Bought this for $15 today at McNally Jackson and read it in about an hour in a park in Brooklyn before hanging with an old friend. It's fifty somethinBought this for $15 today at McNally Jackson and read it in about an hour in a park in Brooklyn before hanging with an old friend. It's fifty something pages but I got it because I wanted to see how he positioned/pulled-off three-page essays on Kafka, Beckett, Doestoevsky. It's a really short book, quicker than most #longreads online, but it has two stupendous Beckett-related LOLs worth the sticker price. Otherwise, he seems like a brother of the same mind, unblind, when it comes to thoughts on writing and reading, which is what this is -- a fine balance between the both, albeit such a slight publication I write it off in part as a donation to the supremely supportable charity known as Dalkey Archive...more
I didn't have the highest opinion of this book or its author when I first heard of it. But since I've been heading toward a sort of not-very-militantI didn't have the highest opinion of this book or its author when I first heard of it. But since I've been heading toward a sort of not-very-militant veganism lately, I decided to give it a go when I saw a copy online for a penny plus shipping. It's a worthwhile read, especially as a moral argument -- that is, it's commendable as a somewhat formally inventive elaboration of the timeless conflict between wrong and right. The author's Judaic heritage helps him out in this sense, plus there's the heft of his grandmother's Holocaust survival and the perfectly handled (ie, not heavy-handed) association he suggests between the systemic execution of 50 billion animals a year for human consumption and the systemic execution of 12 million humans by the Nazis. Heft also comes in the form of the fact that animal agriculture (factory farming in particular) is the foremost contributor to global warming, more than emissions by a good deal. Bits that struck me included the fact that, thanks to factory farming, the price of meat hasn't really increased in decades whereas the price of everything else has quadrupled at least. Eating animals is a personal decision with global political ramifications. I love tacos al pastor, cheeseburgers, grilled kabobs, all sorts of fish, on and on, but I sort of feel like I've eaten my meat. I have the intelligence and funds and knowledge/creativity in the kitchen to eat mostly plants, grains, beans etc and be healthy and happy while not contributing to the general suffering of animals or degradation/endangerment of the planet in particular. The author's tone and mild formal inventiveness at first irritated me but it (the tone and my irritation) fell away as he unleashed the facts. I didn't mind parts in the first-person, but toward the end I skimmed gratuitous descriptions of eviscerated and dismembered and/or brutalized animals. In general, a good read that reinforced for me half-formed thoughts on the topic, that laid-out a few facts previously unknown to me, and most importantly that mapped moral complexities related to the stuff with which we stuff our faces. ...more
Surprisingly compelling, quick, episodic, autobiographical reportage. I wasn't able to make it through the author's first novel -- thought it was tooSurprisingly compelling, quick, episodic, autobiographical reportage. I wasn't able to make it through the author's first novel -- thought it was too mannered, too falsely Sebaldian. But this, addled with facts and photos, feels absolutely real, albeit not a proper novel. A labyrinth (not a maze) in which the author finds himself and his home city in its center. Worth it for the chapter on the ubiquitous Nigerian e-mail scam and the OMG immolation of a young thief. Loved the assertion that if John Updike had been from and written about Lagos instead of Shillington, PA, he would have won the Nobel Prize twenty years before he died. Definitely worth a look -- will probably try "Open City" again....more
LOLs early on and full-page Boschian panels of battles with red ants. The story broke apart but not the art. I met the author a few years ago at a booLOLs early on and full-page Boschian panels of battles with red ants. The story broke apart but not the art. I met the author a few years ago at a book release party for one of his friends who played in a band with a friend of mine. Of all the books in the store devoted to comics and graphic novels etc, I was most attracted to one that turned out to be his. Been meaning to look at his stuff ever since. His drawing is unmistakably his own at a glance. ...more
4.75 stars. It's too long by 175 pages at least, the two serious acts of violence (one aggressive, one accidental) dramatized in the present story see4.75 stars. It's too long by 175 pages at least, the two serious acts of violence (one aggressive, one accidental) dramatized in the present story seemed cheap and almost cartoonish, and throughout there was an irritating and I suppose intentional antecedent issue where the pronoun "he" could refer to more than one character but always referred to the section's primary subject (Jude or Willem). But these are wabi-sabish flaws built in to a solidly structured, extraordinarily characterized, steadily and flowingly told fairy tale of contemporary life in New York lived by four friends from college (Cambridge, MA). It's sort of a post-identity novel, with black characters saying they're not black, with Jude described as "the post-man," with Willem claiming he's not gay when he lives with a man. It's the sort of novel that exaggerates human specificity to evoke the complexity of existence beyond reductions of race, class, sexuality. Which is what great lit does. Reducing this to "a gay novel," which I saw online somewhere too, seems really off to me, really shallow, since this seems more about friendship, long-term bonds, relationship depths/complexities than what you might expect from "a gay novel." Really most of the gay sex is unwanted if not always nonconsensual in this -- and most of the gay men are sexual predators/pedophiles in Jude's past. The central relationship is definitely "emotionally homosexual" but its physical aspects are minimal-- I think it's a great strength of this novel, the way it complexifies simple reductive terms in general. For now this is the best Bret Easton Ellis book ever written, the work of a mature BEE pumped up on Tolstoy. At times reminiscent of 2666 (the part about the critics), of Cormac McCarthy (The Judge in Blood Meridian), structurally reminded me of Anna Karenina the way it gracefully revolved through characters so time seemed to really pass section by section. Loved the intermittent switch to Harold's letters to Willem. Loved JB's paintings -- felt like the writer knows her art (liked googling references to artists I didn't know to reinforce her descriptions). But also I didn't feel the author's presence throughout -- no winks to the reader etc, no cutesy word play or sense that she was savoring the language, not even when it streaked in solid, gorgeous sentences across and down the page. Loved most essayistic, insightful jags for example about how this was the age of discipline. Really an impressive, fully realized, ambitious, audacious, gripping novel -- its density and depth reduce possibility that it seems emotionally manipulative since it's emotionally charged to the max and would've been too much in something much shorter. Its withholding of pertinent backstory through the first two thirds works because so much of Jude's relationships are about withholding -- all he has to say is sex isn't fun and things would be so much easier but he can't say that because of his past. Also the withholding worked as it always does -- to amp up the narrative drive -- without annoying me. Anyway, more later -- a major novel, a major writer, should be nominated for all the awards....more
Formally, this seems to intentionally collapse from its initial steady state, paralleling the characters' path. Thought it lacked audacity and memorabFormally, this seems to intentionally collapse from its initial steady state, paralleling the characters' path. Thought it lacked audacity and memorable images until a giant champagne bottle met its doom. The prose often flexed serious old-timey '50s/'60s chops. Insightful, gracefully phrased moments more often popped on pages that seemed less worked. Stretches early on and Preston's Phishy bits, particularly, were really solid reading. A talented writer -- I look forward to what comes next....more
Much weaker than Growth of the Soil, Hunger, or Pan. Disappointing. Hard to stick with. Zone outs aplenty. Didn't engage me. Wonky translation, or atMuch weaker than Growth of the Soil, Hunger, or Pan. Disappointing. Hard to stick with. Zone outs aplenty. Didn't engage me. Wonky translation, or at least one that could use an update. Romantic proto-hippie maniac. All over the place. Cool bit with an angel hallucination. But mostly just not clear enough on a language level. Bailed on page 117, never to return....more
Reviewed this for the Philadelphia Review of Books. Wrote it in early April before I read other reviews -- it went up May 14. (Note: the pun in the fiReviewed this for the Philadelphia Review of Books. Wrote it in early April before I read other reviews -- it went up May 14. (Note: the pun in the final line was inadvertent!): http://philareview.com/2015/05/14/a-m...
This one’s narrative arc tracks an academic year as he teaches in a small fishing village in northern Norway, an isolated spot lorded over by fjords and permanent winter darkness. But progression can also be charted in terms of sticky underpants at first, followed by premature ejaculation during failed attempts at coitus, ending with a triumphant scene that made this reader literally LOL as he closed the book . . .
It’s about exchanging the chrysalis of innocence for the wings of experience, attaining knowledge reserved for adults.
It’s about love, too: erotic, spiritual, artistic. Young KOK loves women, books, music. But he doesn’t quite love himself.
Imagine Kurt Cobain in the classroom in 1987. (KOK was born in December 1968; Cobain in February 1967).
Proust is the patron saint of associative memory, the famous phenomenon in which a cookie dipped in tea revives a forgotten world. KOK and his My Struggle series will become associated with something similar: instead of some innocent trigger evoking memories, Knausgaard’s dramatization of his past evokes memories for readers. My Struggle is the madeleine trigger.
But there’s more to this than that: there’s the image of KOK listening to Led Zep, pacing his apartment with clenched fists, psyching himself up to write. There’s the excitement of his initial immersion in the act of writing. There’s the clueless/confident sense of the importance of what’s been written, a surge at first that hooks the nascent writer for life.
This installment supplies more than enough fodder for those who prefer hot-take ridicule and rage over the time-consuming busy work of reading. I generally look forward to superficial, dismissive, reductive critiques based on the author’s gender and race, tweets along the lines of “do we really need more narratives like this?” (White male tales of heterosexualist adventures.)
Fortunately for My Struggle fans, new volumes won’t stop coming until 2017....more