Saturday, June 25, 2005

Enough Time Evidently

While I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more, I have discovered that it is not unusual for me to read an entire book in a single day. That said, it is still a marvel to read a tome in an evening, between dinner and a ballgame. Such was the case with Letters to A Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens. Following the cue of Rilke Hitchens proclaimed an imperative to push against entrenched opinions and be true to oneself, regardless of consequent flak. This was published in June of 2001: isn't it strange how innocent Hitch appears at that juncture before his poodle press found proper stride?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Enough Time

Since the completion of Call It Sleep I have been tossed about, dodging stress and sleep deprivation (cite the NBA Finals and serial dehydration), I have poked into several pieces by Wendell Berry and EM Forster. There is much to applaud in both writers.
The group has started a biography of Lincoln which I both like and have issue with. Compounding this is a special offer from the NYTimes which provides a free trial of daily service for eight weeks. It is enough to long for Candide's garden with a endless supply of espresso, cigars and Pilsner.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Call It Sleep

Finished this remarkable tome on Saturday and was floored by its energy, its language. Spoke to Harold on Sunday and told him of my recent reading. When informed that I read Blood Meridian and Suttree, he asked if I was sober.

Roth grips the reader in a similar fashion.

Against the piebald press of cloud in the craggy furrow of the west, a lone flag on top of a school-steeple blew out stiff as a key. In the shelter of a doorway across the gutter, a cluster of children shouted in monotone up at the sky: Rain, rain go away, come again some oddeh day. (124)

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Last week the CJ had an article, reprinted from a Connecticut subsidiary I believe, about elaborate libraries in domestic residences. It was an intriguing article, especially for the middle of week in the Louisville Features section. There was a pulled quote about how in an age of media rooms, how rare it is to find a display of books and how, the woman quoted, in the absence thereof, one questions whether one wants these people to be one's friends.
Do I concur with the statement?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dreading To Cross-Post

Along with my mates I recently read and finally completed Collapse by Jared Diamond: provactive, bold and flawed - still worth the effort for most intrgued by the sliding scale of viable sustainment on this fragile rock.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Yurodivy (Suttree to Singer in a week)

The above term refers to a Russian tradition of the holy fool who speaks of conscience and clemency against tyranny. This figure is featured as a foil of sort in many aspects of Russian History generally but specifically in the accounts surrounding Boris Godunov, both the play by Pushkin and the Opera by Mussorgsky. There is evidence of a similar sensation gracing the riverbanks in Cormac McCarthy's Suttree. It isn't Cornelius Suttree himself that waxes in praise of folly, rather, a protean band of the dispossessed that haunts the shadows, evoking redemption and inverting the relative gospel of Horatio Alger. These characters are invisible people, like the "invisible" inhabitants of Carson McCullers' netherworld. These are miserable souls who eke out livings and suffer along the societal and geographical margins. Acting as a hub to this slipstream of human detritus is Sutree, the embattled observer. It is only within his dreams that Suttree confronts the reasons he abandoned his family and moved to a house boat on the banks of the Tennessee. These references are oblique at best but display a festering intimacy with this troubled soul. An element of comic torque is provided via the character of Gene Harrogate, a backwoods dreamer whose sexual predilection for watermelons engenders a bizarre spiral of encounters with Suttree. There isn't much per denouement in the novel, nor shimmering crescendos. There is an exhaustion of the body organic and shift in policy - the novel ends with the construction of the interstate and the demolition of the riverbank shanties, not echoing the perverse vanity of Robert Mugabe by any means.

As I await the forthcoming McCarthy novel I elected to shift gears in way that was perhaps influenced by Joel's reference to Isaac Babel or perhaps by the blissful hours I spent among the stacks in Indianapolis and Bloomington on Tuesday. I sat on the floor for the better part of a hour, perusing the tomes of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Singer is one of those figures that I know about but have never taken the time to truly familiarize myself with or actually read. This was resolved on Wednesday as I began reading The Certificate. It is a novel delightful and dark. The time of its composition was unknown at the time of its translation and publication. I must admit that I agree with its translator as believing that it is a young man's book. Thus it was likely written not long after its date of activity of 1922 in Warsaw. The characters are remarkably strong in their definition and, consequently, as loose and dislodged as all of humanity in their actions. The scope of the conversations within the novel is brazen and remniscent of Settembrini and Naphta in Magic Mountain, the latter providing a sinister air to Singer's minor characters, particularly one that doesn't admit an argument of Spinoza as Baruch wasn't a communist! David, the protagonist, is an agreeable character, quite culpable of contradiction, especially towards the behavior of the sexes. I had thought of then reading Shadow On The Hudson by Singer, which I own, but elected to touch base with another neglected treasure Call It Sleep by Henry Roth. The unexpected rains last night prodded my attention to a book that Joel recently gave me: Shostakovich and Stalin by Solomon Volkov. I read fifty pages and was impressed with Volkov comparing the relationship of Nicholas I and Pushkin in lieu of the Decembrist Uprising with the dire times of Shostakovich and Koba The Dread.

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Proust in the Pantry (aroost)

Time spent with Umberto Eco entails risks. Such violent opinions surround his work. Is the prose transportive in its glimmering ranks of ideas or is it a posh replication of Kafka's snowy fields of confusion? His latest novel the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana yearns to achieve in both directions, (though a subtle title was not a priority) a palindrome of intentions that unlike Joyce's efforts at the Epic, is easily read as one wades through minutiae about Italian pop culture, only to be rescued by a singular act, one shoveled under the psychic armaments of amnesia.

Ed might recognize the plot, a newly disabled intellectual decides to spend time in his grandparents' home to undergo a survey of the existential plumbing. The angle of penetration with this tome is that the protagonist has no memory of his life but only of the books he has read. Midway through the text one is weary of the banality of childhood evil and all its minions. Somehow the tendrils of the Fascist media are sensed by the adult reader as subverting its original intent, underscoring the effect it had on the children of the age. It is safe to say, that Eco corrects in mid-flight (though, again, in which direction) and the ending is a remarkable flourish, one that beckons like the trumpet in Foucault's Pendulum.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Memorable Passages

By The war's end I had learned a great deal, not only how babies are born but also how Jews die. -- Umberto Eco

He's a lying, self-serving, fat-assed. chain-smoking, drunken opportunistic, cynical contrarian. -- A British journalist describing Christopher Hitchens

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. -- Orwell

That last citation is one of the more haunting opening lines in recent memory.