Friday, January 30, 2009

Thanks, Ed (amongst others)

About two years ago my friend Ed dropped off a stack of relatively new books. I appreciated that. It was of mixed variety. Sometime after our president was elected, I cultivated an interest in presidential biography, otherwise a subject stream of only mild promise for myself. I can only recall reading two such studies as an adult, one concerning Lincoln for samizdat and one about Andrew Jackson, some fifteen years ago.

The leveling snowfall of Tuesday gave way to an ice storm overnight and we lost power before dawn. Upon waking it was already cold in our house. I picked up a bio of JFK by Robert Dallek from that stack which Ed had given me and read throughout the day in the myriad attempts to stay somewhat warm. We wound up spending the night with Kate and Jeff (Many thanks to the Lewisons) and though I had packed along Bolano's Amulet, I kept thinking about Jack Kennedy. I conjured a dynamic between the Kennedy clan and the Swedes in Conrad's Victory, I thought about symbolism of white linen suits in Mister Pip and Voyage and how JFK was wearing fatigues in his own pilgrimage in the Pacific. I returned home yesterday to discover the power restored, the idea that Ed and his peers worked ungodly hours in the cold to restore some magic charm which affords us such pleasure. I am waiting in the Dallek to employ my reading of The Best and The Brightest but as for now, I am grateful enough.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


As habits and routines bubble up for inspection and suggestion, I discovered on Sunday that I hadn't bought the latest Bookforum. Flipping through such during 60 Minutes I asked my wife is she wanted to peruse. She asked if there were any books within that I felt I had to have. Thinking for a moment, I said, no, not really. There are a number of exceptional essays, especially the one on Solzhenitsyn and Edward Said. I read that this afternoon while noshing on curry. It inspired the thought of returning to both Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, if only to browse.


Some coworkers picked me up from home and i spent a few hours at work, largely brainstorming about programming concerns. I returned home to discover that John Updike had passed away.

Seemingly, years removed I also discovered that I read War and Peace in 2004, almost five months before I started this blog, and not in 2006.


I made an attempt to go to work today. I aborted after being stuck ten feet from our house after my neighbor Lance pushed my truck free. I have been reading War and Peace; it is the death of Pierre's father and this scene made quite an impression on me during my first reading, all of Pierre's abstractions and esoterica become grounded, his new legitimacy flits about and decisions are to be made. First, though, he falls asleep.

Conversely, I was reading Victory in my truck as it warmed this a.m. Ricardo's confession to Schomberg crackles with a tropical imperative, a lawlessness steeped in the extremes of the natural. I bid my neighbor thanks and came inside, my thoughts leaned to posturing and I thought of Shalamov.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Play's The Thing

It has proved a robust day of recovery. I still feel improved from the woesome weakness. I accompanied my wife this afternoon on myriad errands and I took advantage to read from War and Peace for a hour.

This evening allowed my first peek into Ross MacDonald and i suppose details and the banter should suffice, but as I stumble bedward, I can't say I am sold.

Art Tatum in the A.M.

It was the very essence of his life to be a solitary achievement, accomplished not by hermit-like withdrawal with its silence and immobility, but by a system of restless wandering, by the detachment of an impermanent dweller amongst scenes.
--Joseph Conrad

overtones of unsentimental sadness that suggest that he was never unmindful of human vulnerability and was doing what he was doing with such imperturbable casualness not only in spite of but also as a result of all the troubles he had seen, been beset by, and somehow survived.
--Albert Murray, on Lester Young

Complete-Review raised a few eyebrows recently when they afforded Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip an A+, a rare honor for such a circumspect litblog, one that I admire, even when I disagree with their assessments. I was lucky enough to find a copy on New Year's Day and after being tossed asunder by inclimate weather, a brutal work week and declining health, I tucked in to this gem of a novel. I suppose one has to love Great Expectations to really plumb the depths of Mister Pip, but I wager that many will love such with the prior benefit. I then slept for 14 hours and waking afloat in more fever I spent yesterday reading both War and Peace (my new P and V translation) and Conrad's Victory: alternating throughout the day.

I feel better today, though not quite hale. I did dash out and picked up a few of the Lew Archer novels, perhaps for the morrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

By The Throat

Matters have been relaxed since Sunday, perhaps it was coating of snow which made yesterday an inch off-kilter. I made a trip to the library on Sunday and picked up Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. There wasn't any great urge but I did and am satisfied with reading such for now. I am nearly finished and must admit that I enjoy most his encounter with writers and artists. In these instances, he appears to soften his appraisal, as opposed to meeting locals or, even worse, tourists.

Surely tardy, i have embraced the latest album from Elbow and it appears to offer dimensions of pursuit. my wife and i are going to read Updike's Rabbit, Run together and she has commented a few times already that it has gripped her interest in the first 25 pages. I will likely begin such later in the week.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Looking For A Light

Whether we romanticize it or not there is a significance possibility for terms of wonder to be applied to childhood. The marvel of matters and work, not only for our benefit but in constant concert - pegged to the ideals we are often spoon fed or otherwise lap up ourselves to replace the miasma of fear which cloaks our dreams and middle of the night cries. much like Proust's point of departure, I find interest in that magic lantern, though I hardly busy myself to return to such. I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick yesterday. It isn't to wax maudlin but i found myself astonished, not simply with illustrations but the idea of precocious child divested of his dreams by tragedy and left through hardship to a cocoon of Emersonian Independence. It was the best of Hugo laced with the stills from 400 Blows and Pickpocket. Compared to such, Shadow of the Wind is a blithe figurine for Babbit's curio cabinet.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Moist Black

Certainly it is not my purpose to suggest that we should return to all this reading aloud, creating in every library a hubbub like that which one hears when walking through the corridors of a conservatory of music. But are we not foolish to give up that inward voice in which books can speak to us? And in the pursuit of speed, of all things! What has speed to do with literary appreciation? - Robertson Davies

I was reading Mr. Davies about this time last year. The searching aspect of my reading habits led me to consider such. This wasn't the intention on this day when the wind was unsettling all matters mortal to the key of -14 F outside. I was hoping to consider the books i have read in more gentle climes. Finishing Magic Mountain on a spring afternoon bleeds into Charterhouse of Parma - which I finished in the large airy tent above our hotel in Marrakech and this prompts the idea that I finished Pale Fire about ten years ago, sitting on the porch at the old house; I was skinny and tanned then.

Last night I finished Savage Night by Jim Thompson. The final third of the novel shook me despite my being aware of the author's rather bleak disposition.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Itch

I have been spending an inordinate amount of time reading and pondering the reading resolutions of others. My hopes for the year are to reread Tolstoy and count down the days until the new Pynchon.

I read the introduction to a collection of Polish Postwar poetry today by Milosz. I think i may browse through such and return to the Yetuvschenko soon. I have been pondering Mill on the Floss as of late as well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Finished, But Not Through

It has been a puzzling gauntlet of days. I did emerge with the satisfaction that I finished Pekic's How To Quiet A Vampire. I am not quite sure, however, whether the Pekic is satisfied with my lingering attentions. The spirit of the book should haunt our sleep, leaving us disturbed in our attentions to history and identity.

I find myself around p. 120 in London Fields and many reviewers have stressed the need to push on to at least p. 200 before unholstering any verdicts.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


My silence doesn't a betray a leap into periodicals, nor a blithe detour elsewhere. A rare family crisis occupied me for days. The realizations now appear indelible which has cemented most folks. This is a great relief for myself. My novel of choice these four days has been London Fields by Martin Amis. This is an unlikely selection but it has satisfied. More so, it has made me laugh when little other opportunity revealed itself.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Continuing The Day's Motif

And, of course, as four white men welcomed a black man to the most exclusive club in America.
My favorite quote from today's Guardian about the Presidential luncheon at the White House.


I fear that we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar
- Nietzsche

Because we are all poets or babies in the middle of the night, struggling with being. -- Martin Amis

I am out of sorts, not quite ill, but ill disposed, even if it is Orthodox Christmas.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Upon the recumbent afternoon, I decided shortly after finishing Possession that I was on pace to read 270 books this year, provided, of course, that I refrained form going to work and vegetated in a moaning, feverish state.

Saturday witnessed the day-long hike through The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, my wife finished it a hour before I did. I enjoyed the philosophical aspects of Fulton's journals, the image of him walking through the stacks toting a lantern, but still I found the novel totally lacking. There was a reviewer on Amazon who compared it to The Crying of Lot 49 and found Whitehead's first novel entirely slight: I tend to agree but don't feel the need for such sweeping drama.

I finished, as noted, Possession and was moved; not simply by the pat bibliophilia, glorified thematically, that I share and find so central. No, it was simply the humanity of the story, which resonated defiantly despite the set pieces and the flimsy stature of some of the characters. I then spent some time with Dickens and Wilkie Collins but find myself leaning, despite warning from those i trust to another novel of Byatt's: Babel Tower.
We shall see.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bemoated Alice

It isn't to be coy that I note Lewis Carrol listening to grunge. I feel simply awful. I slept forever last night after watching another Thin Man film with my wife. I have spent this day reading Possession and then shifting gears to begin The Intuitionist as my wife approaching the two-thirds mark. It is the Byatt which prompts attention to literary biographies. I used to read them with relative regularity. I don't appear to anymore. The last two I read were Zweig's portrait of Erasmus and William Mancherster's treatment of Mencken. i can offer no quick explanation for such. I am going to return to my chair now.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Grip

Perhaps it was my brag to my wife last night: I hadn't been really ill for months, despite protean weather, the sinister siege of winter in the Ohio Valley, roulette of going to the Y a number of times a week. Today I feel congested, but such appears to be lifting.

I was also hasty in contrasting Possession with Ackroyd's Chatterton. I am finding the wit of Robertson Davies here and as I noted yesterday, the disagreeable cocktail of indifferent characters, poetry and fairy tales was overtaken by an epistolary torrent that left me speechless: even jaded Jon, who doesn't much care for literary letters (the Nabokov-Wilson being the exception) nor for Victorian posturing: especially by those 100 years or so after the fact. I am pleased.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Mad Dashes

What an auspicious note to 2009. While out shopping with my wife I found a four dollar copy of Peter Ackroyd's The Plato Papers. Four hours later, not only have I finished it but I am filled to bursting with Vietnamese food. I liked the novella (180 pages) and found interesting overlap with Byatt's poets, their speculative missives and the lingering question as to what perseveres.

Poetic Adumbration

(my thoughts on this post have been wrecked, just as I read of a one ton bomb dropped on the residence of an extremist, won't the effects of such overtake the risk inherent?)

It is a new year. I slept quite solid, my last dream was of sitting in our living room with Michelle Obama, I told her that the tragedy of the last eight years could be understood institutionally, by which I meant literally, in the cases of Guantanamo, of Walter Reed, maybe even of the New Orleans Convention Center. We needed to understand that. She was very gracious in response. I think my wife approved. I went out on our front porch the President-Elect was napping in a porch swing (we don't actually have one) and I didn't wish to disturb him. I walked outside and was picking up leaves when the Secret Service guys parked out front left their car. In my dream they looked more like private detectives than Treasury-sanctioned bodyguards. They asked if there was a convenience store nearby and i asked them if they wanted anything to drink. They were very friendly and inexplicably there was Mountain Dew in our fridge which I distributed appropriately. I thus awoke pleased with life. I went to the Y and chatted with Ed. I returned and my wife and i have been discussing the richness of it all while Tomasz Stanko plays in the background. She is dashing ahead in The Intuitionist while I have discovered the charming midriff of Possession. I was somewhat indifferent for a few chapters after the stellar opening. I am at p. 190 although we are poised to go use gift cards somewhat later.