Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr


Really enjoyed reading this, after some trepidation after reading alot of the review. As a follow up to the stunning ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, it pales somewhat, as it is more in the line of CLOUD ATLAS, a blurring interwoven text about some humans shared devotion for a fragmentary Greek text. It covers from Ancient Greece until some time well in the future aboard an interplanetary spaceship, and visits the sacking of Constaninople,1950s-to-present day Idaho, a  murderous climate activist, and the Korean War.

Quicksand by Steve Toltz


Shades of PANAMA by Thomas McGuane, one of my favorite novels. Toltz's style is frenetic, brilliant and blinding: he stacks up aphorisms and similes like nobody's business, it's too packed with great lines to quote here with any comprehensiveness.

Now he was saying he was tired of thoughts so self-pitying he believed he could hear God throw up in His mouth. (60)

from The Black Riders by Vallejo: 
There are blows in life so violent-I can't answer!
Blows as if from the hatred of God; as if before them,
the deep waters of everything lived through
were backed up in the soul. . . I can't answer! (91)

"Was it Valery who called music a naked woman running mad in the pure night?" (96)

Liam, I don't know about you, but I am just plain furious that I never ever grew out of the adolescent male mind-set. You know, that if your only tool is a penis, every problem looks like a vagina. (158)

I say, "It's an atrocity."
"What is?"
"Your life."
"Not as bad as some, which in a way makes it worse, because I have to feel guilty for not being grateful for my atrocity." (175)

I'm a talented loser. The worst kind. Talented losers become self-aware madmen. (201)

I had an overwhelming craving for a quick fuck and a long nap. Nothing new about that, your Honor. I've been horny and tired my whole life. (220)

If you can't be great, be vague. If they don't know what you're trying to achieve, they can't see that you haven't succeeded in achieving it. (239)

... and besides, he said, like a true poet, my most redeeming shortcoming was my ability to commit 100 percent to a bad idea. (252)

I say: Don't name a disease after me. Name one before me and see
if I run into it. I say: I've racked my narrative
for signs of hubris. (255)

The future is some kind of newfangled yesterday I want no part of... (304)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Orientalism by Edward W. Said


The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke


Strange unsettling sort of boring story of a construction worker who used to be a soccer goalie and gets fired and murders a woman. Rest of narrative follows his unraveling sanity - I guess - as language and time become unreal to him and he waits to be apprehended. Sort of remember seeing a film version of it in college.

The World As I Found It by Bruce Duffy


An amazing experience of a novel, about the imagined life of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and G.E. Moore. Duffy's writing seems almost out of another time, recalling Henry James, and even some of the Victorians. It's a dense, moving, obsessive book

The piano wire was humming, and ever so faintly he was trembling, thinking what a thing it was to dread one's own self -- and to see the self as enemy or other, not as companion, guide, sanctuary. (p. 31)

letter from his father:  No doubt you think your work is an obligation, if one patently self-proclaimed. But if you truly had such a vocation, I am convinced, the world already would have found you. This has not been the case, as is evinced by your own telling lack of convictions; or perhaps by a fear that, beneath it all, you may only be ordinary. (You are not, and will never be, ordinary.) (62)

fully nine-tenths of the world's business was pointless lunacy in the cause of general employment (83)

What is mind? - sniff - no matter. What is matter? - sniff - never mind. (84)

More than life separates the dead from the living, and more than logic separates this world from the next: with logic, there is illogic, too. (121)

Grief (121)

... as his mind, like a dog sled, pulled him along, still thinking... (148)

This is not how things are, and yet we can say how things are not. (148)

(p. 306-307)

Here, I would commend Lichtenberg's suggestion that instead of saying, "I think," we ought to say, "It thinks." (479)

Words were like buckets, he was saying. Each word carries only so much, but the odd thing was how a word might carry more than its measure of meaning, so that it spilled over in a flood.

Monday, March 21, 2022

The Catherine Wheel by Jean Staffod


The prose in this extraordinary dense novel is difficult to pluck from: it is one long glorious knotty vivid piece.

No longer than it took the Catherine wheel to spin itself to nothing and leave the summer sky to the stars did it take her to see that he could not, could never see her. [82]

... these vivacious creatures, brimming with gossip and personal style, loving to quote from Dr. Johnson's dictionary, perpetually happy because their work was finished and all the demands upon them had been withdrawn and they were married to their houses and their habits and their infirmities...[164]

.... she was cast into a shadow by their conflagration, for they were so very young! And their hearts were very simple, and their minds were so clear and shallow, their ambitions so modest and direct that she was certain they would never come to grief. Theirs, in the end, was the supreme talent: they had the talent for happiness and it radiated from them even in their perpetration of these addled, adolescent idiocies; it was their one depth and it amazed her for they had had neither the help of heredity or environment to bring about its cultivation. [263-264]

The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin


A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh


Can't believe I had never read this. Marvelous. Driven to it by its echoes in the Thomas McGuane short story "Fugitives."

Waugh seamless goes from satire to comedy to tragedy, almost in the same sentence sometimes.

Ending more tragic, black humor.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Complete Stories by Evelyn Waugh


This, from Hollywood satire "Excursion To Reality," I found strangely prescient, from 1932.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carre


Mind numbingly long and complicated acting-within-acting-within-terror-cells. May or may not finish it. Awesome early 1970s Greece slutty hippies, which is something.

Friday, February 18, 2022


Tedious John Lennon "book," apparently finished in 1980 but not published until 1986. Some semi-interesting autobiographical stuff about the Beatles, but mostly tedious Joycean punning and Monty-Python-life nonsense. Some good illustrations though.

Nobody's Family is Going to Change by Louise Fitzhugh


Drab, pulseless final "YA" novel from the noted Louise Fitzhugh.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO LIE: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy By Leslie Brody


Interesting if thin biography of Fitzhugh. There was an earlier one from 1991 by Virginia Wolf that is apparently more scholarly. This one is decidedly not. Brody does a lot of speculation about what Harriet might have done, whom she might have, how she might have felt. She does talk to secondary sources, and has some access to correspondence. Her lifelong correspondence with James Merrill and Peter Taylor would be interesting to see. But the photo section is  paltry and it seems like an entire book could be made of Fitzhugh's paintings, drawings, and illustrations. Each published book is plot summarized at length. There's a lengthy afterword explaining the tight control over her unpublished work exercised by her estate (which I would have preferred as a preface). And Fitzhugh's final years are covered in snap - she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1974 at the age of 46. And the decline must have been sad.

She drank too much and seemed to suffer from manic depression/bipolar. There is a real sadness behind it all that is intermittently touched upon.

Fitzhugh was a monumental figure in both her revolutionizing of children's literature, and the strong unapologetic presentation of her sexuality.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Promise by Damon Galgut


Really like this unusual book. I don't know if it's "the most important book of the last ten years," as Edmund White blurbs, but Galgut's style and voice are unique. Time progresses back and forth, past, present and future, and side by side as well, leap-frogging the point of view from a major character, to a minor character, to a slightly more prominent minor character, then back to a main character - and time has passed in the shuttle of lives.

The Lord's creation is amplified when you use heightened language to describe it. [71]

Perhaps she doesn't pray in these words, or in any words at all, many prayers are uttered without language and they rise like all the rest. Or perhaps she prays for other things, because prayers are secret in the end, and not all to the same god. [83]

Sidewalk by Mitchell Duneier


Another fascinating urban ethnographic fieldwork study by my old college chum Mitchell Duneier. He spends several years among the sidewalk magazine vendors on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, NY, delving deeply into the culture, commerce and psychology of the mostly "unhoused" African American men who created a micro economic ecosystem in order to maintain their own self-respect.

To be sure, there are some "broken windows" on these blocks. But mostly there are windows that look broken to people who are just passing by. Because Americans ruthlessly use race and class categories as they nagivate through life, many citizens generalize from the actual broken windows to all the windows that look like them-- and assume that a person who looks broken must be shattered, when in fact he is trying to fix himself as best he can. Only by understanding the rich social organization of the sidewalk, in all its complexitiy, might citizens and politicians appreciate how much is lost when we accept the idea that the presence of a few broken windows justifies tearing down the whole informal structure. [315]

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry


Great collection of short stories by the noted Irish novelist. I was drawn in by the final story, ROETHKE IN THE BUGHOUSE, about American poet Theodore Roethke's brief pungent nervous breakdown while visiting the West of Ireland. But all the stories are good.

You know they say it warms your three times, wood. When you cut it down, when you carry it, when you burn it. [35]

...proud as a hawk and poor as a wren... [73]

Love, we are reminded, yet again, is not about staring into each other's eyes; love is about staring out together in the same direction, even if the gaze has menace or badness underneath. [96]

"Marry the shop girl," she said. "Marry the factory line. Marry the barmaid. MARRY THE WHORE. But never, never marry the actress, Tony."

Monday, January 24, 2022

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart


Like the first half very much but was disappointed with the second which I found hasty, melodramatic, and mis-focused. 
Set squarely in the current moment, the novel follows five months in upstate New York where three old dear college friends and several others sequester to escape the virus.

But he had to think like a character in a Chekhov play, forever taunted by desires but trapped in a life much too small to accommodate the entirety of a human being. [120]

Monday, January 17, 2022

Rizzio by Denisa Mina

Good weird one from the accomplished Scottish police/procedural novelist. But just a long short story, really.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Ghetto by Mitchell Duneier


A very interesting sociological history of the American "ghetto," tracking its origins (at least eytmologically) to the Venetian ghettos of the 1500s, where Jews were sequestered. My old college chum analyzes a handful of scholars since the 1940s who have attempted to quantitize and reason out how the American ghetto began and how it might be corrected. Among other revelations to me, Duneier traces the origin of the concept of "white privilege" to Blauner in 1972.

This made it easier for the Nazis to take the genocide to the Jews than to take the Jews to the genocide. [218]

The Magician by Colm Tóibín


Excellent if a little muted. I feel ashamed to have never finished any of Thomas Mann's full-length novels, though I continue to return to them, so it was a guilty pleasure to read this novelistic treatment of Mann's life. 

Toibin was reportedly motivated by the release of Mann's private journals and letters, which demonstrated his erotic attraction to men. The novel is undercut with a running thread of Mann's conscious and subconscious sexual feelings for men and his apparent decision not to act on them.  At the same time, he had six children with his wife Katia in what the novel illustrates as a lively, loving marriage.

Mann was a celebrity author and his children and brother suffered from his fame. According to Toibin's novel, he lived mostly for his work, in his study, and left the emotional upbringing of his children to his wife.

Worthwhile but strange.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Crossorads by Jonathan Franzen


Mixed feelings. Definitely too long. First half sailed past me promisingly, but in second half I got bogged down. Another cast of increasingly unsympathetic characters. The faith stuff was good for awhile, but hard to believe that the parents, and son Clem and daughter Becky, would all think (and speak) so profoundly about their faith strengths and disappointments.

Featured Post

Buy my books.

Buy the books on Amazon, and watch videos of some readings.   Please.