Thursday, March 31, 2011

As Holidays Go

It has been a sublime week, my wife and I have read a great deal and finished a couple books each. The weather has retracted to the point where only brisk walks outside are advisable. No worries there.

My only complaint remains that my pilfered photo of Tito and Elizabeth Taylor was ripped down. I hope it was a question of propriety and not Roger Baylor's crusade against street spam and yard signs.

I finished David Grossman's See Under:LOVE and Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene and found both intriguing successes despite flaws of overwriting and coincidence, respectively. The first section of the Grossman is an amazing 80 page view of Israel in the late 50s from a nine year old child's point of view. The Shoah hovers ubiquitously and children invariably confuse intentions. This section is then followed with the authorial fancy of imagining of what if Bruno Schulz wasn't shot in the streets of Poland by the SS? What if he made his way to Danzig and dove into the sea becoming a salmon of sorts and what if the repellant codes which mark humanity were thus extended to marine life? This isn't a horrible concept but it is inexplicably extended for a hundred pages! That section is then collapsed upon by a now worn convention of a lengthy dialogue between the "author's" grand uncle, who appears muted in the first section as a deportee in a death camp; he has been proved literaly and miraculously unable to die and thus the commandant arranges a nightly ritual where this former author of children's novels will regale him with further stories. These Arabian Nights purist in predictable discussions of morality and the reader is finally saved by the final section which lists concepts for a proposed children's encyclopedia of the holocaust, each entry bearing the fates of the requisite characters. This proved most compelling.

This blunt force trauma of war is meditated upon in Greene's entertainment as well. A typical spy thriller is adjusted to the reality of the Blitz and it largely works aside from cringing coincidences which reveal and reproach equally. I must admit that I was joyed to approach this one as the film adaptation was to be on TCM last night. I have nothing disparaging to say about Fritz Lang or Ray Milland but the script was ridiculous and the film barely viewable.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


"Each human life possesses certain sensitivities, dove-pecked injuries, that are never noted by the casual observer, like invisible cracks in amber."
--Gyula Krudy

I finished Sunflower by Krudy over the weekend. Awash in its intense imagery, there was a shudder. A fear. I have a grave concern that slowly, the inscription of all this reading is being effaced by a galactic wind. There is an understood inevitability here. I can groan and point to T.S. Eliot about the return to the point of origin. Sure.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

So, Today. . .

I was at a book shop, rather excited to have found a copy of Ignácio de Loyola Brandao's The Good-Bye Angel for four dollars. Some robust yet rather odd fellow was chatting with clerk, the less described, the better. The hearty fellow in the fishing vest had apparently finished a five minute description of a fantasy novel he had just finished reading. He then asked the clerk, well, what do you like? The twenty-something puffed a bit and said, I'm mostly into sci-fi, though I prefer the Russians, you know, like Stanislaw Lem? I should add that it has been a challenging week work wise, but i paused and deliberated whether i should say something, but thought better of the novel in my hands and quietly paid.

I think I may retreact my retractive adjustment from last night. I read more of Sunflower today and I find it intoxicating.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No, It Won't Be NYRB Classics Week

I had finished the Dud Avocado and had dug some 52 pages into Gyula Krudy's remarkable novel Sunflower. Yeah, I know, going from avocado to sunflower -- sounds like a promotion at Whole Foods.

As to the former, I preferred its second half. Elaine Dundy charged her protagonist with a measure of self-awareness and its frenetic observations culminated with this philosophy.

Jim picked me up at my old hotel the next morning. I'd slept hardly
at all that night and was reeling under the blow of a bad hangover. Jim looked
exactly the same as he always did and this shocked and annoyed me. How
could he be so callous after all I'd been through?

No doubt, all of my friends can appreciate the sanguine logic above.

I have no qualms with Krudy's epic, extolling all sorts of Magyar tropes into a devilish brew. The issue became the sudden availability of The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. I've had my eye on such for a while now.

I'm on holiday again next week and i hope to embrace both Krudy as well as Patrick Hamilton, whom I've neglected for too long now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Thread

Displaced by a necessary family encounter and an amazing day, I sought the comfort of an extended read and picked up War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The Humiliation game isn't worth my personal pillory, I readily acknowledge far-too-many blind spots and blank areas. Despite all the adaptations this remains a riveting novel and I found my self comparing the outlook of the protagonist with that of Ballard's Concrete Island. I was comfortable imagining that being stranded in our excess was an apt fate for a survivor.

Three hours later, I had finished and felt transported, if a bit tired. Shifting gears, I am now engrossed in Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado, though I admit "engross" doesn't quite capture my approach.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Interview w/ Arnon Grunberg

Last week constituted a hat trick of misanthropy with my completion of Darconville' Cat on Sunday, the blitz through The Jewish Messiah by Thursday and Friday's marvelous reading of J.G. Ballard's Concrete Island. Ballard's work was stellar, though the novel's dynamic was altered with the addition of other characters in the concluding half.

(disclaimer, there is no actual interview w/ Mr. Grunberg, though his blurb indicates he is in NYC)

here's what what I would ask Arnon Grunberg if he was sitting on my porch.

Q: Does excess communicate the inchoate idea of Jewishness in a historical context?

Q:Perhaps Compunction is your thematic, do we then need self-loathing characters involved with self-mutilation, serial humiliation and protracted scenes of torture to perhaps complete the reader's own quotient for debasement? Is that it?

As of this morning, I can't specify my next direction. I have been plugging away with Our Mutual Friend and I did heft Laura Warholic but found it inconvenient for the present, the similarity w/ Darconville's Cat was also off-putting.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Day

Humbled by disaster abroad, my own concerns about life and WORK locally appear trite by comparison. I awoke rested and travelled across the river for the book sale at Locust Grove. I have often thought derisively about folks who arrive early at book sales, all the while aware of my inclusion in the subject. I seldom encounter the fascinating but simply the bored. Perhaps one could sprinkle some emphasis upon the simple in the previous sentence.

Anyway, I encountered a number of gleaming books including Yaakov Shabtal's Past Continuous, which Joshua Cohen deemed the Israeli Ulysses, The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy and Vladimir Bartol's Alamut. The latter pair I have coveted for the last few years since spying them on the shelves in Chicago and failing to purchase them.

I have spent a few late evenings with Alexander Theroux this past week and I find Darconville's cat to be astonishing, albeit in sore need of editing. That said, I bought his Laura Warholic as well as The Jewish Messiah by Arnon Grunberg this week and will move into such about completion of Theroux's Cat.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

My Friend Ian

Asked whether he lowered his aesthetic standards, Mr. McEwan replied,

I occasionally watch a football match on television, but I cannot bear the commercials. I watch The Wire but I suppose that is considered high culture. I can never knuckle down to reading all the way through The Sun, as Martin can. That for me would be such an effort.

I conversely watch a NUMBER of matches. I avoid local news and papers, but, damn, isn't life grand?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Teju Cole

Earlier in this still toddling year, there was a poll on Goodreads about the most pretentious book to be seen carrying . The leaders in the straw poll were Ulysses and the Arcades Project. I happened to be reading and finishing Ulysses then and I pondered the implications of such. The realization then swept over me how queer, in both senses, it is to carry a book in Southern Indiana. I am not sure those way from here can conceive of this properly, the suspicion cast upon bound pages not Biblical in utility.

I finished Open City by Teju Cole earlier today. There isn't sufficient hyperbole for the towering achievement. As to the press, certainly the NYTBR (which brought it to my attention) has found a common spirit with that W.G. Sebald, I also see Mathias Enard's Zone as a cousin to this urban peripatetic resolving our troubled times as its only agenda.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Recovering Estate

There were allusions made to the different levels I ascribe to reading times during the week versus the weekend. The heightened measures of concentration away from the hectic nature of modern life cannot be underestimated. That said, I continue with both Dickens and Pynchon. A new noble beast has also entered the stable: Alexander Theroux and his wicked novel Darconville's Cat. Theroux, an older brother of Paul, appears to be word addict and a misanthrope. I read 160 pages of the novel yesterday.