Thursday, November 27, 2014

If I don't Breathe How Do I Sleep, poems by Joe Wenderoth

The Fun Parts: Stories by Sam Lipsyte

The Life of John Berryman by John Haffenden

 Advantages to working at Johns Hopkins so far: access to an extraordinary library, ability to find all of Bill Knott's scattered books of poetry.  Amazing poet, a model for me of self-creation.

Revolver: Poems by Robyn Schiff

 Too many words, not enough punctuation.

The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics by Matt Bai

While reading it, kept forgetting what it was about as the unknown-to-me proper names continue to pile up.

One More thing: Stories and Other Stories by BJ Novak

Wanted to hate it.  Liked it. Like heavy Steve Martin, or lite Donald Barthelme.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Something to do while waiting for the next Wolf Hall installment.  Something to do, but not much.

Billy Phelan's Greatest Game by William Kennedy

Re-reading after 30 plus years.  Even better.  "Screwing your own wife is like striking out the pitcher."

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Disappointing, but what was he going to do next?  I was doubtful but willing to try to believe he could pull off another  interconnected-novellas-including-the-future, but the sixth section, "An Horologist's Labyrinth," lost me.  The fantasy/sci fi stuff just made my mind go numb.  Gorgeous writing all over the place, great characters, great settings, the huge presence of lived-life feel that Mitchell so soundly delivered in Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns, but in the end, a solid, sad, Nope from me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald

And as he glowered at Pat he wished that writers could be dispensed with altogether.  If only ideas could be plucked from the inexpensive air!

At a quarter to one, he began to feel hungry -- up to this point every move, or rather every moment, was in the writer's tradition. Even to the faint irritation that no one had annoyed him, no one had bothered him, no one had interfered with the long empty dream which constituted his average day.

Terrific stories: concise, vicious, delicious and sad.  Runyon-esque comedies.  Bleak undercurrents.  Hilarious.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Terrific, sprawling, intense novel about a state social worker in Montana whose web of concern and care and personal struggles widens unexpectedly.  Couldn't put it down.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing

As we make our hell we certainly should like it.  (Hemingway)

It's everything I've forgotten – all the complicated dark mixture of my youth and infancy that made me a fiction writer instead of a fireman or a soldier… Why I chose this God-awful metier of sedentary days and sleepless nights and endless dissatisfaction.  Why I would choose it again. (Fitzgerald)

I showed him [the blue devil] that I could endure him and I made him respect my endurance… Endurance is something that spooks and blue devils respect. [Hannah in T. Williams Night of the Iguana]

Here's the dilemma, let's face it.  I can't recover any nervous stability until I'm able to work again freely, and I can't work again freely until I recover a nervous stability.  (Tennessee Williams)

You know, paralysis in a character can be just as significant and just as dramatic as progress, and is also less shop-worn.  How about Chekhov? (TW)

Such pithiness and soul in all the quoted material from the authors Laing profiles, and she's interesting in charting the intersections of their lives and their shared alcoholic pathologies.  But alas, her own travelogue grows wearying and shapeless, there’s no direction or essential narrator’s voice beneath all her lengthy, “well-written” description.  By the time she get to plumbing the depths of her own childhood awfulness, the drunk aunt or whatever, it’s even more insignificant in relief, against the problems, travails, delusions and triumphs -- the words! -- of the writers she’s talking about.

Of Kennedys & Kings by Harris Wofford

Great history of the civil rights movement and the Kennedy White House, and the post-JFK civil rights struggle.

In the Wolf's Mouth by Adam Foulds

First novel I've read in a month, by the author of the scintillating "The Quickening Maze."

Gulp by Mary Roach

Supremely interesting science writer on lots of disgusting subjects.  "Anal violin" was a new concept to me.

A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren

Love her politics, but her prose is less lovely.  Super dull.  Agree with everything she says, but very little color or like-like deal.  She acknowledges her husband for being a "great kisser," which is kind of hot.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Stunning debut novel about Chechneya.  Sort of The English Patient meets 100 years of Solitude.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Political Fictions by Joan Didion

[I was] distrustful of political highs . . . convinced that the heart of darkness lay not in some error of social organization but in man's own blood.

in which both parties are committed to calibrating the precise level of incremental tinkering required to get elected

Many speeches are scheduled long before they are to be delivered. Thus the commitment to speak precedes the knowledge of any issue to speak about, often causing staff to find or create an issue for the speech.... The routinization of crisis, endemic to the rhetorical presidency, is accompanied by attempted repetitions of charisma. In Reagan's case this style was further reinforced by an ideology and a rhetoric opposed to the Washington establishment, to bureaucrats and bureaucracies.... He serves as a better illustration than any other president of the possibility and danger that presidents might come themselves to think in the terms initially designed to persuade those not capable of fully understanding the policy itself. Having reconfigured the political landscape, the rhetorical presidency comes to reconstitute the president's political understanding.

“The last thing the Democratic Party has wanted to do is declare that there is a possibility for class struggle. The Republicans, however, are perfectly happy to declare class struggle all the time. They are always waging a one-sided class war against the constituency the Democrats nominally represent. In this sense, the Republicans are the only real political party in the United States. They stand for ideology and interest, not compromise.”

note monster hand

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bob Dylan Sleeping, new poems by Sean Enright

Buy it

On Not Dying At 28

                       [Or perhaps I will die at thirty?  Ezra Pound]

I’d written nothing. Two days later, I wed.
In eighteen months my own father was dead.
All I thought about back then was writing.
Or having written, I guess. It was exciting
To me, everything I hadn’t done at all.
When would I start?  My future looked full.
Often I sat there, imagining the movie: 
John Cusack would star, or I’d  play myself. Groovy.
We watched the news on honeymoon in Maine:
A man who stopped a tank was never seen again.

In the cabin my naked wife sat on the top bunk-bed.
She spread her legs, and steered my head.
Looking back, it seems only right
To have survived, if just for a night like that.
Now I’ve written some poems, at last.
They’ll exist until I’m dead, at least.
Yawn.  Look at me, tending my legend, 
In flagrante delicto. Elsewhere, headlines happened.

Fosse by Sam Wasson

Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam

Metaphysical Dog, Frank Bidart

Stunning, revelatory poems.  Cannot be read slow enough, or re-read fast enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered by William H. Pritchard

No One Left to Lie To by Christopher Hitchens

 Mesmerizing as is all of Hitchens.  Had to run off to several critical reviews of the book to protect my sacred love for Bill Clinton.  Was challenged.  Now looking in Hannah Arendt on why it's okay to lie in politics.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Not really a political campaign book, because Obama wrote it when he was 33 and hadn’t even run for anything yet. Really stunning and beautiful (if a little long), and sounds 100% like he wrote every word of it.  I mean, you can HEAR him saying the book.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Greatest Vietnam War novel I've ever read.

For me, Hawke’s death was adequate, not want I wanted exactly, but absurd and tragic enough.  It successfully finished the racial narrative of the book, which I kept wondering how he was going to tie up.  I was more disappointed with Mellas not going back out there.  Apparently, the original draft of the book (he says it took him 40 years to write) was much longer, 1600 pages at one point.  I’d read that long version.  And I hate long versions.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

This Dark Road of Mercy by Wiley Cash

I liked it.  Sort of a page-turner.  Simple, good baseball stuff, little noire-ish.  Not as stunning in intent and delivery as his first, A Land More Kind Than Home, but certainly a solid in the category of "The Difficult Second Album."

Monday, March 03, 2014

Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

I already understand how easily a feeling can become a thought and the other way around. 

On most days I have my head so far up my family's ass I can taste yesterday's borscht

Little Failure: as if The Tin Drum and The Adventures of Augie March has a little funny baby, with photographs, in a good way.

"When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished." Czeslaw Milosz

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch

I lived in your gaze like a false God. But it is the punishment of a false God to become unreal. I have become unreal. You have made me unreal by thinking about me so much. You made me into an object of contemplation. Just like this landscape. I have made it unreal endlessly looking at it instead of entering it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Transgender Dysphoria Blues, new album by Against Me!

Difficult to know how to proceed here, from the start, as I usually lead with a photo (and often never get any further than that).

A tremendously moving set of 10 new songs by Laura Jane Grace, nee Tom Gabel, lead singer, writer, rhythm guitarist and force primeval behind the band Against Me!

I cannot think of an album that has affected me more in the past five years, ten years, fifteen years.  It's pop, sure, or I'm pop, so check in a month from now to see whether the aesthetic impression I'm swamped by remains.

From the first moments of the first song, which I thought was the Pretenders (something I've never thought before about any band except the Pretenders), through the slow songs and the fast ones, it's the most jarring, disturbing, amazing 29 minutes of music I think I've ever heard as a complete piece, a messed-up, triumphant, suicidal narrative that makes no sense, apparently about a transexual prostitute who commits suicide (although it takes me years to figure out all the words, so again, see above, check back).

The double-shot of irony widely reported is that Grace made it known in 2012 that she herself was a trans-gender woman.

I don't know how to handle the vocabulary and am wary of the politics and intellectualism surrounding the issue of trans- culture, so am skipping a photo and just trying to report drily that I love Laura Jane Grace, I loved her in 2007 when I first heard her album New Wave, and am back on board and now listening to TDB for the third time, blinking back tears, fighting goose-bumps at the drama, detail, desire and despair her voice alone conveys.

Billy Bragg, Green Day, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Chrissy Hynde, the Pogues, all ghosts she brought in during the party in a car her new album threw for me in my grey hour and a half of workplace commuting.

A picture of Laura post-, or of Tom pre-, (or of the album cover which is deeply disturbing and graphic) would do nothing but change my focus, which is on the music.  Find the album and dig in.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch

A set piece.  The landscape is thoroughly constricted to a British public school, set in a beautiful wooded area just beyond the reach of suburban sprawl.

The narrative shape of the novel takes from naturalism -- all fortunes tend downward.

Various symbols -- water (river, rain), the sky (the sun, the moon), tall things (the school tower) -- are introduced, but their symbolic meaning is traduced by the great detail and attention Murdoch pays them:  they can no longer be simply translated, e.g., river=sex, river=life, river=adventure, river=freedom, because all of the meanings seem true.

Murdoch's great trope -- the "muddle" -- is used here in her third novel.  It's a stand-in for the human mental and emotional condition.

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