Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The genre says it all: Domestic Fiction.

Everything about it is neat: the cunning mirror-image plot, the finely-drawn characters, fine without ever spilling over into memorable.  a little too neat for my taste.

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

Working my way back through Johnson's work after his lamentable early death, I realize I'm fonder of the later stuff than the earlier.  This is earlier, the much-fawned-over druggie tales.  The imagery doesn't seems as stunning to me as it seems genre-driven: the surreal-poetry-image, the disconnected narratives, the violence everywhere calmly announced.

I think TREE OF SMOKE is his masterpiece, a real novel, deep.

The World According to Garp by John Irving

Difficult to re-read this now and not know now what I didn't know then.  The cultural moment of Garp -- Irving's sudden celebrity, the big movie they made out of it with big stars (must watch it again) -- overshadows the book.

The whole second half I had largely forgotten.  But the first half is vivid.  There is something about Irving's phrasing that is always memorable even if his characters seem more one-dimensional than real.  The voice is something, though.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

“In my experience, the people who worry about losing their edge, often they fail to see they already lost the blade along time ago.”

My second attempt at reading this. Bought it when it came out in 2009 and got to page 292.  My dim memory is that I was floundering in the sea of Yiddish terms and also, #2, it weren't no Kavalier and Klay.

Loved it this time around.  Thick book -- Chabon really lays it on thick with sense description, and it starts to slow things down halfway through, and take some steam out of the engine of a great noir whodunit -- but Chabon's writing in and of itself is such a great wallowing pleasure, he's always trying to please, and I love the book for that.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Re-read my tattered, literally falling to pieces copy of this 1962 long essay by James Baldwin, a remarkably prescient screed against white complacency and black bewilderment.

Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away.

This is why the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose.

Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.

But at the bottom of my heart  I do not believe this, I think that people can be better than that, and I know that people can be better than they are.  We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.  Anyway, the point here is that we are living in an age of revolution, whether we will or no, and that America is the only Western nation with both the power and, as I hope to suggest, the experience that may help to make these revolutions real and minimize the human damage.

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

Smile by Roddy Doyle

Curious, quick and eerie. It's a grower.  What starts inauspiciously as a first-person about a recently-divorced writer putting his life back in order becomes a much larger psychological drama about displacement, denial and despair.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky



Was he dreaming some sort of abnormal and nonexistent visions at that moment, as from hashish, opium, or wine, which humiliate the reason and distort the soul?

Aglaya turned seriously angry and became twice as pretty.

 There’s no one here who is worth such words!” Aglaya burst out. “No one, no one here is worth your little finger, or your intelligence, or your heart! You’re more honest than all of them, nobler than all of them, better than all of them, kinder than all of them, more intelligent than all of them! There are people here who aren’t worthy of bending down to pick up the handkerchief you’ve just dropped…Why do you humiliate yourself and place yourself lower than everyone else? Why have you twisted everything in yourself, why is there no pride in you? 

Isn't it possible simply to eat me, without demanding that I praise that which has eaten me?


“And meanwhile, even in spite of all my desire, I could never imagine to myself that there is no future life and no providence. Most likely there is all that, but we don't understand anything about the future life and its laws. But if it is so difficult and even completely impossible to understand it, can it be that I will have to answer for being unable to comprehend the unknowable? True, they say, and the prince, of course, along with them, that it is here that obedience is necessary, that one must obey without reasoning, out of sheer good behavior, and that I am bound to be rewarded for my meekness in the other world. We abase providence too much by ascribing our own notions to it, being vexed that we can't understand it. But, again, if it's impossible to understand it, then, I repeat, it is hard to have to answer for something it is not given to man to understand. And if so, how are they going to judge me for being unable to understand the true will and laws of providence? No, we'd better leave religion alone.”


All his life he is unable to be at peace! For him, the thought that he has fulfilled his human obligations so well brings neither peace nor comfort; on the contrary, that is even what irritates him: “This,” he says, “is what I’ve blown my whole life for, this is what has bound me hand and foot, this is what has kept me from discovering gunpowder! If it hadn’t been for that, I’d certainly have discovered either gunpowder or America- I don’t know what for sure, but I’d certainly have discovered it!” What is most characteristic in these gentlemen is that all their lives they are indeed unable to find out for sure what precisely they need so much to discover and what precisely they have been preparing all their lives to discover: gunpowder or America? But of suffering, of longing for discovery, they truly have enough of a share in them for a Columbus or a Galileo.




How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid