Friday, February 07, 2020

The Sun and Her Stars by Donna Rifkind

from The Sun and Her Stars: "Salka chose instead to adorn her house with people... There was a feeling of abundance here, but the extravagance was emotional rather than material..."

A valuable and graceful book that rescues Salka Viertel from being mostly famous as a minor character in Greta Garbo's life. Rifkind firmly establishes Viertel's unique place in history as someone who singlehandedly comforted a generation of European emigrees who made their way to Los Angeles in the 1930s to escape fascism and the murdering Nazis. The grace and richness of Rifkind's use of secondary sources is astounding, as she uses the words (from correspondence and memoirs, novels and films) of the dozens of distinguished writers, artists, actors who found a home in her home, to richly animate the life of the mind her house became for this embattled homeless group. Irwin Shaw, Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann, Christopher Isherwood, Arnold Schoenberg, Billy Wilder are but a few.

For just one example, the following from the novel Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood, about his character Friedrich Bergmann, based on Salka Viertel's husband Bertholdt: "The face was the face of an emperor, but the eyes were the dark mocking eyes of his slave." Or the title of this review, which Rifkind uses to describe Viertel's last view of Berlin when she left:  "Beware, o wanderer, the road is walking too," from a poem by Rilke, another Viertel acquaintance.

Rifkind, with verve, density and grace, makes what could have been an exercise in esoteric filmography into a gripping cultural history of a singular woman and her courage in a terrible time. Highest recommendation!

"See the black souls of the Jews fly away" p 131

Salka's son Peter's novel The Canyon. always mud, heavy and brown, that was the water's brother.

director Rouben Mamoulian, who used a metronome to time Garbo's movements in Queen Christina ("I have been memorizing the room")

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

A rivetting book. A bunch of liars, drunks, addicts and misfits telling lies and embroidering others lies, and somehow, it triangulates into a sort of truth about the genesis of punk rock music.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

The Revisionaries by A.R. Moxon

The doubt was the faith, and the faith was the doubt.

Why I am a Bad Reader

Rather than discuss whether this novel was "good" or "bad," in keeping with the fictive spirit of the book, I'd rather treat myself as a character in the book (one of the all-powerful "readers") and judge my own performance as reader, my rendition of the role. Can God create a being so slippery even He cannot apprehend him?

Well, I'm not too sure of that. It's a relief to me, at least, to be free of A.R. Moxon's intelligent, probing, playful hands. Ron Charles' Washington Post review was what drew me in: it made it seem like it was everything I wanted. (Charles does a good job in capsulizing the "plot" and general movements, thank God, so check him out.) Late in the year, the book flew up to the top of my Christmas list, and I soon dove right in.

I am a bad reader because I insist on finishing monstrously long, incredibly discursive experimental novels that make me wonder what's the difference between a publishable bad novel, and an unpublishable bad novel. I read a lot, every day. I read the Washington Post, I read an hour of fiction, I read some poetry, I read or scan online all day long. I have a fetish about reading: keep going. Even this novel, which was borderline boring for the first 200 pages, borderline interesting for the next 200 pages, and careeningly bad for the last 200 pages. Why do I do it? Don't I have something better to do?

In fact, I don't. More than anything else in this life, I read, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

Was I hopeful that it might get better? Yes, for a while, in the middle.

Was I incredulous that it seemed to be getting worse, and wanted to hang around for the gory finish? Definitely.

Was I struck throughout from time to time, by the philosophical speculation and dimension of essential spiritual life given to almost all the main characters? Yes.

Never mind that the final genre for this book is somewhere in the speculative/science fiction - fantasy realm, a realm I largely abandoned when I was about 13 years old.

But Moxon is also an interesting twitter-er, and publishes this newsletter about the process of writing TR which reminded me of some of my youthful conversations with friends about getting something going on the page.

But why even make it a choice? Why make me the middle man in some moralizing transfiguring partially visible comic book freak show nonsense?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Trump Sky Alpha by Mark Doten

from the NY Times review, a quote from Jonathan Swift: "Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

The opening section -- and its paired section very close to the end-- are in Trump's voice, first-person, and the first section led me to believe this was going to be an entirely different book. The lengthy middle of the book is a less interesting story of "researching the end of the internet" after civilization has largely been destroyed by nuclear weapons, after the internet has mysteriously gone down for four days, wrecking the global market and triggering the ensuing maelstrom. Well, Trump actually presses the button.

Enjoyable but strange. The Trump sections - particularly the first - were stunning. I'm impressed overall with Doten's work.

...Trump is a symptom of the internet, of American sickness on the internet, he's an internet creation, this avatar of white regressive blowhard resentment...

Cucktard, ashtray fags. Those words, that time.

They say that every film is a documentary of the actors in it, and the actors all bad, in every movie, they have always been bad...