honesty in the world despite the unpleasantness that this often produces. I found his opinions concerning the 2nd Amendment provocative and timely given the several mass killings in the US recently in his essay “A Well-Regulated Militia.” He makes some interesting points about he distinct between travelers and tourists in “Travel, Tourism, and ‘International Understanding.’” Surprisingly, he is an advocate of “naturist” or more commonly known as “nudism” as “Taking It All Off in the Balkans” attests. However, there were a couple of essays that I couldn’t finish due to lack of interest in the subjects: the pastoral poetry in “On the Persistence of Pastoral,” chivalry in “The Fate of Chivalry and the Assault upon Mother,” and car racing in “Indy.” All in all, it is a provocative collection of essays. (less)
I first came across the writing of John Jeremiah Sullivan in the pages of GQ magazine, which I occasionally buy from the newsstand. I think three of t...moreI first came across the writing of John Jeremiah Sullivan in the pages of GQ magazine, which I occasionally buy from the newsstand. I think three of these feature articles are among the best magazine writing of the last 10-15 years: "Upon This Rock" (which is about a Christian rock concert as seen through the eyes of a former born again Christian), "Getting Down To What Is Really Real" (about an MTV reality star, the Miz, who I am not entirely familiar with), and a fascinating article about Bunny Wailer, "The Last Wailer," which also read like a New Yorker style "Letter From Kingston," giving a devastating glimpse of what life is like in contemporary Jamaica. I think the personal connections and personal voice is one the things that sets Sullivan apart from other feature writers, well, that, and his fluid pose. He can make all sorts of things that I have no interest in palpable: the aforementioned article on a reality TV star, the over exposed Michale Jackson ("Michael"), a down but not out Axl Rose ("The Final Comeback Of Axl Rose"), ancient cave paintings ("Unnamed Caves"), an obscure naturalist named Constatine Samuel Rafinesque from Kentucky ("LA-HWI-NE-SKI: Career Of An Eccentric Naturalist"), obscure blues musicians (Unknown Bards"), and animals on the attack ("Violence Of The Lambs"). That being said when he is engaged in something that is truly meaning full to him AND can draw me into the story he reaches greatness or near greatness: in the aforementioned article on the Christian rock festival that hit close to home, his brother's near-death electrocution ("Feet In Smoke"), his relationship to a Southern legend and mentor ("Mr. Lytle: An Essay"), an update of life in the south following the destruction of hurricane Katrina ("At A Shelter (After Katrina))," sizing up the Tea Partiers ("American Grotesque"), again the aforementioned article on Bunny Wailer, and his experience allowing his house to be used for a TV show ("Peyton's Place"). I will continue to search out Sullivan's writing in the future with hopes that his subjects lean toward less obscure areas, but perhaps, that, is one of the charms of this collection.
I was introduced to Alma Guillemoprieto‘s fascinating book The Heart That Bleeds (1995) by Daniel Alarcon from his list “Ten Powerful Books from the L...moreI was introduced to Alma Guillemoprieto‘s fascinating book The Heart That Bleeds (1995) by Daniel Alarcon from his list “Ten Powerful Books from the Latin American Canon” in the P.S. section of his novel Lost City Radio. It is a series of dispatches that Guillemoprieto wrote for the New Yorker in the late 80s and early 90s on different situations in several Latin American countries. It is dated in that all of the dispatches are from 1989 to 1993, but she is a compelling storyteller and resourceful reporter that weaves history, and culture into her dispatches that remain worthwhile accounts of Latin America.
Since I am planning to visit Peru this summer I wanted to read up on Peru’s recent history, so I started with the dispatches from Lima in 1990 and 1993 first instead of reading the book in strict chronological order. The dispatch from Lima in 1990 is a fascinating analysis of Mario Vargas Llosa’s loss to upstart second generation Japanese Peruvian Akinori Fujimori in the presidential election. Of course, the men’s fate has changed significantly since then where Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature and Fujimori is serving a prison sentence. The dispatch from 1993 chronicles Fujimori’s brutal response to the escalating violence by the Shining Path terrorist group and their defeat by capturing their leader Guzman. Later in 1996 MRTA seized the ambassador to Japan’s residence and held the occupants captive for 126 days before Fujimori sent in armed forces on a raid in which the hostages were freed and no MRTA members survived. Then in 2000 Fujimori fled to Japan during a corruption scandal. At the time I wondered why Japan allowed him sanctuary and it seems his handling of the hostage crisis was enough for the Japanese government to offer him sanctuary. In 2005 he was arrested in Chile and extradited to Peru and in 2007 he was convicted of ordering illegal search and seizure and sentenced for 6 years in prison. In 2009 he was convicted of human rights violations and sentenced for 25 years and also for embezzlement and given a 7 1/2 year sentence.
I chose to read the Panama dispatch from 1992 next since it is the only Latin American country I have visited so far. This dispatch from Panama City was about Bush’s first visit since the US invasion and arrest of Manuel Noriega in 1989 and the instability of the country at that time. It discussed the history of 21 years between Omar Torrijo’s rise and Noriega’s fall. Torrijos did much to further the standard if living in panama by rewriting banking laws so that it resembled Switzerland. He solved the Panama Canal Treaty and reduced unemployment, illiteracy, and child mortality rates. However, he played arbitrarily with press freedoms and citizen’s rights and was indirectly or directly responsible for 90 political deaths. As of 2010, Panama has recovered to become the second most competitive economy in Latin America and has plans to expand the Panama Canal assuring prosperity for years to come.
I was interested to see what Guillemoprieto had to say about Nicaragua as well since I recently read Salman Rushdie’s book about the country, The Jaguar’s Smile. Thus, I read the dispatch from Managua in 1990. This recounts when Daniel Ortega lost the election for the Sandinistas to figurehead Violeta Chamorro (widow of murdered newspaper editor Pedro Joaquin Chamorro). However, Ortega would return to power in 2006 and was recently reelected in 2011 as well. Today Nicaragua still relies heavily on remittances form Nicaraguans living abroad, but has emerged as a location for the emigration of retirees from North America and Europe.
Mexico is on my short list of countries to visit and is the birthplace of the author, so the next sections I read were the two dispatched from Mexico City. The first dispatch from 1990 is a moving chronicle of the connection between garbage pickers and the Mexico’s political machine. The second article from 1992 discusses the importance of Mariachi bands and music to the society and culture of Mexico. There was an economic collapse in 1994 and then 2000 the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) lost its first election in 71 years to Vincente Fox from PAN (National Action Party) and Mexico is widely considered a upper-middle income country today.
Colombia had its share of troubles in the 80s and 90s and therefore gets three dispatches: 1989, 1991, and 1993. The first from Bogotá in 1989 analyzes the rising conflict between drug cartels and the government that supports extradition to the US and resulted in an escalation of bombs murders, and chaos. The next dispatch from Medellin in 1991 discussed the rising violence of drug cartels, young punks fulfilling murder contracts, and neighborhood death squads getting rid of the punks for peace and safety. The last dispatch was from Bogotá in 1993 and analyzed how the end of the “Drug War” approach by the Clinton administration affected Columbia. The infamous Pablo Escobar surrenders and then escapes, and later is killed in a raid. There is a national scandal as one of the country’s most popular soccer players Hiurga is jailed for his part in a kidnapping. Between 2002 and 2006 homicides were halved and kidnappings decreased. It seems that since 2010 the violence in Columbia has decreased significantly increasing tourism to Columbia.
Argentina is one of the Latin countries that I know something about since I read Thomas Martinez’s excellent novel, Peron, in college. This dispatch is from 1991 in Buenos Aires and focuses on the transitional Peronist president, Carlos Menem, who allows a freer press than previous known. And Guillemoprieto fleshes out how this affects the society and culture of contemporary Argentina. She touches on the drug trafficking and corruption that surrounds Menem’s administration and discusses the legacy of the Dirty War, in which 9,000 died or were disappeared-a common fate in Latin America of the 80s and 90s. Menem would serve until 1997 and Argentina has survived a massive economic collapse in the mid 90s, and has a female President in Christina Fernanadez Kircher who was recently reelected to second term in 2011.
After this I read the two dispatches from Rio that discuss the culture and politics of Brazil in 1991 and 1993. These are two of her more interesting dispatches since they both give illuminating reflections of the culture and society of Brazil as well as the politics of that time. The first dispatch investigates the Umbanda Afro religion in Rio and mediates on the recent election of Fernando Collor as President. It is impossible to talk about Brazil without mentioning the poverty, drugs, and violence, but also the beauty and passion of the people. The second dispatch is also reveals a lot about Brazilians by examining the massive popularity of telenovelas and the disconnect between life and fantasy that was exposed in the murder of a TV starlet that stole the headlines from the impeachment of the corrupt Fernando Collor. Today Brazil is one of the fastest growing economies in the world after Lula De Silva was ushered in and provided political stability to the country.
The final dispatch that I read was from La Paz, Bolivia in 1992. It has been politically and economically unstable for some time and has been targeted in the past as having produced as much as 1/3 of the coca for all the cocaine produced in the 90s. Guillemoprieto focuses on the connections between industries like mining and cocoa farming in relation to politics and Bolivia’s future.
All in all, a fascinating look back at a region struggling with history and the future.(less)
Their Heads Are Green And Their Hands Are Blue (1963) is a collection of essays about travel by Paul Bowles. Bowles has a gift for telling observation...moreTheir Heads Are Green And Their Hands Are Blue (1963) is a collection of essays about travel by Paul Bowles. Bowles has a gift for telling observations about travel in places that weren't really meant for tourists, as well as exposing interesting aspects of the people who live in the obscure places he traveled. "Fish Traps and Private Business" is about his travels in Sri Lanka (Ceylon)--a place that he once had a residence. He does an overview of the culture and religion of North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria). Travel in India is covered in "Notes Mailed at Nagercoil." One of the more interesting pieces was his portrait of the average Moslem, who Bowles suggests is about to disappear in the near future, in "Mustapha and His Friends." There is another interesting portrait of a Moroccan character who Bowles brings to Turkey to help him navigate the country in "A Man Must Not Be Very Moslem." Bowles was also a composer and while living in Morocco, Bowles tried to record and preserve the folk music of the region. In "The Rif, to Music" he recounts his time traveling around the region trying to capture music. Bowles celebrates the solitude of the desert in the "baptism Of Solitude." "All Parrots Speak" reveals Bowles appreciation of parrots as pets. The final essay, "The Route to Tassemsit," is another record of his attempts to preserve the local folk music. All in all, it is a very enlightening and entertaining collection of essays about places I would like to travel to, but not in the rustic manner Bowles did.
Arguably: Essays (2011) is Christopher Hitchens' last essay collection. There are a staggering 107 essays from a variety of publications-especially Va...moreArguably: Essays (2011) is Christopher Hitchens' last essay collection. There are a staggering 107 essays from a variety of publications-especially Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic among other publications. This includes a number of book reviews from unlikely books like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows to others that would seems more likely to be among his interests like A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, by Alistair Horne and Norman Sherry's second volume of the biography of Graham Greene. There are also several introductions to books like Animal Farm by George Orwell and Out Man In Havana by Graham Greene. The book is broken into the following sections: "All American," ""Eclectic Affinities," "Amusements, Annoyances, and Disappointments," "Offshore Accounts," "Legacies of Totalitarianism," "Words' Worth." I think I can agree with Hitchens on many writers and thinkers who we both admire, which include: Orwell, Greene, Evelyn Waugh, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Edward Said, Salman Rushdie, J.G. Ballard, Gustav Flaubert, and Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Several of the subjects he discussed in his essay inspire me to seek out their work, for example: Charles Dickens (limited to having only read two novels), Philip Larkin, P.G. Wodehouse, Anthony Powell, George Fraser, and Hillary Mantell. All in a very interesting, engaging and eclectic collection of essay there are very few that I do not agree with or find annoying. It is a wonderful legacy for the recently departed author.(less)
Encounter (2010) is a short book of essays by the great Milan Kundera. I find his prose writing as impressive as his fiction writing. This collection...moreEncounter (2010) is a short book of essays by the great Milan Kundera. I find his prose writing as impressive as his fiction writing. This collection is no exception and stands along his three other great books of essays:The Art of the Novel, Testaments Betrayed, and The Curtain. There are a variety of essays in the collection, but most of them have to do with art in one form or another and not just literature. As the son of a composer he has extensive knowledge of classical music and devotes some of the essays to this subject, and there is a long essay on the painting of Francis Bacon. But most of the essays focus on authors like Rabelais, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Anatole France, Patrick Chamoseau, Phillip Roth or works like Dostoevsky's The Idiot and Celine's From Castle to Castle. I think Kundera makes incisive insights about these subjects and has impeccable taste in his summations of literature. I cam away from this book looking to read Anatole France's novel The Gods Are Athrist, Patrick Chamiseau's Solibo Magnificent, and Curzio Malaparte's two great works Kaputt and The Skin.(less)