Monday, December 28, 2009


Thomas Mann's first novel proceeds along seeming without any holiday reference. Aside from stilted Christian ritual and a penchant for arranged marriages, the family speeds along until around p. 514 when the wonder of Christmas is captured by the febrile dreams of observations of young Hanno. The 18 pages depicting the event stand aside from an already remarkable novel, an exercise in narrative fluidity which sparkles as it allows the narrative to resume its path.

I hope that everyone felt a similar wonder over the course of our recent holiday; I know that I enjoyed what was likely the coziest time in memory.

I finished Buddenbrooks yesterday. I am now enjoying one of the gifts my wife gave me: Oblomov by Ivan Gonchorov.

I just read here that Faulkner is quoted as saying that Buddenbrooks was his favorite novel and Scott Esposito muses that Mann may have inspired Sound and the Fury. I find that quite interesting.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


When I was younger, say, 1994, I listened to A Love Supreme about 300 times in a year. I also became fixated on authors and would read, or at least acquire, as much as I could. Carlos Fuentes was one such figure. I was walking today with my wife and her sister, relating the Peter Drucker anecdote about when a mud puddle ended his dalliance with socialism and I thought about this passage from my life way-back-then to now. I was thinking how Mann ruminated on such with such grace. I also recalled an essay I owned where Fuentes mentions seeing Mann at a hotel in Switzerland.

(that phrase a hotel in Switzerland of course inspires thoughts on Nabokov)

Anyway, I think I have aped Fuentes if only in the regard that I as well have since regarded Mann as a pillar of intellectual elegance. Luckily my memory has held as much as my mimicry, at least in this endeavor.

"As the carnival lights of that summer's night in Zurich played with a fire of their own on the features I now recognized, Thomas Mann's face was a theater of implicit, quiet emotions. He ate and let the ladies do the talking; he was, in my fascinated eyes, a meeting place where solitude gives birth to beauty unfamiliar and perilous, but also to the perverse and illicit."

I read a good deal more today. Buddenbrooks will likely steer me through the week.

Color Matters Cozy

Lately life has a offered a grand entry into the holiday disposition. Spared by the barrelling storms, it was actually warm here yesterday, I have adjusted to having my wife's sister here as if we were already in that intellectual commune, often imagined through a second or third bottle of wine. It has been amazingly insular, a covent against the proselytizing commercialism just outside the door. N and her sister are reading Jelinek's The Piano Teacher and after finishing Huxley's Antic Hay, I took passage on the flagship Buddenbrooks. This is unlike any of my previously encountered Thomas Mann; perhaps the "refreshing" translation, as noted by the NYT, is the solvent. I am not complaining about the Baroque edifices of Mann's sentences in Magic Mountain, John E. Woods' stewardship is simply a tumbling journey by comparison.

We travelled this a.m. out to the hinterland for a family photograph. My attention highlighted the comparisons between "The Decline of a Family," as depicted by Mann in 1900 with the Midwestern variations circa 2009.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My (Latest) Detour

I expected to be reading Absalom, Absalom this week. Funny, that. I went to the only used book store in New Albany to pick up books for friends, I was going to give The Orientalist by Tom Reiss to my friend Tim. The owner of the shop said, you know, we have a copy of Ali and Nino in stock right now. My blank expression conveyed my utter ignorance. I bought the novel as well and read it over the weekend as I slipped into an untidy sinus infection. Despite some melodrama on the edges, it is a beautiful piece, allowing me to agree with Paul Theroux that it is a portal into another way of life, rich in detail and ritual. I now plan on keeping The Orientalist and finding another book for Tim. As I lay suffering, I decided to pick up Antic Hay by Huxley. This has a proved a fortuitous decision and a delightful running gag of a novel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Best Mate Made Good

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seasonal Bend

I finished The Rotters' Club Jonathan Coe Thursday evening. I didn't care for it as much as did What A Carve-Up! the truly artful turn is Ben's description at the end, his taste of bliss and the nascent humiliation which is as tangible as the pint of Guinness he holds as he rambles. Following that, my wife and I rented History Boys from Wild and Woolly last night. The public school theme did lead me to re-rent If, but one viewing of Malcolm McDowell on a rooftop with a Bren mowing down classmates and faculty does go a long way. I have never read Alan Bennett's work but was immensely satisfied by the film treatment.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Serial Sequels

There is a lingering burn to Tender Is The Night. Normally I would have finished it Thursday, instead a nagging congestion has clipped my wings and the novel wasn't completed until Saturday afternoon. I acquired a number of books yesterday including Gramsci Selections From The Prison Notebooks, Mencken's Chrestomathy and Borges' Collected Non-Fictions. I have to admit that my purpose is drifting towards both John Banville-as-Benjamin Black and Jonathan Coe. I picked up both Silver Swan and the Closed Circle and already owning Christine Falls and The Rotters' Club I think I'll proceed until being distracted elsewhere.

Mutant Variety

(cross-posted at samizdat)

This isn't exactly within the criteria for the site, but i thought it couldn't hurt.

Establishing a list for top films over the decade proved to be more elusive than I expected. If indeed the September 11th attacks were the central event of the decade, we can be sure that an influence was absorbed both in the films of subsequent release, but with our viewing as well. If, however, The Passion of the Christ was the signature event for a reader, then I am afraid to disappoint: none of the films listed feature Kirk Cameron.

25) What Time is It There? ( Tsai Ming-liang 2001)
24) The Proposition (John Hillcoat 2005)
23) Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand 2003)
22) The Aviator ( Martin Scorcese 2004)
21 Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar 2004)
20) Borat (Larry Charles 2006)
19) Royal tendenbaums (Wes Anderson 2001)
18) 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle 2002)
17) Turtles Can Fly (Bahman Ghobadi 2004)
16) Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu 2000)
15) Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson 2008)
14) Dancer In The Dark (Lars Von Trier 2000)
13) Notre Musique (Jean-Luc Godard 2004)
12) Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino 2003)
11) City Of God (Fernando Meirelles 2002)
10) Cache ( Michael Haneke 2005)
9)Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel 2004)
8)Mulholland Drive (David Lynch 2001)
7)Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro 2006)
6) Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi 2007)
5) Children Of Men (Alfonso Cuaron 2006)
4) Songs From The Second Floor (Roy Andersson 2000)
3) The Man Without A Past (Aki Kaurismaki
2) Oldboy (Park Chan-wook 2003)
1) There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson 2007)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Warm Stretches

I have spent the week enjoying Tender Is The Night, the only Fitzgerald novel that remained for me to read as such. Nabokov loved it. I have been touched by range and feeling, its awareness of time, even as it has become timeless. U.S. Grant has an odd, unexpected, resonance in the novel. I spent a few minutes the other day imagining a public figure from the 1950s who could linger as a contemporary character's doppelganger.

Five years ago today I began this venture. The 2004 election pushed me towards Shelby Foote's Civil War: A Narrative and that and my friends led to this meandering notebook.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Answering The Enigma

All spokes of my literary world over the last decade have brushed with the work of Richard Powers. His prose has prompted exaggerated behavior from many, both pro and con. Most points of contacts from friends and familiars usually expressed a appreciation tempered with a sigh of disbelief. I understand such. The library's copy of Generosity became available Saturday and my wife and I swooped in for retrieval after our Whole Foods trek. I see no eschatological parallels between Powers, Stilton and hummus, but alas, the sequence was supple. I finished the novel Sunday and was left less-than-satisfied. It verifies the notion that Powers establishes grand parades of ideas and inserts them in the slimmest trappings of a novel. It largely occurs in Chicago which offered a certain stimulation, to be sure. It upholds Powers panache for loose metaphors and wayward aphorisms, the following is a response to the protagonist observing the blogosphere:

It took the species millions of years to climb down out of the trees, and
only ten years more to jump into the fishbowl


It is peculiar that I finished my Thanksgiving post referencing the Proustian contours of Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. The holiday proceeded in what passes for benevolence in my rocky familial state. Just as we were leaving my parents gave me a parcel they found in the attic. It was my adopted child’s first scrapbook. It might as well have contained some gelatin explosive for the stress inflicted on my psyche. Deeper past photographs and holiday cards from people I can’t begin to recognize were the tattered remains of junior high yearbooks. This strata wasn’t near as painful to peruse and I pause only to consider the photo of Joel in 8th grad orchestra, wild in eye and unkept in hair like some Rimbaud with a viola. I am curious about that haunting vision as Lord knows I am no Verlaine