Tuesday, April 29, 2008


it has been almost a week since I last posted. I did experience that familiar joy of finishing an engaging novel, saddened to see it end. the Victor Serge concludes in Mexico, just like Augie March. The two novels may possess further similarity.

I have started John Gray's Black Mass with samizdat. This prompted a reading of chs 8 and 9 of Norman Cohn's book on Millenialism. I was also introduced to the work of Jonathan Spence.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Moribund Dirt

I don't often delve into detail here. I lack the initiative. I would like to stress the significance, regardless, of the Leningrad section of Serge's Unforgiving Years. The shrill detail digs into the reader, lodging within like some punitive treatment, Kafkan or otherwise. There is a feel for the bunker mentality that clamors of authenticity. This recalls the conversations on the Volga in Grossman's Life and Fate. If I could ever act on my character I would hope it would be in the manner of Serge's Daria, the link with the undercover milieu of the novel's opening section in Paris.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Serge's section on the siege is deft and poetic, even more so that Vollmann's treatment of the same in the Shostakoch section of Europe Central. The ruminations at the end of section one and the beginning of the second trace a characterization that Russia is indelibly Asiatic and that all considerations about prospect and predisposition should incorporate such. This reminds me of Mr. Crankshaw and his own arguments to that end.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Grain Of Gain

I feel that the inertia of my holiday lost its way, especially over the hurdles of the home inspection and the advent of the playoffs. I have been reading the Victor Serge the last two days and while I can't quite stomach overtures to cloak and dagger anymore (Tree of Smoke gave me a botulism of empathy) I feel the focus leaving the delightfully sordid streets of Paris and sweeping eastward to the besieged Leningrad. The foggy recollection of Tibet was effective.

I am keeping the Braudel at hand, though the nibbles allowed are minor.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A response

Despite the earthquake and other recent evidence of the incredible, I logged on to Amazon only to discover that they had recommended new books by one of my favorite authors: Bertolt Brecht. Nothing against the trailblazing, activist, misogynist playwright, but I thought if I named my 50 favorite writers i am positive I wouldn't include Brecht. Who would I specify? What does it mean to be a favorite, what if you only wrote one book? Could you be a favorite of Jon Faith? I thought I would put thought to paper but tired after 25.

Top 25
1)Gunter Grass
2)Vladimir Nabokov
3)Thomas Pynchon
4)Haruki Murakami
5)David Mitchell
6)Graham Greene
7)Lev Tolstoy
8)Vasily Grossman
9)Julian Barnes
10)Mario Vargas Llosa
11) Juan Goytisolo
12)Louis Ferdinand Celine
13) Jorge Luis Borges
14) Bohumil Hrabal
15) Umberto Eco
16) George Orwell
17) Nikoli Gogol
18) Cormac Mccarthy
19) Virginia Woolf
20) Carson McCullers
21) Alfred Doblin
22) Patrick White
23) Fyodor Dostoevsky
24)Michel Houlebecq
25)Nathaneal West

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Likely 450 Pages

This has been the haul over these past two days. The Braudel has proved exemplary, Baudolino by Eco is decidedly secondary, if it weren't for the book on the Fourth Crusade, many parts of such, that I read initially in 2000, would have remained rather opaque. The novel is a farce, but a lettered effort.

I hope to ponder in the essay in the Atlantic Monthly that I read this afternoon about Ehud Olmert and David Grossman.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taxes and Germans

Such are the bitter truths of post-industrial ennui. I finished the Grimmelshausen today. The last third of the book was strange, not dissimilar to the concluding pages of The Tin Drum which arcs completely away from the book's momentum. I must admit to liking Grass more, not for his own tribute to G as well as Gruppe 47 but for his heavies: the Danzig Trilogy and The Flounder.

I complained earlier about not having the strength for Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. I am likely drifting into more history-qua-theory (forgive me Randy Aborigine). We shall see.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Book III

I am curious about the chronology of the novel. This third book begins with the protagonist encountering (capturing, actually)a madman named Jupiter who believes he is the Roman deity. A series of erudite exchanges ensue, Jupiter's pontification sounding like some nascent Mabuse. Perhaps I am hasty to jump to such a position. I don't ascribe to some nationalistic determinism. It is a peculiar turn for the narrative, quite removed from the prior parables.


That was quite the scandal. Generated by anxiety, Joel was scathing in his dismissal of Clive Bell. it has been quite the day, not fishing for ripostes, but pondering a review of a book by John Burrow that Joel linked in his last comment. My thoughts have been on Braudel and Bakhtin rather often this afternoon, especially after I lie down to read and coughing ensues.


I likely shouldn't title post with my friend's names. It only leads to association, see? If only Obama understood that you can't mention the obese primates in the corner.


I spent Saturday rereading Grass' Meeting At Telgate as a preamble to tackling Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen. I enjoyed the Grass but read most of it sitting outside and I awoke Sunday with a horrible cough and the trappings of a cold to occupy me during my week of holiday.

I have now read 125 pages of the Grimmelshausen and I have found within the very best of Rabelais and Robert Burton. Unlike the angst of the last 70 years G was writing at time where the idea of cataclysm was accepted as destiny per se, not that sectarian friction sparked a tinderbox across the continent -- all that was telluric, but above such was the very hand of God. The author strikes me as at best a skeptic, a Voltaire without protection, and thus bereft of bile. I am nearly finished with Book II and am impressed with its scope, it is nearly a compendium. It is easy enough to see its possible effect on later writers from Malaparte and Bulatovic to the master himself - Herr Grass.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Roger A. Baylor

Throughout the 90s my good friend would become exasperated by someone trapped by circumstances, usually of their own design, and dismiss them grandly as a weak piece of shit. It should be noted that I have been exasperated.

Those heady days are gone but the concepts persevere. Such was my verdict on Patrick Hamilton's character who repeatedly falls on his sword to redeem his fallen love interest.


Perhaps some landed apples really do disaffect in their proximity. Perhaps I should interrogate my own designs.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I have appeared to slide off the rails again. It remains customary to retreat to history in these instances. This hasn't changed. My source this recent time was Clive Bell, a favorite of mine. His essays on civilization are always intriguing. I don't always agree with his mocking the achievements of the Romans, but alas he does in succeed in charming me every time.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Trading Punches

There isn't much to report since the last post. More of the Hamilton, awash now in repetition, giving some authority to the dismissive. I remain hooked. I have pondered Orwell's Aspidistras and his mumbling bookseller. The latest chapters have yielded further tenebrous banks of isolation suddenly pierced by the attentions of unabashed agent of exploitation.

There is a sniff of isolation on the samizdat front, as well, as ice reigns and several folks have declined their chance to select.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Patrick Hamilton

Consider me a convert, while it is early in the trilogy (p.80 of the 500+), Iam amazed by the pacing, the dialogue, the working class propriety, the fleeting affections of a would-be intellectual. How different from the brooding characters in John Cowper Powys!

It is shocking to think that of the three tomes rereleased by NYRB this trilogy is alleged to be comparitively inferior.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

New Post

It may not have been Publisher's Weekly but one of the reviews cited by Amazon noted that Troyat's penchant for gruesome details made his biography Czar Peter superfluous. I hesitate to term thusly but I did feel a pang of regret yesterday after noting the absence of a mass-market copy of the Massie biography of Peter. That said, i have read 120 pages, coursing through Peter's tour of Europe under his aegis as student, in need of teachers.

I picked up the Patrick Hamilton and became enchanted. The protagonist is eerily similar to my friend Stephen Powell.

Sunshine and Cigar Smoke

Such were the convenient components of my concluding the Against Happiness and delaying my decision on which NYRB Classic to read next. I have Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge and Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky by Patrick Hamilton. True to my erratic nature I am reading Peter The Great by Henri Troyat.

No Change

I read an interview with Salman Rushdie last night and the crux of such is we are to re-evaluate this asshole, his wife left him and he wrote a marvelous historical novel. I am hesitant, not because the bugger's fourth wife left him, but because he has produced shit novels for nearly a decade now. I truly loved Midnight's Children and I found The Satanic Verses fascinating if messy.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


A large parcel arrived the other day, ostensibly for the next assignment on samizdat. The irony is that the book in question, Against Happiness, is minute. This swell of possibility has bred paralysis. That ceased this a.m. I will depict that later. I walked to the library's book sale and bought to Troyat bios from that eccentric family Great: Peter and Catherine.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Brooklyn Follies

My spirits took a hammering over the weekend and ultimately I couldn't marshall the temerity for the Powys, I read two chapters and surrendered. Despite my shame I picked up Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster, a recent novel that I had found at a charity shop for fifty cents. I read it in two days and while affording me a few laughs, he has apparently distanced himself from the metaphysical hardboiler template which served him so well with his New York Trilogy and then became redundant and stale with each successive effort.

New, Not Blue

The funk of the weekend has paled. A few eeeks back my friend Ed was heading out west for a holiday, he asked if there were any books I wanted him to look for while in the Bay Area. I scribbled a short list and all was good. He didn't find any of the titles noted and such was life.

Last Wednesday my friend Travis and I were browsing the Broadway Goodwill and after the initial shock of a Stefan Zweig novel in German and a Napolean bio in French, I did encounter a pristine copy of Simone De Beauvoir's The Mandarins. Two day's later Roger made his selction for samizdat and I ordered that and added novels by Patrick Hamilton and Victor Serge to the order so as to, you know, eliminate that cumbersome shipping charge.