I took a walk around the Silver Lake reservoir at sunset, beside a silent, padding coyote; for a quarter mile, maybe, separated by a wire face. Passing joggers proved indifferent, as was their right.
· Chastity Belt are killing it
· I always kind of hated the song Dreams until I heard Electric Peanut Butter Company’s funk-psyche rendition of it
· Back when I was living in DC and spending all my money at the DJ Hut (RIP (I was never a DJ)) I was all about the DV/MD/VA Lo-Budget productions hip hop scene, of whom I gather Oddissee kind of blew up the biggest. Anyway, revisiting Ken Starr/Kev Brown/etc. this month made me feel really old. What’s going on in DC anymore? Does Florida Avenue Grill still exist? Did the Kogood Gallery ever fix its water floors? Someone catch me up.
· Compare Miguel and J. Cole’s Come Through and Chill to the Bilal/Mos Def/Common track Reminisce, then come back and thank me
· Look, I was surprised as you are to discover I really liked another Andre Bird album but shit, son, here we are
How to Become a Virgin by Quentin Crisp – An unnecessary though largely pleasant addendum to Crisp’s previous autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, dealing with the famed Bohemian homosexual’s life after he attained celebrity status. It’s not much of a book, really, and I suppose I could only recommend it to Crisp completists, which I guess as it turns out, I am, because I thought there was a lot of funny stuff in here.
Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm – An earthy if unspectacular story of an everyman German youth enlisting in World War I. One upside of decimating the intellectual flower of Europe to the horrors of modern warfare is that you got a lot of really good, really complex, really different fictionalized perspectives from those happy souls who survived it, by the standard of which Shlump is kind of middling. It has this sort of Teutonic sensitivity that reminded me a bit of Goethe or Hesse, but it can’t really be compared to a lot of other books on the topic, for instance, this month’s stand out Blood Dark, read down for more.
The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa – To dislike a book it is not enough only to note that it has been well reviewed, and, despite all odds, there are some very fine writers who have won the Nobel prize. This fictionalized history of the final days of Rafael Trujillo, Panamanian dictator 1930-1989, is totally OK. It is an absolutely tolerable book. It’s a little longer than it should be, and the nested secret is no sort of secret at all, and I didn’t really find the prose scintillating, but there’s nothing intolerable about it. It probably would not crack my top ten list of books about tyranny; Latin America section, but there are a lot of fabulous stuff in that section so that’s not altogether shameful? I could probably do a few hundred words here about the peculiar phenomenon of the mediocre ‘literary’ novel, occasional hallmarks of which are modest structural complexity, relatively simple prose, and an emphasis on visceral horror which is for whatever reason codes as ‘important’ to many readers, but I’ll spare you. Wait, shit, I didn’t spare you at all. Sorry.
The Time Wanderers by the Strugatsky Brothers – I guess it turns out this is the (last?) in a ten book cycle dealing with a sort of future Soviet utopia’s attempts to colonize the galaxy, with last weeks Hard to Be a God in the same arch. This is not bad by any means, faux-collected documents about humanity’s attempts to reach further stages of evolution, more or less, but I don’t really like sci-fi, I mean I don’t have much of a tooth for it, and I think by this point I was just sort of at my quota, so to speak. I genuinely did not like any of these nearly as much as Roadside Picnic, which, in fairness is the acknowledged masterpiece.
Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud – Judaism is an offshoot of the heretical Egyptian monotheistic cult of Aten, all religion (and human society basically) comes from a man’s desire to kill his father, Freud is absolutely batshit entertaining, it is fucking certifiable anyone ever took any of this as being science in the slightest sense, let alone thought to use its tenants therapeutically. Fun, though!
The Quick Red Fox by John D. MacDonald – I really liked my last Macdonald, but this take on the classic two-fisted private detective fell pretty flat to me, as do most of these kinds of stories post-Ross McDonald.
Uncertain Glory by Joan Sales –– The pitch is Dostoevsky meets For Whom the Bell Tolls, but to describe this as being a love triangle during the Spanish Civil War would be to exaggerate the degree of narrative here. Like the great Russian, there are a lot of long, somewhat stilted conversations about morality and the duality of man and so forth, which are…again, tolerable (that’s sort of been this week’s theme) but that’s a high bar to set for yourself genius wise and gun to my head I didn’t quite feel Sales met it. The earthier stuff about getting bread in wartime Barcelona and so forth was more interesting, but there was sadly less of it.
Equal Danger by Leonard Sciascia –An upright inspector investigates a murder in a fictionalized country, in the course of which he’s forced to confront the omnipresent corruption of his and, let’s be blunt, human society. Somewhere between Hammet and Kafka, this is Sciascia at his purest, an articulate expression of anguish at the state of post-war Italy, human weakness and insensitivity, wrapped in a reasonably compelling noir package. Pretty excellent, worth your time.
Three to Kill by Jean-Patrick Manchette – A middling bourgeoise businessman is targeted for assassination, and finds himself forced to discover the tiger which has always lurked beneath his surface. Again Manchette shows an enormous genius for reconstituting hackneyed genre premise (in broad strokes this could be a very bad Liam Neeson movie) into a savage commentary on the hideous banalities of the modern age. At turns hysterical and horrifying, this is my favorite Manchette (no small praise), and something of a masterpiece. Strong recommendation.
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – The dreamy, somewhat incoherent story of an American couple who go traveling in North Africa in the latter stages of Colonialism (though this bit isn’t that important) and gradually (actually not that gradually it’s a pretty short book) lose their personhood and sanity, this is a rough one to write a capsule review for. It’s beautiful, and strange, and its written in such a way at to evoke a mood rather then theme, or at least not a theme that can be easily explained—unless to say it deals with the sort of universal desire to desert the obligations, both social and internal, which make up our self-identity, and be diluted into some vaster tableau. Erotic, horrifying, very interesting, take a look at it.
The Instant Enemy by Ross McDonald – The story of sad-eyed tough guy Lew Archer’s attempt to save the life of a troubled young hooligan, and the endless spurt of tragic back story which comes out as a result. You know Ross McDonald is one of the greats because even though this book does not make any motherfucking sense it’s still fabulous. With a chalkboard I could not follow along with the labyrinthine complexities of this investigation, but the writing is on point, and the moral version defined within – a sadder, more sympathetic one then offered by his predecessors – is more than worth the price of admission.
The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz – A sometimes sweet but generally nightmarish re-creation of the author’s youth in a small city in Poland. This reminded me a lot of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, in its mad little vignettes which spin off in unexpected directions, and a little of Felisberto Hernandez, in its eroticized obsession with non-human objects and creatures, and a little bit of Proust in its minute recreation of childhood experience. A beautiful little dream of a book, something strange to savor and get lost in.
Totem and Taboo by Sigmund Freud – Enormously stimulating, if complete nonsense. Apart from the monomaniacal obsession with seeing Oedipus behind literally every aspect of human civilization, as well as what I can’t help but feel is an exaggerated emphasis on the defining importance of incest-avoidance as a societal bedrock, there’s the utterlyLouid absurd idea that the processes of an individual mind, dimly understood, could be transferred meaningfully onto the intellectual processes of the entire species. Again, it’s complete nonsense but boy was it fun.
Blood Dark by Louis Guilloux – Extraordinary. A WWI novel without combat, a very early absurdist text, existentialism before existentialism, Blood Dark is another one of those novels that a couple of hundred words isn’t really going to do justice to. The story of a faded, miserable, deformed academic, whose existence is dominated by a pointless and vague but still in some sense admirable crusade against – what, exactly? His fellow man, the circumstances enforced upon them by a cruel circumstance or a still more terrible deity. The surrounding cast of hypocrites, sadistic false patriots, weak saints, elderly lovers and corrupt bourgeoisie offer a scathing comment on the state of the French nation in the last year of WWI, but our pseudo-hero’s crusade, indifferently and pointlessly pursued, is at the heart of this masterpiece. This is bitter black by not nihilistic, and in contrast to a lot of his successors, Guilloux works to mine some value out of the ludicrous awfulness of the human condition, rather than wallowing pointlessly in it. Very strong recommendation, assuming, you know, you have the energy and time to spare.
The Carter of 'La Providence' by Georges Simenon – I picked this up thinking it was one of Simenon’s gritty, miserable noirs, only to discover with some modest disappointment that it regarded another investigation his implacable, largely silent ogre Maigret. Since I actually don’t really care in the slightest about the internal plot mechanisms of mysteries, I find procedurals kind of tedious, which makes me not a very good judge of whether or not this is a good book. The stuff about the grand canal system was kind of a hoot, though, he’s got an admirable sense of place.
Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa – Half a dozen stories, by turns humorous and rather horrifying. Akutagawa is a very sly writer, with a deceptively simple style, nested in a lot of traditional Japanese mythology but easily accessible to a Western audience. Yam Gruel – a mocking myth about a pointless, pathetic official whose existence is given meaning by a desire to gorge himself on the eponymous breakfast food – is a lovely little marvel in particular. Lots of fun. Quick sidenote – anyone want to tell me why Kurosawa mis-titled his famous film? This is not a rhetorical question, I’m confused.