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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand CĂ©line

Chilling early scene, where Bardamu is alone on scouting expedition, and goes into the town where Germans have just attacked.  Goes to house where young boy has been stabbed and killer with saber, and mother and father are kneeling by bedside where boy's body lies, and all Bardamu cares about is bartering for a bottle of wine, which he pays five francs for, which is too much, he thinks.

Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

Well, I sailed into this one with best of intentions, as a huge fan of Kaufman's screenplays, particularly BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and SYNECHDOCE NEW YORK.

But this book wore me out. Its multiple regressions, its non-linear plot and obsession with time-travel-tomfoolery, its thousand characters (all abandoned before they're at all realistic): that kind of shit just did me in, especially over 700 pages, perhaps twice as a long as I would be comfortable doing the kind of po-mo dance Kaufman was leading me through, although I'm pretty sure he did it consciously: as Randall Jarrell commented about difficult 20th century poetry, in POETRY AND THE AGE, "The poet said 'Since you won't read me, I'll make sure you can't'." 

cultural references = very funny, very mean-spirited

puns = some funny, some funny and stupid, some just very stupid indeed.

You can read a (also overly long) plot summary here. I am no longer a young enough man to provide you one written by myself.

Maybe it was just time for me to read another enormously long, enormously annoying novel, as I did in January of this year.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Black No More by George Schuyler

Fascinating, funny, awkward and strange. Schuyler's 1931 satire of the Harlem Renaissance, American racism and white superiority is considered a vanguard in the field of Afrofuturism (although the term itself would not be coined for another sixty years. Max Disher, a black man, falls in love with a white woman at a Harlem nightclub. When she spurns him, his frustration leads him to a nascent medical technology, "Black No More," which turns black people into white people. Controlled, widespread topsy-turvy ensues. Now Matthew Fisher, he infiltrates a Klan-like organizaton (The Knights of Nordica) run by the woman's father, and eventually attains power and money, and marries the woman. Fear that their offspring will be "half-black" seizes him. That's just the basic plot. Nationally, the new technology wreaks havoc on American society; the South is ravaged by the disappearance of its black population, who flock to the new technology. The Northern cities's black commerce and industry are destroyed by the same. Politics is upended in the search for new racial scapegoats. It's funny - but not ha ha ha funny.

Schuyler, a prominent conservative voice, opposed the civil rights movement, and himself married a wealthy Texas white heiress. He was shunned by the black community.

Currently a musical is in production with music by the Roots' Black Thought.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee Israel

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Disappointing. Not quite finished yet, but need to organize my thoughts. It's not the technical writing itself, which is terrific, and up to Mitchell's usual lapidary standard. It's not the internal lives of the four main characters, the musicians in the 1967 folk-rock band Utopia. There's Elf, singer/keyboardist, stuck in a troubled relationship with another singer. Dean, the bassist with memories of an abusive father and a mother who died early. There's Griff, the drummer, who loses his brother in a car crash. And there's Jasper, lead guitarist, possibly autistic and suffering from a schizophrenic condition of an inner voice - well, an inner knocking, that he can decode using an alphabet key.

Cool stuff, so far. As always with Mitchell.

It's the dialogue that I dislike. The band members in particular, always communicate in highly ironic, punning, and elliptical exchanges that don't ring true to me.

And though Utopia Avenue is an imaginary band, the rest of swinging London's psychedelic rock scene is realistically evoked: Brian Jones of the Stones, the band Traffic, Nick Drake, Herman's Hermits, the Byrds, the painter Francis Bacon, Rod Stewart in his Small Faces days. These characters also speak freely with the members of Utopia Avenue -- I find their presentation more authentic.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

All the Wrong Moves by Sasha Chapin

Unusual book about Chapin's obsession with playing competitive chess, even when he knew he was no good. He studied with fabled teaching grandmaster Benjamin Finegold:
music as "auditory cheesecake"

Isaac, when game is falling apart: "it's mostly fine."

another instance of my manic mind urging me to adopt an unlikely persona that would be discarded as soon as my self-loathing dicated that it should be

the problem with trying to solve your own psychological problems is that you're inside the delusion you're trying to diagnose

Paul Morphy: "The ability to play chess is the sign of a gentleman. The ability to play chess well is the sign of a wasted life."

In a way, it happens to everyone, with age - the volume of experience gets turned down.

hot chess grandmaster Sopika: