Yeah. I went to Joshua Tree? I was in a classroom for the first time in 10 years? I had various misadventures in the city that I’m not gonna fucking talk about cause I don’t even know you, mean, Jesus, quit being so nosey.
· The second Chinoseries kind of didn’t blow my head off, but the third is, if not quite on par with the brilliance of Onra’s first effort, still pretty sick.
· Annoying hipster bands still have some great singles
· J-Live > than Talib Kweli
· Whatever Snoop Dogg is calling himself these days he can still rock
· My brother Michael is responsible for turning me on to the Headless Horses cover of True Love Will Find You in the End
If On A Winter's Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino – A paean to the power and peculiarity of reading, framed with a peculiar meta-narrative by which a reader (the reader) is forced to read the opening of ten different novels without coming to any sort of conclusion. I confess I went into this one warily, since most of the people I know who talk about Calvino generally don’t strike me as that clever, and I thought Invisible Cities was kind of nothing, Borges without the brevity. But I actually quite enjoyed this – the various false novels are both compelling in and of themselves and clever homages to various styles of world literature, and the over-arching story worked for me, albeit somewhat less so. Calvino has an unfortunate stylistic tendency to mistake tautology for insight, and I didn’t find his philosophical ramblings about the nature of literature to be all that brilliant, frankly, but page to page it was a lot of fun. Library, but keep.
Street of No Return by Dave Goodis – A crooner turned alcoholic bum is framed for killing a police officer during a race riot. It’s weird that the most revered genre writers, at least when it comes to mystery, tend not to have any of the qualities that genre books are supposed to have. Chandler, for instance, couldn’t plot a narrative to save his life and Chester Himes’s stuff similarly has a weird tendency to run out in strange directions. Not that I’d put Goodis in that category, but he does have that interesting quality of a slumming ‘literary’ writer. His experiences as being basically, a miserably impoverished alcoholic in Los Angeles, shines (glooms?) through the narrative, and the slice of life bits, about drinking shoe polish to get high or whatever, they really work, in a depressing sort off fashion. But the genre bits in this – the mystery, the action, etc., frankly didn’t interest me in the slightest, and the back story is incoherent, and there’s more of that then there is the good stuff. Library, but drop.
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie – Enchanting! At 16, the author, living in a village in West Africa, reads a book about Greenland and spends the next six years trying to get there. There’s a tremendous joy to this book, a sense of wonder to everything Tete-Michael encounters. Obviously his perspective as a non-westerner going to a non-western society is fascinating for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is there’s no element of self-censorship. He also, more than any other travel writer I can remember reading, is utterly immune to the sort of self-aggrandizement which tends to mar the work of a lot of his confederates. He has the most charming way of tossing off immensely difficult undertaking – ‘that winter I learned to hunt seal and pilot a dog sled’ – as if they were not worthy of mention. Library, but I loved it and would keep it.
So Much Blue by Percival Everett – Three interlocking stories in the life of successful but emotionally absent middle-aged painter, whose failure to deal fully with the events of his past limit his capacity for growth and human interaction. That was a weird summary, but it’s sort of best if you go in blind. There’s something about Everett I really like, I can’t exactly put my finger on it. There’s a…subtlety, both in the language (which is spare and clever and largely unnoticeable) and in the thinking itself. It’s more than that, though, it’s sort of a moral presence, I suppose? Its always dangerous to read a protagonist into an author, but in both this and last week’s Watershed one gets the sense of a man trying to face the problems of human existence squarely, without affectation or exaggeration. Library, they’re all library these days, but keep.
On Being Blue William Gass – A wide ranging overview of the concept of ‘blue’, with particular emphasis on its linguistic and pornographic ramifications. This was fun, if enormously self-indulgent. Gass is like a big league power hitter, swinging for the fences with every sentence. When he hits, you get some really fabulous prose. When he misses, however, it’s a hell of a whiff, and you’re left kind of gasping in sympathetic shame. This was a weird metaphor for someone who fucking hates baseball. Anyway, t’s a hundred pages, I basically had fun with it, your mileage might well vary. Keep if it wasn’t a library book.
Bandarshah by Tayeb Salih – A series of short stories about Salih’s paradigmatic Sudanese village of Wad Hamid, with a (far from exclusive) focus on three generations of exceptional/semi-magical patriarchs, including the eponymous, as a metaphor for the challenges of Sudan/the Arabic world more generally to grapple with the conflicts of modernity. I liked this, I did not like it quite as much as the sublime Season of Migration to the North and the nearly equally fabulous Wedding of Zein. It’s structurally a bit more complex than either of those, which in practice I thought got in the way of Salih’s beautiful prose and profound moral grasp. Library, but I probably wouldn’t keep it not because it’s not good, it is good, but the other two are better and make a cleaner case for Salih’s genius.
The Seven Madmen by Roberto Arlt – A murderer’s row of untermenschen (SP) plot a series of violent crimes in a vague effort to create a fascist regime/new world morality. I gather this novel is sort of an Ur-text for a lot of South American magical realism, with Cortozar and Borges identifying Arlt as influences, and obviously I’m not going to dispute them but I couldn’t see much of that as a reader. It reminded me more of Dostoevsky or maybe Andrei Bely—a great deal of energy is put into exploring the character’s basest urges, there is a lot of ‘I realized then that I would marry the prostitute. But then I thought no, I should shoot her.’ Unlike Dostoevsky, however, who lamented the effects of modernity with similar bitterness, Arlt has no Christ to offer redemption, and the novel comes to verge on nihilism. Which is not in and of itself an unacceptable viewpoint (at least from a literary standpoint), but aesthetically there is a sort of ringing sameness to the thought. It is quite funny, however, and his knives are very, very sharp, and there are predictions about the moral state of humanity that seem quite prescient, particularly as regards the rise of fascism (this was written in 1927). Library, but I’d keep.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) – The death of Ellen Barstyn’s husband forces her out of a lower-middle class lifestyle which she had come to despise, and puts her on the road with her adolescent son in what I gather is Scorsese’s second movie. The ending is too light, but apart from that I really dug this—the dialogue and the various interactions feel very human, very honest, and Barstyn (who won the academy award for this performance) is lively and magnificent.