"And sport no more seen / On the darkening green" -- What are you reading SPRING 2020?

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Taking over from: Poetry uncovered, Fiction you never saw, All new writing delivered, Courtesy WINTER: 2019/2020 reading thread

I'm around halfway through The Left Hand of Darkness. I let my momentum slack a bit with this one and I was afraid I would find it hard going when I returned (so many confusing character names to keep track of!), but I'm trying to let go of my anxiety about possibly 'missing something important' and just have faith in Le Guin to keep telling the story. Plus, I'm reading it for a book club, so I can always count on other folks to fill in the gaps in my understanding..... assuming we ever have another meeting!

I'm on Part 2 of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, and just reached the first mention of the Holbein painting. I have no sense of where the author might be going with all this; Nastasya Filippovna exhausts me, and Prince Myshkin annoys me; but for some reason I'm unable to put it down.

And yesterday I started one that's been on my to-read pile for a while, The Unnameable Present by Ernesto Calasso. The first part, on "Terrorism and Tourism," wasn't doing it for me, so I skipped ahead to part 2, "The Vienna Gas Works," which is a chronicle of literary anecdotes, letters, and journal entries by various well-known European authors (Celine, Ernst Junger, Beckett, to name a few) from the time of Hitler's election through the end of the Second World War. The form is an interesting one, offering a sort of a narrative pressure that reins in some of Calasso's digressive tendencies; none of the ideas presented here seem new, but the atmosphere makes for an unusually effective presentation.

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:23 (one year ago) link

reading balzac's history of the thirteen which is pleasurably light and langorous for the current climate. my first time, do people have balzac faves?

devvvine, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:30 (one year ago) link

also been dipping into the collection of boyd macdonald's film 'criticism', cruising the movies, for work stuff; remains some of the most gloriously lewd and fascinating film writing

devvvine, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:34 (one year ago) link

How have I never heard of MacDonald or this book?! Will be picking it up as soon as it is safe to go out into the world again.

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:39 (one year ago) link

cannot recommend strongly enough

devvvine, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:40 (one year ago) link

boyd macdonald pic.twitter.com/DGR60DCkQA

— james devine (@devvvine) March 23, 2020

devvvine, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:40 (one year ago) link

this year's Big Foreign Book is Anna Karenina, which is surprisingly readable (normally i struggle with all the names in russian books, everybody has 4 names and they swap between them). it's over 1000 pages, but split into 8 friendly parts.

(good thread etiquette btw, bernard, thanks)

koogs, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:47 (one year ago) link

i've got a compendium of all of R.A. Lafferty's short stories which is very much the mood of the moment

Let's kill the Queen and be legends (Noodle Vague), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:48 (one year ago) link

The last 100 pages or so of The Left Hand of Darkness are up there with the most extraordinary things I've read. Damn.

I'm reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. What's the name for the style this is written in - like Wolf Hall, the Rabbit Books etc? I'm sure there's a name beyond 'present tense' but buggered if I can remember it. Anyway, it's hard not to compare this to Mantel, despite the obvious divergence in subject matter, and it naturally suffers next to her alchemical force. I like being this 'close' to a character's inner weather and it's suitably claustrophobic for a coming-of-age story but I'm not sure I fully believe (in) them. Connell, the well-read, walled-off working class boy is too on the nose and Marianne equally a type. It's compelling, all the same, and Rooney has a nice way with metaphor.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 17:12 (one year ago) link

I remember watching Kill List and Down Terrace and thinking 'everyone involved is clearly incredibly talented and they're going to go on and make a career full of brilliant work' - that's the feeling I get from this.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 17:16 (one year ago) link

I just finished The Left Hand Of Darkness, shamefully the first Le Guin I've read - absolutely loved it. Not sure what you're worried about missing, though, bernard?

Intended to start on Tokyo Ueno Station last night but I can't find where I put it! My bookshelves are all in an overstuffed spare room that's currently hard to navigate so I might have to read something else instead, bah.

emil.y, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 17:47 (one year ago) link

I am reading Joseph Conrad's NOSTROMO.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 17:58 (one year ago) link

I'm still going through Booker International Prize nominees, so I've begun At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong. So far it's not really anything special, but it's nice to get stories about living in South Korea. I've also read the introduction to Pikettys Capital and Ideology. I think I'm going to love it. And I'm finishing a collection of short texts by Sebald called Campo Santo. He works a lot better long form, but it's still interesting.

Frederik B, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 18:03 (one year ago) link

As mentioned in the previous thread, I am reading Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch. It is quite effectively letting my mind go to a place far from the current global pandemic for a couple of hours each evening.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 18:04 (one year ago) link

XP to Frederik: I rather liked Campo Santo -- not least because it got me to read Flaubert's wonderful "Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier," after many years during which I had owned a copy of Trois Contes but never read past the first story.

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 23:38 (one year ago) link

I found At Dusk very moving. The architect realising that his work has contributed to the destruction of the community he grew up in. Reminded me of Taipei Story a bit.

My reading used to be done almost entirely on public transport, so I'm readjusting right now. Still dipping into that history of German romanticism - had previously been told that the nazi infatuation with Wagner distorted the man's ideas, but frankly if it did anti-semitism wasn't one of them, dude was all in on it. Also leafing through Jonathan Rigby's English Gothic in search of more Hammer gems to seek out.

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 26 March 2020 10:38 (one year ago) link

Not sure what [in tLHoD] you're worried about missing, though, bernard?

Partly, I'm struggling to keep track of the intrigue among various factions in Orgoreyn, due to setting the book aside forgetting the names of all the minor characters; that's the minor stuff that I'm sure will come out in the wash.

I'm more concerned about connections I may fail to perceive between the main narrative and the heterogeneous chapters of lore and "world-building" material. I doubt any of that material is essential to following the plot, but holding it in mind adds to my enjoyment. (This is where I'm hoping the book club will be an asset.)

The biggest worry for me comes when e.g. Estraven refers back to an earlier conversation with Genly Ai and says "He must not have understood anything I said to him then," and I'm like... Not only did I share Genly's uncomprehending perspective on that earlier conversation, I don't even remember what was said! And because so much emphasis has been placed throughout the book on characters with different systems of meaning-making operating in tension with one another, I fear there are more such moments in store.

Oh well, that's what second readings are for :)

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Thursday, 26 March 2020 11:30 (one year ago) link

Ah, yeah, there are definitely connections between the lore and the main story - the lore chapters are super-short so could you just dip back into those to refresh your mind? It's not like you'd fail to understand anything crucial plot-wise, I think, but the resonances are quite important. Actually, one thing I didn't like about the book was right at the start I found it a little too infodumpy on the world-building, that's something that puts me off certain sci-fi styles and worried me - but it never went absolutely too far on that, and quickly won me over with everything else.

In other news, I found my book! Tokyo Ueno Station here I come.

emil.y, Thursday, 26 March 2020 17:04 (one year ago) link

The biggest worry for me comes when e.g. Estraven refers back to an earlier conversation with Genly Ai and says "He must not have understood anything I said to him then," and I'm like... Not only did I share Genly's uncomprehending perspective on that earlier conversation, I don't even remember what was said! And because so much emphasis has been placed throughout the book on characters with different systems of meaning-making operating in tension with one another, I fear there are more such moments in store.

I think it's less important for you to remember what was said and why that was important than to understand that characters with different systems of meaning-making are operating in tension with one another, so you're good there ^__^

emil.y, Thursday, 26 March 2020 17:06 (one year ago) link

John Peel's semi-autobio "margrave of the marshes" is a lot more disturbing than I was expecting. Harrowing stuff about the molestations and beatings (and a rape) he received as a kid in public school.

Saxophone Of Futility (Michael B), Thursday, 26 March 2020 22:31 (one year ago) link

Good discussion of Left Hand! Also enjoyed this---shine onl wiki:
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia is a 1974 utopian science fiction novel by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, set in the fictional universe of the seven novels of the Hainish Cycle, e.g. The Left Hand of Darkness, about anarchist and other societal structures. The book won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1974,[1] won both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1975,[2] and received a nomination for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1975.[2] It achieved a degree of literary recognition unusual for science fiction due to its exploration of themes such as anarchism (on a planet called Anarres) and revolutionary societies, capitalism, and individualism and collectivism.

It features the development of the mathematical theory underlying the fictional ansible, an instantaneous communications device that plays a critical role in Le Guin's novels in the Hainish Cycle. The invention of the ansible places the novel first in the internal chronology of the Hainish Cycle, although it was the fifth published.[3] Mathematical, but the main appeal for me was the characterization, though emotional appeal was more subtle, re tides and waves of thought and and action in utopia at crossroads, which may be a kind of Rubicon, or stagnation, slowly sinking into corruption etc (without too much time to ponder big questions at hand).

dow, Friday, 27 March 2020 19:29 (one year ago) link

more subtle than in The Left Hand of Darkness, I meant.

dow, Friday, 27 March 2020 19:32 (one year ago) link

And thanks for the Harry Crews tips at end of Winter WAYR.

dow, Friday, 27 March 2020 19:38 (one year ago) link

I think that NOSTROMO has defeated me. It's too dense, too long, too impersonal. Even if I stepped up my reading and stopped doing other things, it would take me a while to get halfway through it.

I also think the truth is that this year I have focused so much on watching films, they have taken over my imagination and I have lost much of my patience or capacity for books -- the reverse of 2019. Odd as so many people are probably reading more during the crisis and lockdown.

I'll go back to some other book. Maybe short stories, maybe even poetry.

I'd also like to go back to Elvis Costello's memoir.

the pinefox, Monday, 30 March 2020 10:27 (one year ago) link

I've started The Mirror and The Light. It's like I've merely taken a breath since finishing Bring Up the Bodies and am now re-immersing myself in her pool.

This passage, where Cromwell seems to send himself out into the garden and into the consciousness of his cat as she straddles a branch in a tree and evades capture with a net, reminded me of Fizzles' in the other thread:

He imagines the world below her: through the prism of the great eye, the limbs of agitated men unfurl like ribbons, yearning through the darkness. Perhaps she thinks they are praying to her. Perhaps she thinks she has climbed up to the stars. Perhaps the darkness falls away from her in flecks and sparks of light, the roofs and gables like shadows in water; and when she studies the net there is no net, only the spaces in between.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Monday, 30 March 2020 19:13 (one year ago) link


(Am holding The Mirror and the Light off to prevent it from all ending, reading A Place of Greater Safety in lieu, have some other irons in the fire)

silby, Monday, 30 March 2020 19:19 (one year ago) link

have been reading early novels by elizabeths taylor (palladian) & bowen (to the north) and am now pondering on whether or not to start on a dance to the music of time

no lime tangier, Monday, 30 March 2020 20:19 (one year ago) link

last shift at work, no actual work to do so managed to read olga tokarczuk's Flights, liked it a lot.

oscar bravo, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:45 (one year ago) link

i've seen that twice today in various lists. the cover is remarkable. is there a reason for that?


koogs, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:51 (one year ago) link

All fitzcarraldo ed books look like that

Microbes oft teem (wins), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:52 (one year ago) link

The fiction ones are blue and non fiction are white

Microbes oft teem (wins), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:52 (one year ago) link

Fitzcarraldo Ed only the worldwide publisher of a few things in their list sadly, but happily including "This Little Art"

silby, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:56 (one year ago) link

I think I mentioned on the technological backward steps that I checked out flights from the library last year but couldn’t get more than about 30pp in because something about it (I think the illustrations) was causing the library e-reader to keep crashing. & it struck me that of all the reasons not to have finished a book “it crashed whenever I tried to turn the page” was a potential candidate for that thread

Microbes oft teem (wins), Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:06 (one year ago) link

first pandemic book order finally arrived - Warren Zanes' Tom Petty bio. After that terribly written Clash bio (Marcus Grey's "The Last Gang in Town") was so gratifying to read opening paragraphs by someone who can really write and clearly has some insightful things to say about the subject, looking forward to this.

Also dug out my copy of Nabokov's "Bend Sinister" for a re-read

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:25 (one year ago) link

Flights is so good. So many little stories have stuck with me, especially the letters about Angelo. I knew the story - there is a great film about him - but the way she uses it is so great.

Frederik B, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 18:55 (one year ago) link

it's cheap on amazon uk at the moment (which is where i saw it)

koogs, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 19:17 (one year ago) link

(but that might change in 4 hours when the month changes, because i think it was in the monthly deal for march)

koogs, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 19:18 (one year ago) link

Thanks for the comments on Flights--was wondering if it might be too esoteric, at least in translation, but sounds like you guys straight-up enjoyed it, without too much homework (not that I don't need and even want some headflexing, but not too much).
xp think I might check that Petty bio, though not the biggest fan----here's Zanes on the experience and process of writing a biography, being a biographer, and effects on subject, incl. a conversation not in the book: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/tom-petty-death-biographer-warren-zanes-731414/

dow, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 19:25 (one year ago) link

Can't resist a few quotes: His unexpected death forced me to acknowledge, in a visceral way, the degree to which biographers bring their subjects in through the stomach as much as through the mind. Biographers consume their people to understand them...I hadn’t been alone when I went through the process of writing the Petty biography. There was a family around me, even if it had splintered by the time of Petty’s death.
...The second half of the book, involving divorce and heroin use and the blending of families, got some divided responses among Petty’s family members, some contention, some trouble. I think Petty found himself at the center of it, and in a way that proved uncomfortable. But my job, from the beginning, had been to tell the man’s story based on interviews, primarily those with him. And that’s what I’d done. But that going public part of the process changed things, brought some strain. If it hadn’t, I believe that the absence of strain would have been the sign that I’d failed in writing the book Petty wanted me to write. In some ways, I’d been ready for this. But I thought we’d have a few years to process it all, to move past it. He’d invited me to be a guest DJ on his radio show. There were signs of thawing. But then he was gone.

dow, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 19:27 (one year ago) link

I don't think Flight ever felt like homework. There is definitely a lot of references, but she uses real stories just like she uses fictional ones, so it's very readable. And then all of a sudden there was something where I went 'wait a minute...'

Frederik B, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 19:28 (one year ago) link

the thing that immediately grabbed me about Zanes in his intro was his pointing out how Petty differed from other singer-songwriters (Springsteen, Waits, etc.), that his songs drew listeners in with what was omitted or implied - they weren't about narrative sweep or detailed characters, he employed mythic strokes to create outlines that listeners could then step into.

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 19:49 (one year ago) link

paraphrasing - he makes the point better than I can

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 19:51 (one year ago) link

Yes, and that's hard to do, without nudging listeners/readers toward foregone conclusions, easiest associations---you have to trust your audience and yourself to be capable of more. Also reminds me of xgau once comparing earlier and then-current Randy Newman: once he brought you to think about his characters, now it's just what he thinks about them---"and that just isn't as interesting."

dow, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 20:15 (one year ago) link

Erm, sorry for repeating words, anyway Christgau's Newman take on his site.

dow, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 20:16 (one year ago) link

Born Again [Warner Bros., 1979]
This has more content and feeling than Little Criminals. But as with Little Criminals its highlight is a (great) joke--"The Story of a Rock and Roll Band," which ought to be called "E.L.O." and isn't, for the same reason supergroupie radio programmers have shied away from it. Hence, the content comprises ever more intricate convolutions of bad taste; rather than making you think about homophobes and heavy-metal toughs and me-decade assholes the way he once made you think about rednecks and slave traders and high school belles, he makes you think about how he feels about them. Which just isn't as interesting. B+

dow, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 20:20 (one year ago) link

ha, that's good

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 20:25 (one year ago) link

The Mirror and the Light is really fucking good. I think part of Mantel's power is that she's a misanthrope but also an incorrigible gossip - that and her sense of the proximal, her apprehension of the closeness of the spirit world and the voices of history. With 'novelist' swapped out for 'king', this ripe passage (being one of about ten I've wanted to copy down and share), strikes me as a decently hubristic manifesto for Mantel's vision of what a novelist is and does.

He once said to Cranmer, the dreams of kings are not the dreams of other men. They are susceptible to visions, in which the figures of their ancestors come to speak to them of war, vengeance, law and power. Dead kings visit them; they say 'Do you know us Henry? We know you.' There are places in the realm where battles have been fought, places where, the wind in a certain direction, the moon waning, the night obscure, you can hear the thunder of hooves and the creak of harness, and the screams of the slain; and if you creep close - if you were thin air, suppose you were a spirit who could slide between blades of grass - then you would hear the aspirations of the dying, you would hear them cry to God for mercy. And all these, the souls of England, cry to *me*, the king tells him, to me and every king: each king carries the crimes of other kings, and the need for restitution rolls forward down the years.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 1 April 2020 18:01 (one year ago) link

So I finished the 2 books I was reading. Waning of the Middle Ages was mostly interesting, despite a few longeurs, such as the chapter trying to analyze why the visual arts of the Middle Ages seem more immediate and relatable to us than the literary works, which seemed to be not especially mysterious or worthy of such heavy analytical lifting. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline was fairly entertaining. I especially liked the author's note added to the 2012 reprinting, a nostalgia-tinted look back at how he came to write these stories and what his life was like at the time. It was interesting that he mentioned Dr. Seuss as an inspiration. I could see that, along with Mark Leyner, Mad Magazine and William S Burroughs.

o. nate, Thursday, 2 April 2020 02:27 (one year ago) link

Actually the author's note is available online if anyone's interested: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/01/07/civilwarland-in-bad-decline-preface/

o. nate, Thursday, 2 April 2020 02:29 (one year ago) link

Good posting, Chinaski, thanks.

the pinefox, Thursday, 2 April 2020 12:54 (one year ago) link

Juan Benet - A Meditation.

There were times when I was reading this 365 page one paragraph monster that I felt like it was consuming me rather than the other way around.* Maybe one day -- whenever I've dared to re-read this? -- I will put up a thread called crappily titled "Undercover Canon" where we could talk about novels like this**, just bizarro examples of the written word, that have been consigned to the dustbin (this was the cheapest novel, £2 quid on amazon). In one way it isn't at all that weird, this is a post-Faulkner -- Region is modelled on Yoknapatawpha County -- post-Proust world where people interact and reminisce about relationships, war, exile and whatever the fuck else, coming in and out of Region's geography. The narrator recounts in a series of episodes of narrative that switch to meditations on all manner of abstractions -- and back again.

A Meditation is probably coming from the greatest Spanish modernist writer. But its a very lonely voice. In the main Spanish writers like to do other things altogether, more into a sense of play (thinking of Vila-Matas) (if not fun) with er stuff, or they were into their dictators (Inclan's Tyrant Banderas however Benet isn't one for doing the obvious -- you couldn't get a digestible line out of him about the Spanish civil war or on anything else for that matter). What you do get is what I can only describe as these rational hallucinations (something very calculated, but you feel the mind that is writing these sections is seeking to expand but not quite explode your undertanding of the world and people in it, maybe like a bomb that goes off now and then, then has its mechanism put back together again to only go off again later, on and on till the end)

* I spent a month with it, even though I read about a quarter of it in a day. The horror of covid-19 'got in the way', and then other distractions. Even so its a novel that can be very exhausting and yet just drags you down to a hole. Thomas Bernhard (its not at all like him btw) is actually really easy to read, and he makes it so. This lacks a music that Bernhard has, but makes it up by willing a sense of forward motion (that's my way of saying that I think the guy could write). I couldn't put it down for long strecthes of time, but when I did put it down it would stay down for days, and I couldn't pick up anything else as nothing would or could equal it. I was stuck but it didn't feel like it, because it was so enjoyable.

** So I think Carlo Emilio Gadda's The Experience of Pain is possibly most like it (both this and Benet share a pain, both also happened to be engineers too), Saer's La Grande, Broch's The Death of Virgil, to name a few other forgotten ones that draw on the same models form the 20s and 30s.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 3 April 2020 23:02 (one year ago) link

That sounds both exhausting and weirdly intriguing.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Saturday, 4 April 2020 10:20 (one year ago) link

Finished At Dusk, and yeah, it got really good. I was quite astonished at how much space there was for different voices in such a little book. At one point one of the main characters is telling a story she heard from a friend, that the friend heard from a colleague, that the colleague heard from a former cellmate. The plot really is nearly nothing, it's just voices and stories from the fringes, and from the past, which the architect has tried to pave over and leave behind. Very touching.

Capital and Ideology is also really good. I'm still just at how the French Revolutionaries dealt with ancient unequal privileges, but it's so interesting.

Frederik B, Sunday, 5 April 2020 15:37 (one year ago) link

What should I read by her?

How preposterous is it that Vita Sackville-West, the best-selling bisexual baroness who wrote over thirty-five books that made an ingenious mockery of twenties societal norms, should be remembered today merely as a smoocher of Virginia Woolf? The reductive canonization of her affair with Woolf has elbowed out a more luxurious, strange story: Vita loved several women with exceptional ardor; simultaneously adored her also-bisexual husband, Harold; ultimately came to prefer the company of flora over fauna of any gender; and committed herself to a life of prolific creation (written and planted) that redefined passion itself.

dow, Monday, 6 April 2020 01:23 (one year ago) link

Been reading a bit of this and a bit of that: poems by Tagore, one of the vocation lectures by Max Weber (in the new NYRB translation), I finished One Lark, One Horse by Michael Hofmann (having been looping back and rereading a bunch - I may post one in the poetry thread). Not sure what to read next.

o. nate, Monday, 6 April 2020 01:35 (one year ago) link

I'm halfway through Parting the Waters. 1961. The sit-in movement is sweeping the Jim Crow south. It pries loose some minor concessions against strict segregation. Those little successes are spark off a wave of murderous Klan retaliatory violence, with bombings, beatings and lynching. I know this trend will get much worse before it gets any better.

The biggest surprise to me so far is how tiny the organizations of SCLC and SNCC were, compared to the breadth of the movement, which is being driven almost entirely by spontaneous local (mostly student-led) protests. Almost everything that happens occurs via loose informal networking, usually centered around black churches and colleges, with hardly any central planning or training. The movement is spreading and growing itself rapidly and King is somehow at the very core of everything, while having almost no power to steer anything.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 6 April 2020 01:51 (one year ago) link

Finished A Place of Greater Safety, that French Revolution was a doozy and a half huh

silby, Monday, 6 April 2020 03:43 (one year ago) link

To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, when Saint-Just was my age, he had been dead for four years.

silby, Monday, 6 April 2020 04:40 (one year ago) link

In on the The Mirror And The Light reading club too. Previously my reading was done almost exclusively on public transport, so I'm using the shutdown to tackle some hardcover doorstops that would be a pain to lug around.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 6 April 2020 09:27 (one year ago) link

a collection of rober walser's short stories including, and titled after, the walk. my first time reading walser despite him being an influence on several of my favourite writers. most of the 'stories' are two page sketches and ideas than conventional short stories, have found these more interesting than enjoyable. the walk itself is magnificent; a bipolar odyssey of the magic and mundanity of living.

devvvine, Monday, 6 April 2020 09:44 (one year ago) link

I finished War and Peace. Good novel imo.

About to start a Metternich bio published last year.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 6 April 2020 10:18 (one year ago) link

I overcame my reader's block, to a degree, by reading Alan Sillitoe.

I'd had a copy of THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER on the shelf for years. I finally got round to reading the title story. It's told by a criminal, and he's thus unpleasant. Yet the actual writing is strong, bold. I've read about 3 other stories that follow it, and again what strikes me is that Sillitoe isn't really quite what people might imagine - Ecky Thump tough brassy Northerner or something (well, he was from Nottingham anyway, but it seems all to have been conflated into the North) - but bolder, darker, more exploratory. A relevant period term is 'Existentialism'. The stories can be a bit disturbing. But they're easy enough to read, for me to get back into reading a bit.

the pinefox, Monday, 6 April 2020 11:00 (one year ago) link

I've been looking for a copy of Travels in Nihilon forever

Οὖτις, Monday, 6 April 2020 14:57 (one year ago) link

just finished Helen Eustis's The Horizontal Man. Patton Oswalt recommended it alongside Tey's the daughter of time (which I love) in one of his books. it's a rare mystery novel that gets inside the head of many different characters, where they all have different ways of thinking. Too bad the mystery solution becomes obvious to modern readers as soon as the first clue come up. I bet Alfred Hitchcock read it.

halfway through Elizabeth Kolbert - The Sixth Extinction
should have been 100 pages max. she needs to go on a travel adventure for each chapter, describing what the lab looks like where they study coral reefs, etc. so much filler for such a big topic.

wasdnuos (abanana), Wednesday, 8 April 2020 18:09 (one year ago) link

I finished Sillitoe. 177 pages, a way out of my Reader's Block.

Then back to Jennifer Egan, LOOK AT ME - now page 50, a long way to go, but a lot more user-friendly than Conrad was. I think I'll keep at this and finish it.

the pinefox, Thursday, 9 April 2020 18:18 (one year ago) link

I paused that to begin, at last, Michael White: POPKISS: THE LIFE & AFTERLIFE OF SARAH RECORDS, as a Good Friday treat.

Happily easy to read. 80 pages or so in a day: a relief to be finding a way to read again.

the pinefox, Saturday, 11 April 2020 09:08 (one year ago) link

JUst had It Was a New Day Yesterday arrive yesterday.
So have read the first chapter of that.
So may not get to finish Adventures in The Screen Trade quite so fast.

Still readeing the Philosopher's Stone book on Alchemy through various cultures which si very interesting. Gone from China into India and possibly onto another Asian tradition

Stevolende, Saturday, 11 April 2020 10:18 (one year ago) link

mark haber's reinhardt's garden, really fun sort of anglo take on bernhard and the zeal which certain writers find in 'melancholia' as a theme.

that benet sounds fantastic xyzzzz__. i keep meaning to read gadda too.

vivian dark, Sunday, 12 April 2020 03:31 (one year ago) link

I'm Afraid That's All We've Got Time For by Jen Calleja, collection of short stories just issued by prototype publishing. really interesting, by which i probably mean i'm not entirely sure what to make of it, of them. for some subterranean reason throughout reading the word algebra,al-jabra kept springing to mind, along with the image of bones poorly set or deliberately dislocated or asunder. that was the feeling of the prose.

using that as a key gets you somewhere with these stories: their parts are not connected. a story starts with a flood coming into a girl's school, moves through an incipient sexual relationship between a male teacher and a student, and vatic advice by dead and decaying farm animals.

it may take place in France. there is here a sense of dislocation as well. a story about crab fishermen *felt* like it took place in the states, but on going back i realised this may just have been projection on my part. some stories *seem* to take place in the future, without quite specifying it; they could just be taking place in a slightly de-ranged mentality.

i think this is all managed through a mixture of exclusion and breaking language slightly. In A Town Called Distraction tenses and sentence structure are maimed:

I loosely calculated faint figures in my hand. The bridge to the east side of town would be down and crossable for a quarter of an hour from quarter past twelve, and for ten minutes at twelve forty-five. Even if I were to make the close of the first window, I would still be fifteen minutes late, yet the second window glowed in pink neon next to the faded twelve-fifteen. I knew I would be distracted by the world. The world requests time. I'd been listening to the news on the radio before leaving and had to spring back upstairs to note down names mentioned in the broadcast to look up later on. The bus pulled in while I was scanning the headlines in the newsagent's in front of the bus stop and I rushed out to meet it. I had been the wrong bus, so i waited and wondered how long ago the council had had the bus shelter repaired, if ever.

Causation and the connective conventional glue that holds together a lot of 'realism' is excluded. This produces a not-quite dream logic, but it is not delivered in any sort of dreamy way - the short directness of the sentences means that causation is, tonally, very much conveyed - ah there it is again, as I write, the sound or image in my head of bones being forcibly dislocated... the point is that this isn't quite dream logic. it's real world logic deprived of that set of social causative glue with which so much writing and visual media is conventionally held together.

Exclusion of this sort allows the reader to project into a very deep conceptual space, which I think gives an awful lot of the substance of feeling to reading these stories.

I guess I may need to unpack that a little. On twitter recently, I said the impact of Covid felt like it might be best understood by looking at one of those historical graphs, which takes a sudden and spectacular dip, or spikes suddenly, like in the 1530s with western European prices, or the consequences of the black death or the 30 years war, and then a hundred years later you see the consequences. i said i could imagine in 2134 'The Sack of Singapore' being the symbolic event of the fall of capitalism. Ignoring the whimsical analysis and looking only at the imaginative construction, for science-fiction purposes, I should probably have said something less obvious - so it couldn't be European cities ('sack' having very much that connotation of classical history) and Singapore was too obviously connected with capitalism. It needed to be something like Brazilia, or maybe Chandigarh. Making it obvious (Singapore) is very much the Black Mirror error (imv), what you want to do from an imaginative pov is produce a gap between what seems likely now, and the event itself, for the reader to project into.

It feels like Calleja is doing something like this at a conceptual, causation and sentence by sentence level. It is I think quite deliberately jarring <- that could almost be the aesthetic of the stories. It's hard to find similarities and I think this may be because they are each experiments at the level I just described.

In some of the stories separate events are tied together only by their proximity, so that you go searching for the other things that might be there - again that projection into an excluded middle.

this makes it very surprising when you come across a story like The Amnesty, a sort of gender monde renversé. It feels very direct on the basis of the previous stories - women occupy the hegemonic position in society and clearly have done historically. The directness means that Calleja can drive through with force beyond the obvious low-hanging fruit of such an idea, and treat the concepts at play quite violently. So another thing I would say characterises her writing is 'violence done to concepts'.

It's all quite off-putting and it's extremely welcome to be being 'put off' at this level, 'off-putting' as an aesthetic, again. 'what is this taste? why? i don't like it or do i?' etc.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 09:48 (one year ago) link

Local Knowledge by Clifford Geertz. A re-read this - I go to Geertz when I want a cooling breeze of sanity in my mind. I feel, and I really want to explore this properly, that there is a deep reductiveness currently at work in how many people want to see the world. To throw a few things together to generate a congeries of what i mean: dominic cummings, thinking fast and slow, tim harford and 'economics', data science, the sort of watershed oppositional world that engenders culture wars, brexit, Trump.

What i get from Geertz is clear exploration of the spaces which are not only interpreted via their extreme point of conclusion; he can be intelligent about lines that are uncertain. In another of his collections he points out why he is 'anti-anti-relativist'. it's a very clear explanation why people who are anti-relativist are more of a problem than relativism is itself. I feel that needs to remembered as an important point, not at all difficult to understand with a little effort, in the state of things today.

the opening sentence of the first essay here – Blurred Genes: The Refrigeration of Social Thought – is a very good example of the tone: A number of things, I think, are true.

In fact I've just found a paragraph at the end of that essay, which states very clearly what I was trying to say at the beginning of this post (by 'refiguration' Geertz means use of theatre, play, symbolism, and other traditional terms of the humanities to explore the social so-called 'sciences', a move he welcomes):

One thing it means is that, however raggedly, a challenge is being mounted to some of the central assumptions of mainstream social science. The strict separation of theory and data, the "brute fact" idea; the effort to create a formal vocabulary of analysis purged of all subjective reference, the "ideal language" idea; and the claim to moral neutrality and the Olympian view, the "God's truth" idea – none of these can prosper when explanation comes to be regarded as a matter of connecting action to its sense rather than behavior to its determinants. The refiguration of social theory represents, or will if it continues, a sea change in our notion not so much of what knowledge is but of what it is we want to know. Social events do have causes and social institutions effects; but it just may be that the road to discovering what we assert in asserting this lies less through postulating forces and measuring them than through noting expressions and inspecting them.

I think (perhaps a use of being a white middle class male is that you can sense inside you some of the worst impulses at play in the hegemonic situation) that the appeal of the "brute fact" is very great to the commentariat, and to many other people besides, who want very much to be shown to be *right*. It is i think to a degree sometimes difficult to understand an overriding impulse. They have even created their own ersatz "formal vocabulary of analysis" (call it "Sensiblese") to examine their own rightness.

To use a phrase he uses in another essay, with Geertz the appeal is that he explores clearly a world where "the matter is one of degree, not polar opposition" and just as importantly shows how you can still make working and workable observations and conclusions in such a world.

One challenge, politically, I think, is how in our abrasive and oppositional cultural world you ensure languages of degree do not, Laodicean like, backslide or get luke-warmed into radical centrism, but retain their necessary capacity for progressive action.

Anyway, regardless of the wider political challenges, reading Geertz is a great way of maintaining a certain intellectual freshness and elasticity. The fault is clearly mine that each time I read him I think 'ah yes, *this* is how it should be done'!

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 10:14 (one year ago) link

i've got The Wheels of Commerce by Fernand Braudel on the bookstand where I tend to eat, which means I will read a few paras every week. it's hardly a study but it's very pleasant reading about the development of markets in Europe, say. Despite the fact as a member of the Annales school of history he did exceptional work drawing together complicated statitistics into a coherent picture of European history, he is also a remarkably and pleasingly picturesque writer. So, for instance of how livestock and foodstuffs were got to the major markets of European capitals:

Thus Madrid in the eighteenth century drew to excess on the means of transport of Castile, to the point of disrupting the country's entire economy. In Lisbon, if one is to believe Tirso de Molina (1625) everything was simplicity itself: fruit, snow from the Serra d'Estrela, and food arrived by the all-providing sea: 'The inhabitants, as they sit eating at tale, can see the fishermen's nets fill with fish ... caught on their doorsteps.' It is a pleasure to the eyes, says an account of July-August 1633, to see the hundreds and thousand of fishermen's barks on the Tagus. Lazy, greedy, perhaps indifferent, the city seems from these accounts to be swallowing the sea. But the picture is too good too be true: in fact Lisbon and to labour endlessly to find enough grain for her daily bread. And the larger the population, the higher the degree of risk to supplies. Venice was already having to buy cattle for consumption from Hungary in the fifteenth century. Istanbul, which had a population in the sixteenth century of perhaps 700,000, at flocks of sheep from the Balkans, and grain from the Black Sea and Egypt.

Incidentally, I see someone has posted some reading notes from the wonderful Structures of Everyday Life (the first volume of Civilisation and Capitalism, of which The Wheels of Commerce is the second). Haven't been through them yet, and the name Tyler Cowen brings me out in authentic plague, but may well be worth a dip.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 10:30 (one year ago) link

The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem - great christmas present from house mate.

SO MUCH to disagree with in the introduction as the editor (Jeremy Noel-Todd) tries to get to grips with defining rules for inclusion and exclusion for prose poems. But what made me extremely argumentative in the introduction makes for a superb collection of anything that slips between prose and poetry (you will, as surely as i did, disagree with many entries – oh come ON, that's just PROSE – but this is just part of the fun). It allows for a diverse collection continually working in peripheral spaces and so increasing one's range of imaginative perception.

it is, for reasons i cbf'd to go into, arranged in reverse chronological order. as yet another exercise in defamiliarisation it works well enough.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 10:36 (one year ago) link

let's have some Peter Reading, from C (you know what C stands for):

The brass plate polished wordless. Stone steps hollowed by the frightened hopeful ascending, the terrified despairing descending. (Probably between three and four months, perhaps one hundred days.) Out of the surgeries in this Georgian street, and similar streets in similar cities, some of us issue daily, bearing the ghastly prognostications. How we hate you, busy, ordinary, undying – taxi-drive, purveyor of the Evening Star, secretary bouncing puddings of malleable flesh. Incongruously I plan 100 100-word unites. What do you expect me to do – break into bloody haiku?

Verse is for healthy
arty-parties. The dying
and surgeons use prose.

Peter Reading (1984)

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 10:40 (one year ago) link

*taxi-driver - should have proof read and in case it wasn't obvious that's one of the pieces collected in the prose poem book.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 10:41 (one year ago) link

great post on reading Benet, xyzzzz__ - will have to give it a go.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 10:42 (one year ago) link

FUCK macOS autocorrect in the Geertz post - the essay is the 'Refiguration of Social Thought' not refrigeration lol.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 10:44 (one year ago) link

Antonio Tabucchi - The Woman of Porto Pim
Ciaran Carson - In the Light of
Colette - Cheri
Marina Tsvetaeva - Selected
Pushkin - The Tales of Belkin

The Tabucchi basically mines literatures on the sea and the whale (the title is a short story at the end of the book), anything from Melville to stuff that reminds me of old Portuguese travelogues I have read about but never actually looked at (according to this account of Portuguese lit that book was some of Portugal's first writing of note. The Colette is a marvel of a novella, exploring relationships and forbidden desires with an ending that could be devastating depending on your mood. Pushkin you can just go in my veins: duels, marriage schemes, lives turned upside down and up again in a blink of an eye, the going-ons of small towns, all told colourfully in a way that just isn't quite done, almost as if pages are too well-written now to go to the mess of it.

Poetry-wise I am engaging with Ciaran Carson re-tellings of Rimbaud, and another Tsvetaeva collection where it takes off on the uncollected section. A lot of her poetry (her way of seeing things) just barely leaves the desk its been written on, or so it seems.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 12 April 2020 14:33 (one year ago) link

re: Benet -- good luck to all those who were interested :) I first came across him when reading about The Construction fo the Tower of Babel which I never got hold of and could be a better starting point.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 12 April 2020 14:48 (one year ago) link

i’ll be fine, just prepping for it by binge reading miss marples.

Fizzles, Sunday, 12 April 2020 15:56 (one year ago) link


xyzzzz__, Sunday, 12 April 2020 16:27 (one year ago) link

First thing that has truly struck me about the new Mantel: how easily she gets you on Cromwell's side - why must all these people be so difficult, man's tired - even though if you think about it for a few seconds there's no earthly reason why you should be.

Daniel_Rf, Sunday, 12 April 2020 17:21 (one year ago) link

Causation and the connective conventional glue that holds together a lot of 'realism' is excluded...the short directness of the sentences means that causation is, tonally, very much conveyed Got this from your quotations, will have to read these stories, thanks!

The Refrigeration of Social Thought efficiently maintains and contains their own ersatz "formal vocabulary of analysis" (call it "Sensiblese") to examine their own rightness.

dow, Sunday, 12 April 2020 17:33 (one year ago) link

Braudel reminds of how much is required to maintain refrigeration, and get it all to the fridge.

dow, Sunday, 12 April 2020 17:36 (one year ago) link

Excited and daunted by the prospect of reading the latest dispatch from Fizzles, let alone books the books themselves.

Someone mentioned Two Serious Ladies in the last thread, so I bought it, just read it, what a weird and troublesome thing this book is, straightforwardly concerned with the abject complexities of desire.

silby, Sunday, 12 April 2020 23:56 (one year ago) link

Also reread The Great Gatsby, 15 years later, FScott writes the good sentences, inarguably

silby, Monday, 13 April 2020 00:01 (one year ago) link

You might also enjoy the short stories, play (In The Summer House, which got a rave from Tennessee Williams), letters, hell you might well check around for a nicely priced copy of this collection, the most complete I know of (still not that long, alas), put together by Bowles biographer Millicent Dillon: https://www.loa.org/books/531-collected-writings

dow, Monday, 13 April 2020 01:52 (one year ago) link

Reread Colm Toibin's The Empty Family, who understands characters alienated from but still drawn to their families, especially if they're queer.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 13 April 2020 01:53 (one year ago) link

I read Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking so you don't have to.

Now reading my first Iris Murdoch - The Bell. It's set in a lay community, attached to an abbey housing an order of Benedectine nuns, which of course it is, and it has this odd tonal mix of vast existential crises and an episode of Midsomer Murders. I'm in.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Monday, 13 April 2020 10:11 (one year ago) link

I made POPKISS my Easter reading and I finished it in the middle of last night. Reflections:

I welcome a breezy, readable book (after my failure with NOSTROMO etc) and this does fly by fine. But it also contains many infelicities - emphatic or colourful adjectives that are wrong, as in many music writers (Simon Goddard's Smiths book the classic example), and any number of dangling modifiers. This is a Bloomsbury book. Why isn't it edited?

I look at the C87, C88 etc CD compilations and notice how few among the 60+ tracks are from Sarah bands. In other words there were actually *lots* of other indiepop labels at the same time. How did they compare? Was Sarah different from them, or were they copying its methods? I realize this is a book about one label, but something more on that ecology of indie labels would be relevant to a real understanding here.

Sarah as a business. I puzzled over this at times, sometimes bemused by how the emphasis was on saving money (buying the cheapest parcel tape, etc) while also charging as little as possible ... I had to remind myself that what it sounded like was doing things for a hobby: like when Pamela Berry and I, 20 years ago, recorded our first single and sent a cassette of the tracks to a bunch of indie labels around the world. We probably wanted to save money, and certainly weren't looking to make money. Lots of the Sarah activities make sense if you see them as someone not running a business, but just doing something they liked do, for their friends.

But then ... they also keep giving a band, say, £400 to go and make a record - which was even more money then (in fact it's apparently £900 now). So they *were* a business, and that money presumably came from sales. There's a slight tension, or at least relation, between these two things, that isn't fully explored.

The author says it won't be obsessively completist - fair enough - but some omissions are still notable. What's the greatest Sarah track of all? I think to me it's Secret Shine's 'Loveblind' - which isn't even mentioned in 250 pages! Still, the MBV context for that band is quite well introduced.

The chapter on Heavenly, Riot Grrrl, feminism gets dreary for me I'm afraid - in that I've reached a point where most claims about the gender politics of indiepop look overplayed, and too often they're pitching at straw targets.* Example: the band name Heavenly is described as 'A word *real* men are never heard to say'. Irony, of some kind, but not managing to make a very substantial point. The truth is, Heavenly is a much less 'fey' band name than Gentle Despite or The Sweetest Ache, if that's the competition you're in. The claim that Heavenly sounded like the Dixie Cups or Shangri-Las also seems like wishful thinking.

[* The exception to this is the much simpler and more direct fact, cited here p.172, that the label didn't put pictures of women on record covers.]

Certain rather significant things are picked up oddly in passing.

Example 1: a one-line footnote on page 203 (!) states that 'Sarah had no contracts and didn't demand exclusivity from any of its bands'. Maybe this fact, its significance and whether it was distinctive should have been discussed in, say ... the first 50 pages?

Example 2: the whole thing rests on Haynes and Wadd's relationship, sharing a flat and working from it, etc, and on p.243, in about 1995, they break up, and it's explained that it was a natural progression. Fine. But meanwhile, on p.109, we suddenly learn that half the Field Mice songs in one period were about Clare Wadd, with whom the songwriter had been involved - 'the by-product of an agreement between her and Haynes to see other people while remaining a couple'. Crikey !! Again, maybe this might have been worth mentioning ... a bit sooner?

That said, the Field Mice chapter is actually one of the strongest. Harvey Williams, Hit Parade are well enough covered, though the Orchids chapter confirms my sense that this is the most overrated band on the label - I can just never hear what everyone else can in them.

Glad to have read the book. May yet refer to it in future.

the pinefox, Monday, 13 April 2020 10:38 (one year ago) link

I'm dipping back into my William James biography and a few things spring to mind: how easy it was for James to get his medical degree from Harvard (it took, basically, a year, at the end of which he had an MD and a license to practise. Christ alone knows what kind of stuff was going on behind surgery doors); the opportunities open to James: he travels, incessantly, including an amazing trip with Louis Aggasiz to the Amazon basin to collect specimens with the notion of disproving Darwin's theory of transmutation; how mad his dad is: a self-published writer on religion and philosophy who no-one read; how ILL everyone is - always: Henry's constipation, William's back, various friends and relatives dropping like flies (I know it's the 1860s but it's still shocking).

That's a lot of punctuation.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Tuesday, 14 April 2020 09:39 (one year ago) link

Interesting thoughts about Popkiss, PF - I like Michael a lot, and I think there are interesting discussions to be had about Sarah records, particularly its politics and its business model but I couldn't face reading the book. Mostly that was because I have my own more-or-less functional memories of how it was when it was, and I don't particularly feel the need for reminders (or contradictions).

Tim, Tuesday, 14 April 2020 09:55 (one year ago) link

I was hoping you'd see my post, Tim, as possibly the only ILB person who knew that stuff. I'm not surprised you wouldn't read the book.

I met the author once and he was friendly. He has constructed a readable and quite well-structured book, but one could wish for fewer basic errors in the writing.

It did make me dig out 'I'm in love with a girl who doesn't know I exist' on 7-inch.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 14 April 2020 11:40 (one year ago) link

how ILL everyone is - always: Henry's constipation, William's back, various friends and relatives dropping like flies (I know it's the 1860s but it's still shocking).

and poor Alice

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 14 April 2020 11:43 (one year ago) link

about halfway through the bostonians, absolutely loving it

devvvine, Tuesday, 14 April 2020 13:37 (one year ago) link

Wide-ranging, in-depth profile here: https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2018/winter/feature/the-thinker-who-believed-in-doing-0

dow, Tuesday, 14 April 2020 17:29 (one year ago) link

I'm dipping back into my William James biography and a few things spring to mind: how easy it was for James to get his medical degree from Harvard (it took, basically, a year, at the end of which he had an MD and a license to practise. Christ alone knows what kind of stuff was going on behind surgery doors); the opportunities open to James: he travels, incessantly, including an amazing trip with Louis Aggasiz to the Amazon basin to collect specimens with the notion of disproving Darwin's theory of transmutation; how mad his dad is: a self-published writer on religion and philosophy who no-one read; how ILL everyone is - always: Henry's constipation, William's back, various friends and relatives dropping like flies (I know it's the 1860s but it's still shocking).

That's a lot of punctuation.

― Vanishing Point (Chinaski),Tuesday, April 14, 2020 10:39 AM (thirteen hours ago) bookmarkflaglink

I listened to a Podcast earlier thsi week that said that up to a certain point US medical schools were all about making money and little to do with real accreditation and doctors with real integrity tended to go to Europe to get anything worthwhil ei terms of tuition/accreditation.
Now forgetting which one it was , possibly Ologies or Stuff you missed in History.

Stevolende, Tuesday, 14 April 2020 22:53 (one year ago) link

I've been reading Max Havelaar by Multatuli, in the recent NYRB translation. It's kind of an odd, but amusing, 19th century novel, apparently considered a classic in the Netherlands. It's set in the Dutch colonies of (what is now) Indonesia, and apparently prompted a political conversation that led to some reforms in the administration of the colonies. Since I spent a couple of years in that part of the world, I was kind of interested to learn more about that period of history.

o. nate, Wednesday, 15 April 2020 01:22 (one year ago) link

Oh it's a classic. A lock for top three Dutch books ever in the canon etc. It was a never before seen or heard indictment against (inequality in/because of) the colonial system. He longed for a new position as a clerk in the very same colonial system after he got fired. And he was offered a high position, coming with wealth and influence, on the condition he'd never publish his book. He turned down the offer.

I'm curious how they translated it into English now!

Well, whatever I expected from my first Iris Murdoch (The Bell) it wasn't an existential folk horror with an actual 'intrepid, amphibious nun', in which one of the three central characters learns that the true spiritual life has no story and is not tragic and another finds an ancient bell at the bottom of a lake.

I love that feeling of being in the presence of a giant intellect and knowing you need to read everything they've written.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 15 April 2020 19:22 (one year ago) link

reading hurricane season by fernanda melchor, which keeps getting (aptly imo) compared to 2666. it's the same sort of storytelling-at-the-edges trying to catch violence/horror traveling scales. anyone here reading?

vivian dark, Wednesday, 15 April 2020 23:14 (one year ago) link

Afraid not. Kiberd, IRISH CLASSICS: finished the chapter on Yeats (again) and started one on George Moore -- now here's a writer that I have never read and really should.

the pinefox, Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:34 (one year ago) link

(I started on Monday by reading the chapter on CASTLE RACKRENT - a book that we have discussed here before - then one on Synge's THE ARAN ISLANDS: another book I should try to read.)

the pinefox, Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:35 (one year ago) link

George Moore - 'A drama in muslin'

late 19th century writer who never really got the kudos he deserved. the libraries of the time wouldnt stock his books and Yeats wrote an essay after Moore died which ripped him to shreds. the book has similar themes to Jane Austen (young women preparing themselves for the marriage market) but its more biting and satirical.

― Michael B,Wednesday, November 18, 2009 1:54 PM (ten years ago)

He gets compared to Turgenev a lot also

Saxophone Of Futility (Michael B), Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:41 (one year ago) link

Indeed that's Kiberd's chapter!

Maybe I should resolve to read Moore.

the pinefox, Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:46 (one year ago) link

TS: George Moore vs Lorrie Moore

the pinefox, Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:46 (one year ago) link

i have been reading james barr's a line in the sand, a popular history of the incompetent and immoral british and french mandates in the middle east.

i am finding it tedious. this bit, on one of the leaders of the druze revolt, seemed to exemplify some of what's bothering me about it:

"Sultan (Atrash) cut a menacing figure, even twenty years later. When the British explorer and soldier Wilfred Thesiger met the man he called his 'boyhood hero' in 1941, he was delighted to see that even in middle age Sultan surpassed his expectations. 'His face, framed in a white headcloth, was austere and authoritative; his body, wrapped in a black cloth of finest weave, was lean and upright,' Thesiger recalled. A photograph from the 1920s shows Sultan, then a wary outlaw, staring alertly at the camera. He sports a debonair mustache and, befitting his then status as a fugitive, several days' stubble."

a bit of ekphrasis; a bit of triangulation from a recognisable english name. nothing about how atrash might have described himself, or his aims as a nationalist, nor of how anyone, bar thesinger, outside the colonialist apparatus regarded him. and this is true of all of the arab figures in the book: we only get them through the lens of the british and french, not in their own versions, nor in how the arabic voices of the time or later have seen them. (there are something like two dozen british or french papers listed in the index, and not one arabic-language one.)

yes, the book's purview is narrowly defined, but proceeding in this fashion means that everyone in it who never met churchill just disappears into a kind of orientalist murk, occasionally emerging behind a rifle or an explosive.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Thursday, 16 April 2020 12:56 (one year ago) link


I read this first in the late 1970s, then again in 2018. It is a pleasant, refreshing little book and an important one in its miniature field of interest. Pampooties!

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 16 April 2020 17:55 (one year ago) link

Virginia Woolf - Three Guineas
Elizabeth Gilbert - City of Girls

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 16 April 2020 17:56 (one year ago) link

btw, I finished Parting the Waters last night. It is quite harrowing to read and still barely touched the breadth of the sacrifice, courage, and brutality involved in the movement during the 10 years it covered. As could be expected, J. Edgar Hoover comes off as one of the worst humans on the planet. Robert Moses and Septima Clark, otoh, are names which should be much better known and appreciated for their amazing steadfast contributions.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 16 April 2020 21:29 (one year ago) link

reading sic-fi this year. less critical theory and history, more entertainment. this was my view at the start of the year and if anything reality has reinforced that this was a good idea for my brain. finished dune and then in short order read sirens of titan - my first Vonnegut - and a scanner darkly - my first dick (ha). enjoyed them all tremendously. Vonnegut definitely the writer of the 3 on this small sample of evidence.

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 16 April 2020 23:37 (one year ago) link

Read Le Guin next and leave them all well to the back

silby, Friday, 17 April 2020 00:13 (one year ago) link

I don't have my usual access to books so just been reading from my gf's collection but I don't think she has any le Guin sadly, once books are easier to come by I will acquire some of her books

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Friday, 17 April 2020 00:15 (one year ago) link

i prefer dick to vonnegut but that was more to do with a teenage identification with his themes, methods; certainly vonnegut writes better sentences. read herbert's whipping star if she has that one, though, what a bizarre book that one is.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Friday, 17 April 2020 07:05 (one year ago) link

Aimless: *The* Robert Moses?

the pinefox, Friday, 17 April 2020 10:40 (one year ago) link

The grey security cam footage sentences always went well w Dick's themes etc: go tromping with him and he'll take you places, often pretty briskly. Not w/o modulation, and he went through several phases on 30 years of professional writing and sometimes desperate living.

dow, Friday, 17 April 2020 16:43 (one year ago) link

*in* 30 years of professional writing, not like mine. He's like a good pro pathologist on a cop show, but takes it much further.

dow, Friday, 17 April 2020 16:48 (one year ago) link

Aimless: *The* Robert Moses?

*This* Robert Moses.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 17 April 2020 17:39 (one year ago) link

Elena Ferrante - Troubling Love
Colette - The Last of Cheri

xyzzzz__, Friday, 17 April 2020 20:09 (one year ago) link

I took a 'break' and read Gideon Haigh's book on Shane Warne. Haigh has a deep knowledge of his subject and writes well. I know these are bland statements but they're all I've got.

So, my question is, something like: what do you read that is the closest to not-reading, ie that still gives nourishment but isn't immediately draining or demanding?

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Friday, 17 April 2020 22:13 (one year ago) link

I'm now reading Penelope Fitzgerald's Innocence, set in 1950s Italy. As usual, it is strongly imagined and creates its world using a minimum of verbiage, where every sentence is like a stone set by a master stonemason in a dry stone wall that will last a century.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 17 April 2020 23:20 (one year ago) link

Elena Ferrante - Troubling Love
Colette - The Last of Cheri

― xyzzzz__, Friday, April 17, 2020

The Ferrante is moving, another attempt to parse a sexually liberated woman whose instincts clash with her upbringing.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 April 2020 23:21 (one year ago) link

For sure, and in a very compressed way. Very impressed how she was able to expand these themes out in the Quartet, and losing only a little of its power when doing so.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 17 April 2020 23:32 (one year ago) link

There was a fascinating lost/excised chapter from Innocence published in the LRB a couple months ago.

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 17 April 2020 23:48 (one year ago) link

I just finished Excellent Women, my first Pym, exceptional lockdown comfort read, v. tempted to read all the rest now

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 17 April 2020 23:49 (one year ago) link

Gideon Haigh's book on Shane Warne

lol i'm a yank and know nothing of cricket but happened to be in australia during warne's 2006-7 ashes finale and yikes

not sure if it was warne or a mate who compared retiring from cricket to leaving your mistress to go back to your wife

mookieproof, Saturday, 18 April 2020 02:37 (one year ago) link

I was hoping you'd see my post, Tim, as possibly the only ILB person who knew that stuff.

Hold up now : ) I remember enjoying reading Popkiss around the time it came out, but the information in it sorta evaporated from my memory, and it's still for me (as Tim says) what it was when it was... something I experienced from a far distance, mostly in my imagination. The reality of it seems unreal to me.

avellano medio inglés (f. hazel), Saturday, 18 April 2020 04:54 (one year ago) link

I was also a fan but never bothered with the book or the film. I don't really need to know what's in those sausages.

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 05:01 (one year ago) link

(btw, Clare's tweeting them out, one a day, with a little sentence about each at the moment)

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 05:03 (one year ago) link

I didn't know about another Bob Moses.

Chinaski: non-draining reading for me? Maybe Terry Eagleton.

Oddly I heard that EXCELLENT WOMEN was overrated and not as good as had been hoped. Maybe that was wrong. Maybe I should read her one day.

F. Hazel, I don't think I know you, hence my omission of you re: C86 matters.

I very much take Koogs' point that if you like something, you might NOT want to know how it was made. This can make a lot of sense.

Koogs' last post, at first I thought he meant she was tweeting out the book a sentence at a time! Now I understand it I wish I were on Twitter.

the pinefox, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:10 (one year ago) link

I thought she was tweeting sausages.

Tim, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:17 (one year ago) link

twitter is available (to read) via the web... (which is how you can see all the embedded tweets on ilx)


it's a bit noisy with all the retweets and all but...

and it's ok, they'd be vegetarian sausages.

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:37 (one year ago) link

(and with me there's also a massive feeling that all that was The Past and, well, my passport is expired. i will dig out the odd thing from time to time but the compilations are minefields)

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:39 (one year ago) link

It's notable, to me, how Tim and Koogs, at least, relate to this kind of material.

I can understand Koogs detaching from it - though Koogs was also the one who helped me discover tons of MBV, G500, etc, about 13 years ago. (Maybe to Koogs that's very different from Sarah.)

With Tim, it's a different kind of reaction, that is very foreign to me. My experience very rarely involves liking something and then turning to strongly disliking and avoiding it as 'the past'. If you go back to things I liked over 30 years ago - Go West, Deacon Blue - I like them as much as ever.

Perhaps Tim has some kind of element of 'disavowal of the past' that is part of the fuel of his great erudition and unusually inquiring mind.

the pinefox, Saturday, 18 April 2020 11:27 (one year ago) link

Excellent Women was the book in the latest episode of Backlisted. I will get around to it eventually.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 18 April 2020 11:29 (one year ago) link

The Gaol Ferry Bridge comp was one of my favourite albums for a long time. anyway.

An Indifference of Birds - Richard Smyth. 'A history of humans seen from the perspective of birds'. Very poetically written. It's hard not to feel that this is the processing of information read elsewhere into 'literariness' without any real gain or additional insight. He generously provides a bibliography of books that informed each section and it feels like going to those would stimulate the imagination in ways not confined by notions of literariness or rich prose.

Then you come across a few sentences that do seem to make it worthwhile:

Where today beetle-black grackles crowd the power-lines of the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex, Austinornis lentus – a first pheasant or junglefowl – pecked and scraped a living in the steamy maritime climate of Texas. And back when 'Europe' was a marshy archipelago, knee-deep in the turbid waters of the Sea of Tethys, what's now the limestone lakeland of south-east Germany was the fenland home of Archeopteryx, the Ürvogel, the 'first bird' – Archeo-pteryx, the ancient feather.

the approach to prose there is *extremely* reminiscent of RLS's quite rich, of-their-time, views of good writing and use of sounds in prose, but that said sometimes Smyth does seem to generate new insight from the stated aim of looking at people via birds:

We didn't invent lentils or vetch, we didn't come up with the idea of chickpeas, no neolithic Archimedes ever leapt from his tub with excitement at having discovered linseed; the birds were already well-versed in these things. What we altered, with our heavy brains and capacity to plan, were their concentrations in the landscape, their profusion, their availability, This is how we (farmers, now, landscapers, terraformers) shaped the lives of birds.

'heavy brains and capacity to plan' does decent work emphasising lumbering humans v airy birds (a theme). and i'm fascinated by what that 'now' is doing in the bracketed list. it's really arresting, but i don't know what it means - i did wonder whether it should have been (farmers, now landscapers, terraformers), but i quite like 'now' as an element of change. it's arresting, even if i'm not sure it's not just a mistake or bad writing.

still, it feels a bit overwritten, especially when i compare to something like RF Langley's Journals - written with restraint, but with continual insight to nature and history and human life and one's internal life, in that context.

however, birds *are* very strange, and i think that will keep me going - despite reluctance and a bit of grouchiness i think i'm quite enjoying the book.

Fizzles, Saturday, 18 April 2020 11:54 (one year ago) link

Excellent Women is v low-key and non-plotty, so if you’re expecting something else, maybe it might seem overrated? But it’s v funny and savage without going full Muriel Spark, plus you could read it in a long afternoon.

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 18 April 2020 12:59 (one year ago) link

Fizzles: I agree that 'now' looks like a mistake and doesn't make sense as it stands.

the pinefox, Saturday, 18 April 2020 13:18 (one year ago) link

I think the idea is that we (humans) once shaped the earth as farmers whereas now we do it as landscapers. Makes sense to me although maybe a dash would have worked better than a comma before “now”.

o. nate, Saturday, 18 April 2020 19:50 (one year ago) link

With Tim, it's a different kind of reaction, that is very foreign to me. My experience very rarely involves liking something and then turning to strongly disliking and avoiding it as 'the past'. If you go back to things I liked over 30 years ago - Go West, Deacon Blue - I like them as much as ever.

For whatever it's worth, there aren't many records I loved in the late 80s that I have turned against* - it's more that I began to find other kinds of music more interesting around the time that Sarah came into being. But I kept hearing the records because I knew some people who liked (and made!) them and in the main I found them pretty unpalatable. There may have been some element of finding it less appealing because it reminded me of a couple-of-years-previous me thatI wasn't keen to remember. Or it may have been that the records really were not for me- the Sarah sound was generally a bit different from the index scene it had grown from. But most of my favourites from the 86-89 seasons remain favourites.

*All the instances of this i can think of were singing voices I just went off - Pastel, Gedge and the goaty one out of the Sea Urchins come to mind.

Hey I've been having real trouble reading books during lockdown, but I'm working on typesetting a couple, so that's something. I read this sly little pamphlet, which looks and reads like an early-70s architectural guide but is also a ghost story of sorts: |Modern Buildings In Wessex" buy Stewart Brayne:


(Actually written by a fellow called Ray Newman. It's good, brief fun.)

Tim, Sunday, 19 April 2020 12:46 (one year ago) link

Tim is book design your profession or are you doing it recreationally?

silby, Sunday, 19 April 2020 23:54 (one year ago) link

Oh it's a classic. A lock for top three Dutch books ever in the canon etc. It was a never before seen or heard indictment against (inequality in/because of) the colonial system.

Having finished it now, I can see why it's regarded as a classic. What starts as a satire of bourgeois complacency and small-mindedness, slowly expands into a tale of the price of taking a stand within and against a morally deficient system where everyone is complicit. The heart of the book is apparently a lightly fictionalized of the author's own experience, and it reads that way, despite the clever framing. The books isn't interested in shades of grey or understanding the psychology of guilt or the perspective of its villains - it's a burning polemic, with a savage anger that still has the capacity to shock. It's interesting to think how it would have struck mid 19th century readers.

o. nate, Monday, 20 April 2020 02:15 (one year ago) link

SIlby - I don't know about recreation, but I don't do it for a living. This is me: http://halfpintpress.uk

Tim, Monday, 20 April 2020 08:07 (one year ago) link

I have to agree with Tim that Pastel, Gedge and Sea Urchins singer are bad singers.

the pinefox, Monday, 20 April 2020 13:11 (one year ago) link


The word WESSEX seems possibly a clue to oddness?

the pinefox, Monday, 20 April 2020 13:12 (one year ago) link

Oh Tim that’s rad!!

silby, Monday, 20 April 2020 14:54 (one year ago) link

Kiberd on Shaw, O'Casey, O'Flaherty, now Louis MacNeice.

the pinefox, Monday, 20 April 2020 16:59 (one year ago) link

Having finished Innocence I would rate its a very fine, accomplished novel, but within Fitzgerald's oeuvre I'd rate it fairly low. The main problem, as I see it, is that, while her observation of 'Italian-ness' which provides much of the materiel for her characters, feels fairly keen and probably exact enough, these characters do not elicit her deepest understanding and sympathy.

The understated comedy that pervades the book does not descend to the level of the notorious English penchant for making fun of foreigners; she extends them as much understanding and humanity as she knew how to, which is far more than most English authors would have achieved. But I mentally compare this book to her German characters in The Blue Flower and Russians in The Beginning of Spring and she does not penetrate to their inner springs of life quite as deeply. They withhold more and are less well explicated.

I think this one was the final novel of hers I had left to read. Makes me sad to reach an end of them. She never failed me once.

P.S. I picked up my Collected Poems of Louis MacNiece last night and read there for the final hour before bed. I may dabble in him some more before moving on elsewhere. His early stuff had some fine, strong sinews.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 23 April 2020 00:19 (one year ago) link

I'm reading Sean Carroll's The Big Picture which seems to be a decent 'state of play' regarding the current understanding of, uh, science stuff. I suspect it may collapse under the weight of its ambition but we'll see. I like his podcast right enough.

Also read Farenheit 451 for the first time (which, a couple of short stories aside, is my first Bradbury). I mean he wrote the bastard in 9 days (albeit built around a framework of other short stories he'd already written) and it stands and falls on that fact: it's in a hurry, is clunky and overwritten (the adjectives, Raymond!) but it belts along, is full of conviction and he never writes at anything less than the top of his lungs.

Just started Magda Szabó's The Door.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Thursday, 23 April 2020 15:28 (one year ago) link

I don't remember Bradbury's novels, unless you count some others built from sequential stories, like The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles: most recently, I encountered the anthologized account of a stray Martian child, the last of his kind in an area that includes a battered colony of Earthlings: he's seeking company, but he's had no training in how to control his shape-shifting abilities, and the colonists project images of their lost loved ones onto him, into him---it gets horrifying pretty quickly, and then it's over, in a way that's even worse. His short stories are worth seeking out, if you liked him at all.

dow, Thursday, 23 April 2020 15:55 (one year ago) link

there are two huge (900pp each) volumes of his short stories (which aren't even everything)

my favourites of those i've read so far (just over half way through volume 1, but have read 3 of the collections elsewhere)

There Will Come Soft Rains (pdf - https://www.btboces.org/Downloads/7_There%20Will%20Come%20Soft%20Rains%20by%20Ray%20Bradbury.pdf)

The Emissary (pdf - http://www.newforestcentre.info/uploads/7/5/7/2/7572906/the_emissary.pdf)

The Scythe (html - https://talesofmytery.blogspot.com/2013/11/ray-bradbury-scythe.html)

koogs, Thursday, 23 April 2020 17:13 (one year ago) link

the miracle of castel di sangro - Joe mcginniss

not bad so far. although as valid as all the observations are there is something a little grating about an American commenting about how corrupt and cack-handed everything in Italy is

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 23 April 2020 17:32 (one year ago) link

F-451 is a remarkable little novel. So imaginative, provocative, subtler than you might think. It may be 'overwritten' but at least in that sense it's 'written' - it has stylistic ambition, a kind of over-reaching Romantic verve -- from the first paragraph on.

The ending, where you can leave the city and it's OK mearby even though an atomic bomb has just been dropped on it, and people are walking around with the speeches of Abraham Lincoln memorized -- not quite so sure about that.

the pinefox, Thursday, 23 April 2020 18:12 (one year ago) link

I've never read Oliver Goldsmith, but have now read Kiberd's two chapters on him in IRISH CLASSICS - on 'The Deserted Village' and SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER. The latter sounds quite an appealing play.

I note that Goldsmith wrote:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay

the pinefox, Thursday, 23 April 2020 18:16 (one year ago) link

Last night I started reading Less Than Angels, Barbara Pym.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 23 April 2020 18:16 (one year ago) link

Finished George Steiner's In Bluebeard's Castle (bleh), Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls, and may start another Bernhard.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 23 April 2020 18:20 (one year ago) link

I've always found Steiner to be a pill.

Together Again Or (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 23 April 2020 18:25 (one year ago) link


TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 23 April 2020 18:37 (one year ago) link

I have a certain appreciation for Gallic snobbery but that guy is just too much.

Together Again Or (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 23 April 2020 18:43 (one year ago) link

Reading our kid Mark Sinker's "A hidden landscape every week"

Saxophone Of Futility (Michael B), Thursday, 23 April 2020 21:33 (one year ago) link

how ambiguous

mookieproof, Thursday, 23 April 2020 21:40 (one year ago) link

Thanks for the linked stories, koogs! That first one showed up in mind while I was writing the above post. His antennae are especially tuned into or toward community tensions, group dynamics, incl two or three people/entities, inside one, even.

dow, Friday, 24 April 2020 00:49 (one year ago) link

Kiberd on Goldsmith has led me to start watching SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER on YouTube - a 2008 production of at least 2.5 hours. Does anyone here like this play?

the pinefox, Saturday, 25 April 2020 08:56 (one year ago) link

It has a catchy title.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 25 April 2020 16:30 (one year ago) link

I saw it last year. It's fine, I wouldn't call it memorable. The production I saw had a ska thing going on.

silby, Sunday, 26 April 2020 01:27 (one year ago) link

Type of comedy

This section possibly contains original research.

silby, Sunday, 26 April 2020 01:28 (one year ago) link

type of comedy???

silby, Sunday, 26 April 2020 01:28 (one year ago) link

Posted by mistake on the autumn thread

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 26 April 2020 19:48 (one year ago) link

I finished the 2nd of Max Weber's vocation lectures in the NYRB translation Charisma and Disenchantment, the one on politics. Like the one on academic vocations, it had enough thought-provoking assertions to make it worth reading, some interesting theorizing on how modern political bureaucracies and political parties evolved from the class structure of monarchical society, although I'll admit it also put me to sleep a couple of times. Now I'm reading Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year (60 cents on Kindle) which was mooted as timely reading in the NY Times book section.

o. nate, Monday, 27 April 2020 01:07 (one year ago) link

Another gloomy connection to current events: Max Weber died suddenly in 1920 of the Spanish Flu, the year after this lecture was given.

o. nate, Monday, 27 April 2020 01:56 (one year ago) link

I didn't recall that about Weber. I can see that he'd be good to read, if possibly stodgy.

I liked the Goldsmith play. I followed it last night by watching a terrific new KING LEAR on BBC4. It brought back things about the play, and suggested things I hadn't recalled. For instance the fact that Cordelia's French army is defeated at the end. The whole play was made more military: 'knights' were in UK military uniform.

I finished with Kiberd yesterday - Sheridan, Kavanagh, Irish critical history - and went back to Jennifer Egan's LOOK AT ME. 75% to go. Curious novel: rangy, digressive, unpredictable - I've read 130pp and genuinely can't see where it's going.

the pinefox, Monday, 27 April 2020 09:12 (one year ago) link

current reading pile (books i've recently started -- not books i own and haven't finished, which takes up bookshelves):

jean rhys - wide sargasso sea
plato - 5 short dialogues
tig notaro - i'm just a person audiobook -- not funny or particularly interesting; i might abandon it
emil ferris - my favorite thing is monsters
rafael bob-waksberg - someone who will love you in all your damaged glory
Richard Rhodes - The making of the atomic bomb -- wider look than i anticipated, for example, covering the history of antisemitism and the discovery of the electron. There are sections that are long strings of scientific epiphanies that really stir me up. Some of the history is in conflict with things I learned in Richard Evans's The Coming of the Third Reich (the reichstag fire, hitler's takeaway on the protocols of the elders of sion), which I think is a product of Rhodes's book being written over 30 years ago.

wasdnous (abanana), Monday, 27 April 2020 17:17 (one year ago) link

do people have balzac faves?

Sorry, haven't kept up with my lurking lately. :)

Cousin Bette, Lost Illusions and A Harlot High and Low are pretty good; If I find a particular character interesting, I'll consult the bibliography and see if that character appears elsewhere in La Comédie humaine and go from there (e.g. really enjoyed Peyrade and Corentin in A Harlot High and Low so went from there to A Murky Business, which is also worth reading). I know there's a recommended reading order out there on the net somewhere that's nowhere near how I have approached his work so far. :)

cwkiii, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 16:02 (one year ago) link

Also, just finished Accordion Crimes by Proulx and was checking in to see if anyone here rates her? I've had The Shipping News on the shelf for a few years but I've been hesitant to pick it up.

cwkiii, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 16:03 (one year ago) link

I'm reading The Process Genre, a hot-off-the-press monograph about labor on film. My dear friend who is in grad school is also reading it right now (and ahead of me) and productively arguing with it in a paper they're writing so I'm excited about that too.

silby, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 16:09 (one year ago) link

I finished Barbara Pym's Less Than Angels, which rather slyly played against the conventions of the romance novel in the service of a comedy of manners. The English seem to lend themselves to sly comedies of manners. One might say they excel at it.

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 28 April 2020 17:07 (one year ago) link

I need to give her another try. Two summers ago I read two of her slim novels, each a case of diminishing returns (prefer A Glass of Blessings over Excellent Women); it's as if she shrunk herself out of, if not existence, then feeling. Among what I call the Anglo-Irish miniaturists I'll take Elizabeths Taylor and Bowen.

Just ordered Less Than Angels.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 28 April 2020 17:12 (one year ago) link

alfred u should check out the book I mentioned above if u haven't killfiled me

silby, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 17:13 (one year ago) link

Just finished Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn, well written, slow-moving, slightly cloying 'humanist' SF from 1954 that apparently was cited by Ursula K Le Guin as a formative favorite. The last third of the book describes a man-made viral pandemic overtaking New York in 1972 that has some amazing echoes of our current situation, only grimmer. One of Pringle's 100 Best SF Novels, and worthy of inclusion.

Now reading: Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck. Anti-Nazi journal entries written between 1936 and 1944, in a NYRB edition. Praiseblurb on back by Frederic Raphael, it's that kind of book.

Ward Fowler, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 17:24 (one year ago) link

I don't think you'll find Less Than Angels ascending to the top of your favored Pym novels, Lord Sotosyn. It passes the time somewhat pleasantly. The main character may have been Pym, self-deprecated, which adds a minor side interest. But it fits well with the 'miniaturist' categorization.

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 28 April 2020 17:26 (one year ago) link

alfred u should check out the book I mentioned above if u haven't killfiled me

― silby, Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Process Genre?

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 28 April 2020 19:29 (one year ago) link

Yah that one! I don’t know if you like reading contemporary academic work at all but you mentioned in some thread loving watching people work in movies and it’s a treatment of that.

silby, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 19:56 (one year ago) link

I think in re Phantom Thread

silby, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 19:56 (one year ago) link

Diary of a Man in Despair is excellent

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 04:27 (one year ago) link

Also, just finished Accordion Crimes by Proulx and was checking in to see if anyone here rates her? I've had The Shipping News on the shelf for a few years but I've been hesitant to pick it up.

― cwkiii, Tuesday, April 28, 2020 6:03 PM (yesterday) bookmarkflaglink

I finished 'Accordion Crimes' in January this year. I really did enjoy it for the rawness, the ragged and unkempt people crowding it, pioneering to the USA to build up something akin to an existence from scratch... Slatternly characters is probably the best way to describe it, in both the sordid daily hustle of getting by, of unfortunate chance pounding you down, and in the bare-bones, knuckle-ready condition humaine knocking you about.

'The Shipping News' is way, way more polished a read, but very much worth it all the same.

I loved Shipping News and Postcards by Annie Proulx. They both had an emotional intelligence but, in my memory at least, they feel of their time? I have Accordion Crimes and must read it.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 09:23 (one year ago) link

Yeah it's a good book, I like the way LBI described it. There is a grotesque, relentless black humor that I think helped to balance out the rawness and keep it from being like, The Jungle or whatever.

I tried to start The Savage Detectives last night and man, I don't know...does it get better? I remember some rough stretches in 2666 so I dunno, maybe I'll give it another chance. Put it down and picked up My Antonia instead. Will definitely get around to The Shipping News sooner than later, though.

cwkiii, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 10:29 (one year ago) link

love Cather.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 10:51 (one year ago) link

I have O Pioneers by my bed and need to get around to it soon. Is My Antonia the best place to go next?

I'm struggling with The Door a little (Magda Szabó) mainly because of the claustrophobic nature of it and the sense of a world around it to which I have little access. I have been reading a little Hungarian history to try and make some sense of it. The door functions as a useful free floating metaphor, one reading of which is precisely this sense of being shut-out of the traumatic space of wider history.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 11:13 (one year ago) link

Hart Crane - Complete
Geoffrey Hill - Complete
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o - Decolonising the Mind
Derek Walcott - What the Twilight Says

Alternating between essays and poetry. Decolonising.. and Walcott's essays are two sides of the same coin and really instructive to read alongside each other. Questions like - How do you write this stuff for a hungry (as in actually starving) audience? What is to do 'culture' in the Caribbean or Africa. Thiong'o dispense with English completely, he has a mother tongue and will now only write in it (the section where he is in jail thinking this out and writing his first novel in Gikuyu on toilet paper is great). Walcott doesn't have this choice but the questions keep flowing (halfway through as I type this post).

Crane's poetry doesn't do a lot for me on this re-read whereas I ripped through Hill (its up to the ealy 80s). The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy is something else.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 12:46 (one year ago) link

I lost the plot with Hill in the '90s, but I pull his Complete off the shelf and reread the early poems marveling at the elisions and gnarled syntax, particularly "The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy."

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 12:48 (one year ago) link

recent reading:

George Eliot - The Mill on the Floss
Rachel Cusk - Outline
Rachel Cusk - Transit
Elmore Leonard - Split Images (in progress)
James McBride - Kill 'Em and Leave (in progress)
Jill Lepore - These Truths (in progress)

I want to read the third Cusk but the libraries are all closed, should have grabbed it before lockdown.

Can anyone recommend some authors/novels that are similar to Leonard. I've read a ton of his stuff and it's all good-to-great but I'd like to branch out. Charles Portis seems to be somewhat in the same vein but I've already read most of his major stuff.

Evans on Hammond (evol j), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 14:22 (one year ago) link

I'd still really like to read THE MILL ON THE FLOSS.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 16:45 (one year ago) link

evol j, how about Ross Macdonald?

the pinefox, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 16:46 (one year ago) link

evol j: George V. Higgins, for sure.

Chris L, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 17:20 (one year ago) link

seconding Macdonald and Higgins

Richard Stark's Parker series would also fit the bill

Brad C., Wednesday, 29 April 2020 17:29 (one year ago) link

cool, yeah I've heard all those names but haven't investigated any of 'em, that's a good start. I know Macdonald did Briarpatch that was recently turned into a show on USA or TNT or one of those type networks.

Evans on Hammond (evol j), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 18:38 (one year ago) link

John D. MacDonald, pioneer of Florida noir, incl. early perspective on Big $ viral corruption & fertilizer, maybe start with The Empty Copper Sea. Maybe, so I'm told, Carl Hiassen is good in the same vein, later on. Richard Price, maybe especially Lush Life: police procedural on the gettin'-plush mesh and mosh of post-9/11 Lower East Side Giuliani York, Quality of Life Squad and all.

dow, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 19:52 (one year ago) link


I think that's a Ross Thomas book (and a good one)

also recommended by Ross Thomas: The Fools in Town Are on Our Side

Brad C., Wednesday, 29 April 2020 20:06 (one year ago) link

Will have to check that one--title reminds me of the plot of Dashiell Hammett's tasty Red Harvest, which some think was the basis of Yojimbo, although Kurosawa said he was more influenced by Hammett's The Glass Key.

dow, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 20:48 (one year ago) link

Actually, both Thomas titles make me think of both Hammett plots.

dow, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 20:50 (one year ago) link

I have been reading Glory, one of Nabokov's early (1932) novels, written in Russian while he was living in Germany. It's a cheap Fawcett paperback with a lurid cover that would be appropriate for a Harlequin Romance. This is one of the painstaking translations to English undertaken in tandem with his son.

For the first third of the book the language was so ripe and heavily laden with imagery that I kept thinking about the English phrase about 'over-egging the pudding'. That surfeit of language has eased off enough in the next third that it has finally settling into telling a story, more than overwhelming you with its heady linguistic perfume. The story itself is only moderately interesting, but it is keeping me engaged.

The introduction written by Nabokov for the 1971 new English translation is quite self-congratulatory and preening. He must have been, as the saying is, quite a piece of work.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 2 May 2020 20:53 (one year ago) link

B-b-but that's part of his charm!

My Chess Hustler (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 2 May 2020 20:55 (one year ago) link

Will have to check that one--title reminds me of the plot of Dashiell Hammett's tasty Red Harvest, which some think was the basis of Yojimbo, although Kurosawa said he was more influenced by Hammett's The Glass Key.

― dow, Wednesday, April 29, 2020 4:48 PM (three days ago)

Believe sometimes people also say that the original source for all this was Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters

My Chess Hustler (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 2 May 2020 21:00 (one year ago) link

Knocked out Sara Gran, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead in a few hours today. Fun sort of Borgesian-inflected crime story with an amiably fucked up detective and a detection-as-tao te ching quasimystic text everpresent.

silby, Sunday, 3 May 2020 03:41 (one year ago) link

Haven't read any Gran, but Infinite Blacktop is one I've had recommended to me and been meaning to read for a while.

A White, White Gay (cryptosicko), Sunday, 3 May 2020 04:07 (one year ago) link

xxxpost Thanks, James! I'll have to check that, never read Goldoni. wiki sez:By 1743, he had perfected his hybrid style of playwriting (combining the model of Molière with the strengths of Commedia dell'arte and his own wit and sincerity)... As with his comedies, Goldoni's opera buffa integrate elements of the Commedia dell'arte with recognisable local and middle-class realities. Incl. manipulation of local blood greed feuds, eh.

dow, Sunday, 3 May 2020 20:09 (one year ago) link

I finished A Journal of the Plague Year. Many parallels to our current situation. Interesting that our best countermeasure (social distancing) was quite well understood, and fairly rigorously practiced, even in 1665. Also interesting that government support and charity were seen as necessary to prevent a second tragedy of hunger from befalling the many people driven into unemployment by economic disruption. The book is occasionally repetitious but reads pretty easily for a novel that will turn 300 in 2022.

Now I've started The Simple Past by Driss Chraibi.

o. nate, Monday, 4 May 2020 02:46 (one year ago) link

Aimless, thanks for the push: I relished every comma in Less Than Angels. More gently malicious than her other books, she inspired at least three chuckles (and sometimes an LOL moment) per page. My favorite set pieces: the impoverished Mark and Digby taking the older ladies out for lunch; and the anticipatory anxiety at Professor Mainwaring's over getting the rant. Mark and Digby should've starred in a series of novels. What a duo.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 4 May 2020 17:47 (one year ago) link

And I thought your admiration would be limited. Wrong again. *sigh*

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 4 May 2020 17:57 (one year ago) link

It's possible I wasn't ready for her in in 2018. Like third albums, the third novel will often do.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 4 May 2020 18:00 (one year ago) link

*getting the grant

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 4 May 2020 18:00 (one year ago) link

I agree heartily about the entire episode at Mainwaring's country house. It was razor sharp without being mean-spirited.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 4 May 2020 18:30 (one year ago) link

I finished Nabokov's Glory. It is only necessary for anyone out there who is a Nabokov completist. Otherwise, I thought it was the work of an obviously brilliant mind, still deeply entangled with juvenile ideas.

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 5 May 2020 18:23 (one year ago) link

John Berger - ways of seeing

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Tuesday, 5 May 2020 18:30 (one year ago) link

I want to read that book but I hate the font

silby, Tuesday, 5 May 2020 18:59 (one year ago) link

I want to re-read it, and maybe I'll read his G this year---prob should read/re-read a bunch of others, like first novel A Painter of Our Time (so glad I finally got around to Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth, a wonderful novel about a painter, via his compulsive POV).

dow, Tuesday, 5 May 2020 19:05 (one year ago) link

work of an obviously brilliant mind, still deeply entangled with juvenile ideas. Ha! Reminds me that one of my fave high school reads was his The Defense, the mini-saga of a perhaps increasingly crazy, Russian chess prodigy---maybe "mini" isn't the right word, but it seemed like a cadence of well-timed turns of the spade, moves of the pieces, well you can imagine, but it's not the what, but the how, and his kind of subject.
Also remember liking Transparent Things later on, but not as many details come to mind. Ditto Pale Fire, but what an idea for structure, must re-read.
That was about it until a few years ago, soon after James Morrison and I were enjoying Mary Karr's memoir Lit on a previous WARYR, I checked the required reading list for classes in her The Art of Memoir, and tried VN's Speak, Memory!, but old-as-little V and his damn butterfly net of imagery were too rich for my blud.
(Her other leading requirement, Frank Conroy's Stop-Time, seemed more effectively lyrical for being more spare and suble---MK: "When I knew him, he was a professional jazz pianist." Must finish that one.)

dow, Tuesday, 5 May 2020 19:24 (one year ago) link

Aww, Speak, Memory is a lovely book!

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 6 May 2020 06:38 (one year ago) link

I love The Horse's Mouth.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 6 May 2020 10:37 (one year ago) link

13th Floor Elevators A Visual History arrived this morning.
Paul Drummond's 2nd take on the 13FE story.
Looks good but not read any of it yet

Just getting to the end of A New Day Yesterday Mike Barnes' prog history. Just read the thing on Gong/Steve Hillage oh & Eno/Quiet Sun/Diamond Head surprised by no mention of the John Cale Island lps or This Heat which was an almost straight development out of Quiet Sun.

bought a couple of books from that Duke University press sale yesterday. Not sure how long they'll take to arrive.

Stevolende, Wednesday, 6 May 2020 10:49 (one year ago) link

13th Floor Elevators book seems ultra-thorough, judging by press release on ILN's Rolling Reissues. Appropriate, given mynd-challenging aspirations ov band.
Aww, Speak, Memory is a lovely book! Someday I'll try again. Library still quarantined, but just started curb service.

dow, Wednesday, 6 May 2020 15:15 (one year ago) link

*ILM's* Rolling Reissues.

dow, Wednesday, 6 May 2020 15:17 (one year ago) link

My wallet wishes you hadn't reminded me of this, stevo! Post from Good Books About Music:

Duke University Press is doing a half-price sale on their books till May 25--- Tony Allen one, some reggaeton ones, more


― curmudgeon, Friday, May 1, 2020

dow, Wednesday, 6 May 2020 15:23 (one year ago) link

I want to read that book but I hate the font

― silby, Tuesday, May 5, 2020 11:59 AM (yesterday) bookmarkflaglink

this is fair

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Wednesday, 6 May 2020 16:54 (one year ago) link

I tried out a Raymond Chandler short story collection, but bogged down quickly. I switched over to Kurzweil's How to Make a Mind, which is a bit too far in the direction of most 'strong AI' books for my tastes, but even with overselling its ideas as to the correct and final model of human thought, it provides enough intellectual excitement to justify my continuing attention. I dabbled in natural language parsing long ago and through that cloudy lens I can somewhat appreciate the sophisticated design problems and solutions he is describing.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 6 May 2020 23:41 (one year ago) link

Reading Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War. So far this war seems: bad

silby, Thursday, 7 May 2020 04:54 (one year ago) link

Reading Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. It's not bad - it's probably very good - but it's hard to like.

a slice of greater pastry (ledge), Thursday, 7 May 2020 10:57 (one year ago) link

Those are meant to be good! I read one story in the NEW YORKER last year and grew to like it.

the pinefox, Thursday, 7 May 2020 12:56 (one year ago) link

it's the cumulative effect of the increasingly bad or unpleasant things that happen in the stories that's the problem. so it's definitely effective at conveying that unpleasantness.

a slice of greater pastry (ledge), Thursday, 7 May 2020 13:19 (one year ago) link

Getting into Verginie Despentes’ Vernon Subutex as well as Amerika.

very avant-garde (Variablearea), Thursday, 7 May 2020 13:24 (one year ago) link

tore through Less than angels this weekend, which i'd picked based on the discussion upthread. really enjoyable, as alfred said it was three chuckles a page. this is the first i've read by pym and i'm definitely looking forward to reading others

Jibe, Monday, 11 May 2020 07:49 (one year ago) link

I'm within a short chapter of finishing How to Create a Mind. When Kurzweil was discussing the subject matter in which he is expert, namely the application of mathematical models to the problem of natural language recognition and understanding, he was unassailable. His ideas about the similarities between his models and the basic structures of brain architecture in the neocortex were fascinating and very persuasive. Best part of the book, by far.

In the final third of the book he strays into such subjects as free will, the origins of consciousness, the rights of machines that can think, and a lot of similar semi-philosophical fodder. As you might expect from a person who has intensely devoted his life to successfully advancing AI programming, his grasp of these subjects is the equivalent of any bright person whose engagement with these subjects is casual. His thoughts on them would not be particularly impressive if he had contributed them to any of the ilx discussions around these same ideas. No better than the ilx average, I'd say.

He's thoroughly imbued with the ethos and self-aggrandizement of Silicon Valley. He really believes the Valley is creating a new superhumanity. He needs to get out more.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 11 May 2020 16:47 (one year ago) link

i want to know if he thinks natural language is solvable as a self-contained problem (i.e. without the ai having any other sensory inputs) but i don't want to read his book.

a slice of greater pastry (ledge), Tuesday, 12 May 2020 09:08 (one year ago) link

I finished Driss Chraibi's The Simple Past, an interesting book, but for me at least, a hard one to love. The author of the introduction to my edition cites Celine and Faulkner as two influences, neither an author I've read much of, so maybe I didn't have the background to appreciate this. The writing style seems to be deliberately evasive, elliptical, defiant, almost confrontational at times. He will string out a metaphor to the point of incomprehensibility and then make a joke out of it - at whose expense? one wonders. Yet there is a relatable emotional core and straightforward narrative to the book, the story of an angry adolescent and a dominating father, so it never goes completely off the rails. Perhaps the book is about the way language can be a form of armor for the vulnerable and dispossessed.

o. nate, Wednesday, 13 May 2020 02:49 (one year ago) link

I have started reading The Human Factor, Graham Greene. Early on it has a somewhat similar feel to Le Carre.

i want to know if he thinks natural language is solvable as a self-contained problem (i.e. without the ai having any other sensory inputs)

This is never directly addressed, but in the coda he envisions humanity somehow or other imbuing the entire universe (yes, all those millions of galaxies) with that magical thing: Intelligence! His vision of what intelligence is, is somewhat vague and mostly seems to consist of eventually fitting everything that exists into neat, interconnected hierarchical categories, which activity seems to have a mystical power he never succeeds in condensing into words. Make of that what you will.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 13 May 2020 18:02 (one year ago) link

I love Greene, I should read more.

I don't have my usual access to books so just been reading from my gf's collection but I don't think she has any le Guin sadly, once books are easier to come by I will acquire some of her books

― COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Thursday, April 16, 2020 5:15 PM (three weeks ago) bookmarkflaglink

found the left hand of darkness! will begin it in the bath later

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Wednesday, 13 May 2020 18:26 (one year ago) link

read 'facing the wind' by julie salamon ~ picked it up cuz she wrote the excellent 'the devil's candy' reportage re: the bonfire of the vanities film.. facing the wind is quite wrought and emotional, its abt a man who essentially has a psychotic break and murders his whole family, attempts but does not kill himself, and later goes on to have a significant second act life.. the bk keeps a wholly nonjudgmental tone that worked for me well, i was kinda worried at the outset; would recommend

johnny crunch, Friday, 15 May 2020 18:07 (one year ago) link

i'm reading dhalgren! it's a horrible idea

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Friday, 15 May 2020 18:09 (one year ago) link

i love it so far though omg

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Friday, 15 May 2020 18:09 (one year ago) link

I'm re-reading "The Plague" by Camus. A bit on the nose, I guess, but I last read it at least 20 years ago, and have only vague memories of it.

o. nate, Saturday, 16 May 2020 01:35 (one year ago) link

I got a copy of "The Plague" again recently as I really wanted to read it again. It's probably been 20 years since I last read it too. Critics tried to make out its an allegory about fascism but no its about a FUCKING PLAGUE...but I guess if you aren't living through a plague it's hard to remember how central it can be to the human experience.

At the moment I am reading Steinbeck's "Tortilla Flat". 40 pages in and it's funny but some sort of story better develop cos right now it's "I'd love some wine, where can drink more?, the boys get wine, Pablo drinks a gallon of wine like hair growing on someone's forearm" etc etc

Saxophone Of Futility (Michael B), Saturday, 16 May 2020 23:26 (one year ago) link

Tbf it is ALSO an allegory for fascism. Books can do more than one thing at a time.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 17 May 2020 00:08 (one year ago) link

Tortilla Flat is mostly a string of moderately amusing stories about some endearing lowlifes, because Steinbeck knew some endearing lowlifes in Monterrey and some amusing stories about them that he could fictionalize. It's only slightly racier than the Saturday Evening Post, but kind of endearing and amusing. People like that.

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 17 May 2020 00:48 (one year ago) link

https://s.ecrater.com/stores/75577/4a27f8a55ecd2_75577b.jpg otm

mookieproof, Sunday, 17 May 2020 01:36 (one year ago) link

I totally forgot about the "allegory of fascism" angle for reading "The Plague". I did notice however how much the shape and tone of the book is directly inspired by Defoe's "Journal of the Plague Year", having just recently read that. He even uses a quote by Defoe as the book's epigraph. I'm about half way through it now, so my thoughts on "what it's all about" are still gestating.

o. nate, Sunday, 17 May 2020 01:51 (one year ago) link

it says a great deal no matter how you read it

mookieproof, Sunday, 17 May 2020 02:12 (one year ago) link

it is about how humans think and act in dire circumstances where many basic social connections are broken, such as during a plague

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 17 May 2020 02:48 (one year ago) link

or a fascism.

a slice of greater pastry (ledge), Sunday, 17 May 2020 07:10 (one year ago) link

Intrigued by recent New Yorker piece re Kierkegaard, who produced a stream of unclassifiable books---hybrids of philosophy, autobiography, fiction, and sermon. Where should I start with this hybridization? I confess to being more interested in this process than the philosophical and religious elements (though Adam Kirsch presents those well enough, as far as I know, never having read SK).

dow, Monday, 18 May 2020 04:20 (one year ago) link

But I mean what he does present seems clear as an overview of this length can be.

dow, Monday, 18 May 2020 04:22 (one year ago) link

I have started reading The Human Factor, Graham Greene. Early on it has a somewhat similar feel to Le Carre.

If I were in an uncharitable frame of mind I'd say Le Carre's entire career is basically an attempt to ape Greene.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 18 May 2020 10:14 (one year ago) link


TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 18 May 2020 10:44 (one year ago) link

I started Knut Hamsun's Mysteries

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 18 May 2020 10:44 (one year ago) link

Ages ago when I read Mysteries I never could decide if its ultra-romanticism was satire or not. It was much too late in the century for unironic Byronism, but I found the tone was hard to gauge.

I finished The Human Factor. It was fine, although the women characters seemed created only to justify the actions of the male characters. About halfway through I began to get twinges that I'd read it before, but so long ago it had disappeared from any viable lingering memory. Probably before 1985.

To finish the evening I picked up Joseph and His Brothers and read two dozen pages, but I suspect its too big a commitment for me to pursue right now and I'll fall back to a shorter easier book tonight.

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 19 May 2020 19:38 (one year ago) link

Most books are easier and shorter, so good range for hunting.
Haven't read many Greene novels (The Power and the Glory for school, but long ago, which may be why I don't remember it). Brighton Rock grabbed me, as a melding of what he called his "entertainments" and what he considered his more serious, spiritual (in)quests. Otherwise: 21 Stories, Collected Essays (mostly reviews/tripping on eccentrics and other beloveds of earlier Brit lit, with occasional references to Great Depression and early Battle of Britain in the world outside: pre-Covidtainment), and Graham Greene on Film: Collected Film Reviews 1935-40--think that's the version I read, def. minus the one that got him in trouble, where he accuses Shirley Temple's bosses of pimping her out on screen---but there's also The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews Essays Interviews & Film Stories, which I want to get, though I already know his fiction better via film. (Thought The Tenth Man, written for film but never produced, worked as a stand-alone thriller novel, though He thought The Third Man didn't; I haven't read that one). His memoir A Sort of Life lives up to its title. (He got some good material, and more thrills, from using his literary celebrity to get into places he wasn't supposed to go, like war zones.)(Here or elsewhere, he refers to himself in passing as "manic depressive," which seems plausible from an amateur's POV.)

dow, Tuesday, 19 May 2020 21:41 (one year ago) link

"he thought," not "He."

dow, Tuesday, 19 May 2020 21:43 (one year ago) link

to dow's recommendations I would add Our Man In Havana (short comical spy novel about a dude who gets recruited to provide info, just makes it all up - and then it starts happening...). Doctor Fisher Of Geneva is an uncharacteristically sour final novella for such a humanist author, almost nihilistic. The Captain & The Enemy is a strange one, too, centred very much on childhood trauma. Speaking of which...

def. minus the one that got him in trouble, where he accuses Shirley Temple's bosses of pimping her out on screen

Had an acquaintance post scandalized excerpts from that review and suggest Greene was basically a closeted paedophile. I think his aim was true but they do read pretty gross.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 09:51 (one year ago) link

I'd felt unable to read a book, again, for a while. Yesterday I took LOOK AT ME out in the sun and shade and managed 60 pages, which was impressive by my standards. I'm now halfway through.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 14:57 (one year ago) link

have just started frigyes karinthy's a journey around my skull. 50 pages in i'm enjoying his tone, very light and entertaining so far for something dealing with a brain tumour. as i've read a novel written by his son, ferenc karinthy, it led me to the conclusion they'd be the first father and son duo who i'd have read a book by. then again the only other such combination i could think of were the alexandre dumas père et fils and i've not read any by the fils.

Jibe, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 16:29 (one year ago) link

the koran, the nj dawood translation, the content is presented chronologically instead of, as traditionally, from the longest shura to the shortest. the translation reads well.

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 16:33 (one year ago) link

i finished reading Doxology by Nell Zink and I've been reading Home: Social Essays by LeRoi Jones and also Margaret Bourke-White's autobiography Portrait Of Myself.

scott seward, Thursday, 21 May 2020 19:57 (one year ago) link

After fiddling around for a night with Henry James' The Ambassadors, whose prolixity turned out to be more than I could bear atm, I have gone the opposite direction and am reading A Coffin for Dimitrios, Eric Ambler.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 21 May 2020 20:14 (one year ago) link

I found The Ambassadors less prolix and with cleaner architectural lines than the books published before and after it, but ymmv.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 21 May 2020 21:03 (one year ago) link

Page 333 of LOOK AT ME. Surprised how quickly I can get through this book with a little effort.

It's readable, I suppose, sometimes too mysterious (the terrorist-ish figure out of DeLillo) but sometimes manages to be funny almost like Lorrie Moore. It's certainly in some kind of zone of 1990s-mediated-world influence from DeLillo, maybe DFW, and very parallel with Franzen, but possibly has a different angle because written by a woman.

the pinefox, Friday, 22 May 2020 09:00 (one year ago) link

I can only assume that isn't Anita Brookner's Look At Me?! I'd love to see her take on DeLillo, fwiw.

I read Carol Shields' The Stone Diaries. I've read quite a lot of austere stuff recently so it was quite nice to have something with such loose and tumbling sentences. It's of its time, I think, and probably a little too folksy for me but it eventually won me over. It's superbly constructed, with a strange ventriloquised central voice, that adds a layer of complexity to an already unreliable narrative, and the final section, a meditation on finality and the closing down of consciousness, is really quite beautiful.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Friday, 22 May 2020 09:07 (one year ago) link

finished a journey around my skull last night. quite enjoyable overall, some entertaining parts - the crazy number of doctors he goes to see though most seem happy to discuss literature or science rather than diagnose him; all his friends sending him to see this or that expert, or dropping in to entertain him (and how he realises at a certain point that their laughs are all similar and strained, that they're forcing themselves to be happy around him, the condemned man); his swedish surgeon wondering who he is because what feels like half of hungary to him has contacted the clinic to know how the operation went.
the chapter where he describes his surgery is painful to read, as he is kept awake though it all ("improves chances by 25%" says his surgeon). it is tough not to wince when he describes the drill opening his skull, the sounds of the surgery going on etc.
the version i read includes a preface by the author, where he develops what led him to write this book and which could definitely have been written now: it finishes with him saying he'd read in a far right newspaper that he'd faked his illness and surgery just to get some free publicity and that he could have responded either by not saying a thing or by writing a whole volume.

Jibe, Friday, 22 May 2020 09:25 (one year ago) link

Chinaski: this LOOK AT ME is by Jennifer Egan.

the pinefox, Friday, 22 May 2020 12:40 (one year ago) link

That Karinthy is wonderful. I wish more by him was available in English.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Saturday, 23 May 2020 02:08 (one year ago) link

So I finished reading Camus's The Plague. My view is that it's not an allegory of fascism, though it's easy to see how people could read it that way, coming as it did right at the end of WWII, and inspired at least to some extent by Camus's personal experience in the French resistance. I would say that it depicts bravery under fire and a situation somewhat analogous to France under the German occupation, but it takes a stronger correspondence than that to qualify as an allegory in my view. I guess the situation is analogous to any situation in which people put themselves in harm's way to help others in need. I would say the book has an uplifting moral, creates a memorable atmosphere, and is masterfully crafted, but the heroic Dr. Rieux remains largely a cipher, lacking the human qualities, say, of the narrator of Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, who gets "volunteered" for a dangerous plague duty, scrambles to get out of it as soon as possible, but lets himself off the hook by telling himself the duty would be ineffective anyway.

o. nate, Sunday, 24 May 2020 02:11 (one year ago) link

I ordered Hernán Diaz's In the Distance as a surprise gift for a friend who is the most avid reader I know (whereas I am the most avid book-buyer I know); we read it at the same time and were both very impressed. Gave my copy dad last time I saw him, and it sounds like he's hooked. Anybody here read it?

I'm now reading two very strange experimental novels: Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson, which I read at the start of college a dozen years ago, lent to a friend (who read it multiple times and loved it!) and finally had returned to me this past year; and Slater Orchard by Darcie Dennigan, brought out last year by University of Alabama Press, which I was lucky enough to find in the used section of a book store where the cashier likes me and gave me a discount.

Wittgenstein's Mistress is annoying me, and I don't know whether I will have the patience to see it through to the end. Slater Orchard is captivating, and its evocation of life's terrified persistence in the wake of industrial catastrophe feels timely ("I no longer wish for a face mask. A mask is a mockery. The poison is everywhere. When I lie down in the cab of the dumpster truck the engine is running. The fumes fill the cab. I open my mouth. Poison is a drink. I open my mouth and poison runs down my throat. [...] I open my mouth. Poison is a drink. But the word orchard is always also in my mouth. The poison runs down my throat. Orchard stays in my mouth.")

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Sunday, 24 May 2020 12:48 (one year ago) link

I read John Berger's Ways of Seeing and it wasn't what I was expecting at all! Short version: it should be taught in schools.

Berger's bibliography is dizzying: where does one start?

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 27 May 2020 12:16 (one year ago) link

I had trouble getting through the first essay. It's structured like a logical argument but a lot of the connective tissue is missing. I don't know why he used that Franz Hals essay for his example of mystification -- I guess it ignores the Marxist materialism of class structure, but I'd say taking into account the "fashion of the times", such as wearing hats tipped, is not mystification. I wasn't convinced that the painting was critical of the subjects.

wasdnous (abanana), Wednesday, 27 May 2020 13:38 (one year ago) link

The PORTRAITS and LANDSCAPES collections are full of lovely things.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 27 May 2020 22:16 (one year ago) link

currently reading The Corner That Held Them (NYRB). occasionally extremely funny, but mostly a bit of a slog.

i meant to read 30 books this year. i've read 37 so far. lol pandemic.

the ones i liked:

distant mirror: the calamitous 14 century by barbara tuchman. what a world!

this america: the case for the nation by jill lepore (long essay that i guess was cut from her "these truths" single volume history of the united states). makes a "Liberal" tactical case for redefining and promoting "nationalism" quite well. these truths is better IMO.

a single man by isherwood. very good on the british experience of los angeles. who else does that? geoff dyer?

say nothing: true history of murder in northern ireland by patrick radden keefe. mixture of an unsolved murder podcast (gross) and a good introductory history of the IRA for an american audience.

dept of speculation by jenny offil. i loved reading this but i can't remember much about it.

before the storm: barry goldwater and the unmaking of the american consensus by rick perlstein. not quite as interesting as nixonland, but i'm reading all his stuff in preparation for reaganland.

cities of the plain by cormac mccarthy. the best of the trilogy IMO. magical ending.

the spy and the traitor by ben macintyre. oleg gordievsky's exfiltration story. i posted about it on the TTSS thread.

uncanny valley by anna weiner. very smart look at silicon valley. as everyone has said, the indirect references to companies ("the social network everyone hates", etc). are maddening.

remains of the day. i also read never let me go and much preferred remains.

crudo by olivia laing.

west by carys davies

the most infuriating books i have read this year so far are wuthering heights (eastenders but everyone has TB) and light in august (just awful prose). i guess they're "better" than some of the books i liked but i hated reading them so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 27 May 2020 22:56 (one year ago) link

you finished 25 books you didn't like???

silby, Thursday, 28 May 2020 03:13 (one year ago) link

s/the ones i liked:/the ones i rated highest.

i kind of regret finishing light in august and wuthering heights but the other books were all fine and worth reading and even worth recommending.

i didn't keep track of which ones i quit. probably about 5? most of those were terrible award winning scifi that was actually YA trash.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Thursday, 28 May 2020 04:18 (one year ago) link

Lol Wuthering Heights sounds really appealing.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 28 May 2020 08:20 (one year ago) link

Started on David Roach's Masters Of British Comic Art

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 28 May 2020 09:56 (one year ago) link

shiiit there's a reaganland coming?

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Thursday, 28 May 2020 13:10 (one year ago) link

Yup, out in August


𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Thursday, 28 May 2020 15:36 (one year ago) link

It looks long!

Today's REAGANLAND tidbit is a special video addition. pic.twitter.com/bnf4NHSeDh

— Rick Perlstein (@rickperlstein) May 28, 2020

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Thursday, 28 May 2020 17:32 (one year ago) link

I finished A Coffin for Dimitrios and for a light entertainment it was quite good. I would say that Eric Ambler went just a bit overboard in portraying the character of Mr. Peters as tendentious and tedious, to the point where he overshot the mark of simply indicating these traits so that Peters' several monologues were often so genuinely tedious and I was tempted to skip past them and miss the vital bits embedded in them. Otherwise, I applaud the book.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 28 May 2020 18:40 (one year ago) link

wuthering heights kicks ass

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Thursday, 28 May 2020 18:47 (one year ago) link

man given the size of that thing (reaganland) already I’m glad it’s not a hardback. i never read his third , wonder if I have time to get to that one before the new one is out

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Thursday, 28 May 2020 23:14 (one year ago) link

those are probably review copies. The retail version on amazon for pre order is hardback.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Friday, 29 May 2020 00:17 (one year ago) link

Wuthering Heights is an epic poem of hate. There's nothing like in prose or poetry in English lit.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 29 May 2020 00:22 (one year ago) link

*like it.

And "hate" and "love" come from the same place.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 29 May 2020 00:23 (one year ago) link

/Wuthering Heights/ is an epic poem of hate. There's nothing like in prose or poetry in English lit.

Have you seen eastenders?

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Friday, 29 May 2020 00:25 (one year ago) link

I've still never read any Faulkner. I guess I should do something about that before I get too old to care. I'm currently reading Submission by Michel Houellebecq. I've only read Elementary Particles before this. Kinda feels like he's coasting.

o. nate, Friday, 29 May 2020 01:20 (one year ago) link

I'm now reading The Crock of Gold, James Stephens. This is an entertaining oddity from pre-WWI and the Celtic Revival. It's a long comic-philosophic fable, featuring leprechauns, fairies, the God Pan, a Philosopher, and a Thin Woman. It was popular enough to be reprinted often, but seems mostly forgotten now. I won't attempt to describe it.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 29 May 2020 15:32 (one year ago) link

Jonathan Swift - Tha Major Works
Victor Serge - Memoirs of a Revolutionary

Swift's Major works compilation are exhaustive in terms of the range of material -- poetry, correspondence to several pamphlets and 'A Tale of a Tub', all thoroughly annotated -- not a lot more to add to what I said TS Heavy Hitters: Powerhouses of Prose (knife-drawer edition): Jonathan Swift vs Mark Twain"">in this thread except I saved A Modest Proposal as one of the final pieces and it really has a bite, as the rich still eat us for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And so onto Serge's recollections of life as a militant, looking back to struggles fought in mainland Europe to his years in Russia (among Trotsky's Left Opposition), then his expulsion back to France and finally into Mexico just as the Nazis were hitting town. One aspect that is pretty much unique to this book is paragraph after paragraph that starts as a recollection of a person, their physical and psychological characteristics with a dashed narrative of their encounter, all ending with a "they died in a camp/committed suicide/were shot/disappeared/I don't know what happened to them/this almost certainly happened to them". Just pages of the stuff. As the last chapter says (almost as an apology) it was written on the run (he was almost always on the run), it shows and yet circumstances combine here in a really unique manner. Its almost a thriller (via Bolano's 2666)! The positive note at the end is something else. I may need to re-read, just to make sure I wasn't dreaming it.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 29 May 2020 19:01 (one year ago) link

The Case of Comrade Tulayev impressed the hell out of me last fall.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 29 May 2020 19:09 (one year ago) link

xxpost o.nate, if you ever do try Faulkner, maybe start with The Portable Faulkner: well-chosen set pieces from novels, along with many whole shorter things, in chronological order of the stories' settings, from early 1800s to 1950s. Chunky but handy, and certainly portable. (Also has some of the author's maps of where his characters live.)

dow, Friday, 29 May 2020 19:12 (one year ago) link

Tulayev was written (or finished in Mexico) and I forgot to say that so much of the material in that novel obviosuly makes its way in The Memoirs..., a very good counterpart.

I've had my ups and downs with Faulkner - Light in August was tough but I reckon it wasn't my time for that...it did put me off him for years till I picked As I lay Dying last year so want to try Absalom, Absalom next.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 29 May 2020 19:35 (one year ago) link

I'd recommend Light in August or the interconnected story collection Go Down, Moses as a starting point, or even a straightforward narrative like The Unvanquished if you're feeling less frisky.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 29 May 2020 19:40 (one year ago) link

light in august was also where i was told to start fwiw. it certainly was *very* faulknery in the sense i understand the term.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Friday, 29 May 2020 19:45 (one year ago) link

The time shifts aren't disorienting for tyros like in TS&TF and Absalom, Absalom though.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 29 May 2020 19:45 (one year ago) link

my first attempt was the sound & the fury, which was suboptimal

mookieproof, Friday, 29 May 2020 21:21 (one year ago) link

Finally could not withhold The Mirror and the Light from myself any longer and dove in. I’m as intoxicated as ever. Hook line sinker etc.

silby, Friday, 29 May 2020 21:46 (one year ago) link

IMPOSTURES by al Ḥarîri, translated by Michael Cooperson
-- Absolutely astonishing book--850 years old, collection of 50 stories about a wandering conman all written with various proto-Oulipan constraints (palindromes, anagrams, lipograms, etc), each of the 50 translated by Cooperson in a different way (Australian English, Singlish, Nigerian English, Patwa, Virgina Woolf, Jonathan Swift, Joyce, Kempe, Aphra Behn, etc etc) which is thematically suggested by the story.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Saturday, 30 May 2020 01:05 (one year ago) link


silby, Saturday, 30 May 2020 01:37 (one year ago) link

That sounds interesting.

I ought to try THE CROCK OF GOLD one day.

Only 80pp or so to go in LOOK AT ME. A lot goes on in this novel.

the pinefox, Saturday, 30 May 2020 08:36 (one year ago) link

I read O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. It's so perfectly edited - like an epic novel hiding in a slim volume (a bit like JL Carr's A Month in the Country). I liked it very much.

Now, in an absurd switch up, I'm reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons. I've not read any epic science fiction in for a good long while and am acutely aware of the politics of it and how much it feels like a big kid wanking over his drawings of inter-galactic genocide.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 30 May 2020 16:20 (one year ago) link

Like what others have said, As I Lay Dying seems like a decent place to start with Faulkner.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 30 May 2020 16:21 (one year ago) link

More than decent, it's one of his best, among those that I've read, with the balance of clarity and chance-taking narrative structure. Also could start with The Hamlet(my gateway), "The Bear," or "Old Man," with psychedelic special SFX which are historically appropriate, re the Great Flood of 1927. Yeah, xp Go Down Moses too.

dow, Saturday, 30 May 2020 18:15 (one year ago) link

Will keep promoting Cather over Hemingway as the American writer whom young male wannabes should emulate.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 30 May 2020 18:22 (one year ago) link

I'm pretty sure Hemingway's idol has been demoted to a decorative curiosity among the deities of young male wannabes. lord knows who they're all imitating these days, but I don't think Papa is in the running.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 30 May 2020 18:27 (one year ago) link

+1 for As I Lay Dying as a good entry point for Faulkner: it's not very long, the use of multiple points of view is classic, and the horror and comedy of rural poverty are turned up to 11

Absalom, Absalom! is better but denser and full of those half-page-long sentences that exhaust the patience of many readers

long ago I was a research drone for a professor preparing an annotated edition of Light in August and I remember he had a note explaining that

I have come from Alabama: a fur piece.

referred to a considerable distance rather than an article of apparel worn around the neck

Brad C., Saturday, 30 May 2020 18:57 (one year ago) link

All the good recommendations for Faulkner have been noted - maybe starting with stories would be less intimidating for me. I finished Submission. It got better by the end, though still a bit patchy. I was impressed by the way Houellebecq was able to find a way to interweave his usual preoccupations (male status anxiety, lust, contempt for liberals, misogyny) into something topical and politically au courant. The parts where he attempts something like a traditional political thriller I think are the least successful. He's on firmer ground when he's in his ruminative anthropological mode, jumping smoothly from literary history to philosophy, gourmandise, and the taxonomy of social status.

o. nate, Saturday, 30 May 2020 21:16 (one year ago) link

Now, in an absurd switch up, I'm reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons. I've not read any epic science fiction in for a good long while and am acutely aware of the politics of it and how much it feels like a big kid wanking over his drawings of inter-galactic genocide.

wait so is that good or bad

Chuck_Tatum, Sunday, 31 May 2020 01:18 (one year ago) link

I'm pretty sure Hemingway's idol has been demoted to a decorative curiosity among the deities of young male wannabes. lord knows who they're all imitating these days, but I don't think Papa is in the running.

― A is for (Aimless)

Not true in creative writing depts

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 31 May 2020 03:07 (one year ago) link

Christ on a cracker! do creative writing students still use typewriters w/ carbon paper, too?

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 31 May 2020 04:10 (one year ago) link

My impression is that most of the Hemingwayism in creative writing departments is fourth-hand.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Sunday, 31 May 2020 05:06 (one year ago) link

I've been reading Richard Ford's The Sportswriter and dear lord it is insufferable.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Sunday, 31 May 2020 05:09 (one year ago) link

I took a break to read Mike Royko's Boss, an account of Richard Daley's life running up to the Democratic Convention and the shooting of Fred Hampton, and it was ... refreshing

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Sunday, 31 May 2020 05:10 (one year ago) link

Though getting to the section on the riots after MLK Jr's death did bring on a feeling of dread.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Sunday, 31 May 2020 05:11 (one year ago) link

According to this thread I started Jennifer Egan's LOOK AT ME in early April. I finished it today - about 517pp. Not a good speed.

A long novel; engaging, sometimes well written and alert; perhaps somehow a little youthful in its interest in fashion models, NYC nightclubs, teenagers, even a private detective (I wonder very slightly if Egan introduced the detective because she was impressed by Lethem's, which she definitely was in 1999 - but this book was probably planned well before that).

The novel runs two or three parallel threads and somewhat unites them by the end. It includes a kind of premonition of social media or rather of 'influencers' or whatever people on YouTube do nowadays. (An evident link with the last chapter of GOON SQUAD which was speculative fiction about social media influence.) Such premonitions are usually, I suppose, a hostage to fortune, but here how much the premonition, written in the late 1990s, gets right is more interesting than what it doesn't.

There is a great deal of DeLillo here - New York; ideas of image and simulation; and especially, a terrorist who wants to destroy 'the conspiracy' of America. But the writing isn't much like DeLillo - it's warmer and more down to earth. At moments, to my surprise, the humour can even approach the zing of Lorrie Moore.

Overall I think it's creditable.

the pinefox, Sunday, 31 May 2020 15:04 (one year ago) link

I finished The Crock of Gold last night. It has many fine moments, but the author had a tendency to take off about once every 50 pages into a page or two of high-flown nonsense masquerading as ecstatic wisdom. When it managed to stay closer to the ground it was often quite clever in a pleasant way. Be warned: it contains much confusion about the 'true' natures of men and women, as if people were archetypes, and not human.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 1 June 2020 16:39 (one year ago) link

I read another delight of a Pym novel, The Sweet Dove Died. Not as sharp as the last, but I relished the portrait of a young gay man on the make (about whom she's quite explicit in showing him in sexual scenarios).

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 1 June 2020 16:42 (one year ago) link

I just finished the quiet american. Very good!

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Tuesday, 2 June 2020 00:00 (one year ago) link

Finished Egan's short story collection, Emerald City - also lots of stories about models and kids and gap year holidays. Kind of middle-of-the-road but lots of incidental pleasures. I still think Manhattan Beach is her best book by a long distance.

I picked up some Pym's to support my local bookstore: Glass of Blessings, Less Than Angels, Jane & Prudence, and Quartet in Autumn, plus another Dumas telephone book translated by Robin Buss, The Women's War.

Also just finished The Secret Commonwealth - it's probably Pullman's sloppiest book, with a lot of generic blockbuster writing and no visible editing, but very enjoyable - it's a lot more fun than "Amber Spyglass".

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 2 June 2020 15:09 (one year ago) link

Ford seems pretty insufferable himself

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 2 June 2020 15:12 (one year ago) link

Just before bed on Sunday, I cracked open the new translation of Michael Kohlhaas that New Directions brought out this year, which has become unexpectedly timely.

I don't have my copy of the Penguin Kleist volume handy to compare the translations, but there were several baffling choices just in the first few pages (including a confusing mixing of direct speech in quotation marks and narrated speech without quotes in the span of a single paragraph). No introduction or other editorial content, so no way to know whether there was, e.g., a deliberate choice to use awkward English in places for faithfulness to un-idiomatic German... These are just minor annoyances, they don't detract much from such an obviously great work, and I look forward to flying through the remaining ~100 pages once my boss stops asking me to work late.

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Tuesday, 2 June 2020 15:31 (one year ago) link

Read some nice pieces on Kleist as a result of that new volume even though I'm not getting it (v happy with the edition on Archipelago)

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 2 June 2020 15:33 (one year ago) link

Started Arthur & George, Julian Barnes last night. Seems OK so far, but slightly bland.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 3 June 2020 04:48 (one year ago) link

Kleist's short stories are great great stuff. Dude was seriously deranged, tho it doesn't seem to show much in his fiction iirc.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 3 June 2020 09:37 (one year ago) link

Now reading "Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy" by Ben Sonnenberg.

o. nate, Sunday, 7 June 2020 03:14 (one year ago) link

Arthur & George has picked up steam, and the story has grown compelling enough to keep me reading ahead, but there's something about the mannerisms of it that I don't enjoy that I have not yet put my finger on.

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 7 June 2020 03:59 (one year ago) link

My Father and Myself - JR Ackerley. Stunning, can't recommend this one too highly. Fantastic on what it was like to be gay in Edwardian London, on trench warfare in WW1, and above all an intriguing detective story about the author's father and his double life.

Zelda Zonk, Sunday, 7 June 2020 08:39 (one year ago) link

All Ackerley is excellent

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 7 June 2020 13:13 (one year ago) link

something about the mannerisms of it that I don't enjoy that I have not yet put my finger on

all Barnes is this for me

Side question - can anyone recommend a good 2ndhand online bookshop in the Uk that’s not amazon?

Chuck_Tatum, Monday, 8 June 2020 16:32 (one year ago) link

I just use bookfinder.com and then go straight to the vendor if I can.

Tim, Monday, 8 June 2020 17:02 (one year ago) link

Got quite a few through hive.co.uk

xyzzzz__, Monday, 8 June 2020 17:11 (one year ago) link

Chuck, yes I can: Undercover Books.


If you make contact directly they should be very responsive. Good people.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 07:28 (one year ago) link

Thank you!

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 09:52 (one year ago) link

I went to Undercover Books last year. Fantastic stock - prices on the high side.

Ward Fowler, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 10:04 (one year ago) link

That's really interesting to hear, WF. Didn't know that about the prices - it's all relative of course ... I know that like many places, they have a lot of much more valuable stock that's online only.

But I love browsing the stock and I'm keen to support that business, especially during this period, so I hope that Chuck is able to take a look there for what he wants.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 11:14 (one year ago) link

I'll take a look too.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 11:25 (one year ago) link

Jane Austen - Manfield Park.

Finished it last night and its the second novel (or author) I can think of (the other being Moby Dick) where I avoided it for barely digested reasons (Moby Dick is just about whaling! Austen more for the discourse around her, beginning with those BBC adaptations in the 90s). Once you get into her voice and mode (I had a good couple of hours with the first few pages, it can be hard to get into whereas MD was a gas! Just this miraculous transformation of arcane material in this hot language!) I was finding it ok though irritating (I didn't like the people or the world in it very much) until Fanny grew up and the question of her being **in or out** became a thing (it was there from the beginning of course). It helped that by coincidence I watched Losey's The Go-Between as its a similar set-up - and then also looking at the BLM protests, their focus on a world that began around here.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 11:58 (one year ago) link


xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 12:01 (one year ago) link

Did you start your Austen reading with Mansfield Park? That's bold! I like it, I'll rep it, but I read it knowing it was the most divisive of her books among fans or non-fans and was perhaps looking for an alternative way in. Key to me was reading between the lines, Fanny not quite the character she says she is or other people think she is.

abcfsk, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 15:57 (one year ago) link

Yeah my first one. What would have been your starting point? Quite like to read another one next year.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 16:18 (one year ago) link

Tom: Mansfield Park! You got to be kidding.

Audrey: No.

Tom: But it’s a notoriously bad book. Even Lionel Trilling – one of her greatest admirers – thought that.

Audrey: If Lionel Trilling thought that, he’s an idiot.
Audrey: You find Fanny Price unlikeable?

Tom: She sounds pretty unbearable, but I haven’t read the book.

Audrey: What?

Tom: You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I haven’t read the Bible either.

Audrey: What Jane Austen novels have you read?

Tom: None. I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get the novelist’s idea as well as the critic’s thinking. With fiction I can never forget none of that has really happened. It’s all made up by the author.

flopson, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 18:42 (one year ago) link

im Reading breaking and entering by joy williams

flopson, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 18:44 (one year ago) link

^ "Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t'other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation."


Maybe Emma. Northanger Abbey was mine though, and it's amazingly funny and easy to like

abcfsk, Tuesday, 9 June 2020 19:30 (one year ago) link

im Reading breaking and entering by joy williams

― flopson, Tuesday, June 9, 2020 7:44 PM (one hour ago) bookmarkflaglink

omg <3 joy williams

crystal-brained yogahead (map), Tuesday, 9 June 2020 19:45 (one year ago) link

I'm reading this thread and having a random flashback to Maigret and the Informer: needing a bit of case-related background info, and being x decades from having a departmental computer nerd or geek, M. goes to see a cop known among their colleagues as the Widow---not the Widower: they think, or used to think when they gave a shit, that it's been a longass time since his wife died, and still he sits in certain bars in his rusty black suit, nursing a drink and observing those milling about and occasionally stopping by to deposit bits of info. This is his beat, and his life.
Except that he also sits in his room, where Maigret goes to visit, and I think he has some notebooks, but mainly he's the griot of the grids, and Maigret kind of enjoys asking him questions for the sake of a sure return, better than dropping coins in a vending machine. And as the dried up old Widow replies, succinctly, and apparently accurately, or at least Magrait seems satisfied (he already knows or knows about some of these people places, things and times; he and the Widow have both been around here quite a while), I get a glimpse of so many lives still being lived in this old sector---probably it isn't all that old, but some area majorly affected or constructed during Haussman's drastic recasting of Paris, between the early 1850s and 1870, I think (don't have the book at hand, but it's an early 70s American edition). Not that old as cities go, but there's something so layered, not far from geological measurements, in the cop's-eye view of this city, especially in this brief chapter: kick over a rock, whether you mean to or not, and see what comes out from under---maybe it's because I'm sitting here on a dark soggy summer evening, that I'm struck by this. Oh well, on to the next stop, as with Maigret (off somewhere in my shelves).

dow, Wednesday, 10 June 2020 02:20 (one year ago) link

I should read Maigret.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 10 June 2020 07:10 (one year ago) link

NORTHANGER ABBEY has a lot of interest, including lots of discussion of fiction. Quite remarkable novel.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 10 June 2020 07:11 (one year ago) link

I finished Arthur & George, Julian Barnes. It was OK enough, in that I learned a variety of things about the English police, courts and prisons in the Edwardian period.

I think I figured out what I found off-putting about the author's telling of the story, but I wouldn't want to defend my conclusions in depth; they are more impressions than conclusions. To say it briefly, the degree of intellectual control that Barnes asserted over the story, the characters, and the reader felt so tightly held that there was no interstitial space in which to form one's own meaning. It was impressively articulate, often perceptive, but it felt like being held in a vise and worked on with an engraving tool.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 10 June 2020 17:47 (one year ago) link

Recently read Tim Lawrence's Life And Death On The New York Dance Floor, 1980-83 (Duke University Press, 2016), and found it to be of considerable historical interest, cha-cha-cha. Excerpt from his preface: This book makes three core arguments. First, New York experienced a community-driven cultural renaissance during the early 1980s that stands as one of the most influential in its, and perhaps in any city’s, history. Second, the renaissance was rooted in opportunities that came to the fore during New York’s shift from industrialism to post-industrialism, and it began to unravel when New York assumed the character of a neoliberal city organized around finance capital, gentrification, real estate inflation, and social regulation. Third, although party culture is routinely denigrated as a source of mindless hedonism and antisocial activity, it revealed its social, cultural, and even economic potential during the period examined here.
Also announces his intention to "move crab-wise" through various interrelated activity clusters (my phrase not is): as before, we get interviews with and reviews and profiles of DJs-dancers-performers-records-producers-suits, also showrunners of venues, but these are now more often multi-media environments, so we get more media, invasions from/melding with prev per se art world figures and processes, and we get a spectrum of these scenes, from the 80s-as-60s-and-90s might-as-well-call-it-rave-culture of the Paradise Garage, to the more comedic theme camp of Club 57, to the very polished, what Warhol might call "business art" of Area, to the punk drag Pyramids, very much in opposition to the plush cosmic Aryan-tending, upscale druggy dreamscape (incl. planetarium over and around dark dancefloor) of the Saint---
also the countervailing spread of hip=hop, how it came to be called that, and was conceptually framed (in the movie Wild Style, in the Village Voice, in Artforum, and other publications) as break-dance, as well as audience response of various approaches to dance, as DJ-centric (they were increasingly expected to speak over and between records, mixing--MCs were mostly just announcers, crowd-rousers, at first)--coming from the South Bronx to Manhattan clubs---also part of the package: graffiti, from the streets to the galleries and clubs---and so we also get, from there and elsewhere, artists crossing over to music-making purposes
---preface favorably mentions somebody else's book about this---but I was disappointed to find Lawrence's own account so Basquiat-centric: I don't know beans about the art world, but even I know plenty about B. Nevertheless, this adds details (and I'd forgotten that he's the central somewhat Candide-like figure, a tracking device though various hip scenes, much later released as Downtown '81---haven't seen it, but the soundtrack has some very rare keepers, and is a true time trip through strengths and soft spots of all that it surveys). Did learn more about Keith Haring, and his art as a response to music etc.
Presentation of all this, and more (effect of city financial woes, rise of righteous Reagan capitalism, Koch, real estate fever etc etc)is dense, with sliding layers, yet clear enough---with recurring figures and storylines, like Ken Burns docs---especially effective when The Saint comes back at peak---just before AIDs becomes another medium, a lens for different angles, increasing heat. Enter, for instance, the harsh, yet sometimes, in retrospect otm rants of RIP Larry Kramer, among other perspectives (also just the right amount of references to And The Band Played On, I think)
I do miss the author's insightful Love Will Save The Day comments, sometimes punchlines---although he does make the point, wryly and sadly, re an alt-weekly AIDS-related amateur advice column, that even real doctors had precious little better to offer during this period.

dow, Friday, 12 June 2020 19:43 (one year ago) link

Listening companion: https://reappearingrecords.bandcamp.com/album/life-death-on-a-new-york-dance-floor-1980-1983

dow, Friday, 12 June 2020 19:52 (one year ago) link

This also incl. late 70s roots---and and before that, Steve Maas, of Macon GA, is running buddy of Phil Walden, who goes on to manage Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers Band, while Steve morphs into (semi-ironic but still a handful to work for at times) megaphone-breath Dr. Mudd of Mudd Clun notoriety--and his brother, who is openly gay and "estranged from the family," becomes one of the first doctors to develop paradigms and protocols for AIDS, adapted to shifting awareness, not as much in the lab as in treatment, speaking of creativity. So, that kind of historical survey.

Love Will Save The Day's David Mancuso still comes around, the syncretic sun, though not like Elvis Dylan, because he does not demonstrate how to make wads of money by getting things all shook up, as many others in this era are trying to do, and sometimes succeeding, for a while. But he's the one who sets the example, not only artistically, but endurance-wise, with a virtually unbroken, unparalleled run of public access---emerging in 1966 as a "music host" (he'd rather not be called a DJ, and eventually, iin this book, removes the mixer, for an even more perfect sound system [engineers also figure in these annals, for sure]---going from, for instance, excerpts from compilations of environmental sounds, to a string quartet, to relatively more predictable tracks, also mixtures of maybe all of that, before he ditched the mixer---and the audience, his invite-only friends their plus ones, twos, responded however the hell they chose to, except no sitting, no gawking) to near the end of this book, when he finally loses in the real estate rounds. He is something like a psychedelic Mr. Rogers--always a beautiful day in his neighborhood, as best he can manage it, incl. multimedia-wise (also practicing set and setting, after his League of Spiritual Discovery master, Timothy Leary), for older children, yet forever inspired by the nuns playing records in his upstate orphanage, and by a picture a friend gave him, of Spanky and Our Gang--the Depression-era kid comedy stars, not the folk=rock-pop group--he may never have seen any of the kids' short films, but didn't need to.

dow, Friday, 12 June 2020 21:11 (one year ago) link

Wow, have been listening to that compilation with no idea it was from a book!

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Saturday, 13 June 2020 01:00 (one year ago) link

Really need to read that,love saves the day is superlative

Rik Waller-Bridge (jim in vancouver), Saturday, 13 June 2020 01:18 (one year ago) link

This is a *little* bit of a comparative let-down at times, but only when I miss those Love Saves The Day]astute punchlines: more into show than tell now, though tells what and when needs to (good traffic manager).

dow, Saturday, 13 June 2020 02:30 (one year ago) link

I started reading an easy one, Maigret's Failure, Georges Simenon. I expect nothing more from it than a well-told story that is entirely satisfying. I may just read a couple more Maigret novels in succession, depending on my mood and desires.

On a pleasant note, my local public library just re-opened for curbside pickup of items on their own shelves. Inter-library items are not yet available. I must place a hold on the items I want and schedule a pickup time. This is a major step forward!

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 13 June 2020 02:36 (one year ago) link

read 'the book of eels'

it was good; even the parts you worried would be maudlin were fine and short, and eels are fucking weird as hell

mookieproof, Saturday, 13 June 2020 03:40 (one year ago) link


Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Saturday, 13 June 2020 16:12 (one year ago) link

I finished Lost Property, the Ben Sonnenberg memoir. For most of the book, the narrator is not an especially likeable character, and at times it threatens to devolve into a parade of names, minor celebrities, women he slept with (of whom we learn only a few sketched biographical details) or obscure authors he has read in the original language, yet the book maintains a certain gravitational pull. At times the sparsity of context verges on the gnomic, but he has an eye for the telling detail (or at least he was capably edited) and the book is remarkably free of both self-criticism and self-pity.

o. nate, Tuesday, 16 June 2020 01:55 (one year ago) link

it appears that this october will be the centenary of agatha christie's first published novel (in the usa; a bit later in the uk) if any of You Writers want to pitch something

mookieproof, Wednesday, 17 June 2020 01:05 (one year ago) link

"100 Reasons Agatha Christie Gives Me the Shits"

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 17 June 2020 12:54 (one year ago) link

Actually, there's only like 6 reasons, she's not complex or interesting enough for 100

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 17 June 2020 12:55 (one year ago) link

I'm reading Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground.. At the two-thirds point in it I can't say I've been enjoying it, or found it in any way enlightening, or universal, or truthful, or funny, or penetrating. Even considered as puerile ravings it falls apart.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 17 June 2020 16:48 (one year ago) link

Jean Renoir - Renoir, My Father
Blake Gopnik - Warhol

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 17 June 2020 18:12 (one year ago) link

My book club is meeting tonight for our third discussion (of four) of Louise Erdrich's Future Home of the Living God. I'm the one who suggested it, having just read it late last year, so no surprises for me in the plot; the connections we are drawing to contemporary world events, on the other hand...

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Wednesday, 17 June 2020 21:20 (one year ago) link

I've been reading fiction again, some of it in conjunction with the NYPL/WNYC bookclub. This is what I've read since the lockdown began. Cliche picks are books with obvious pandemic content.

My Dark Vanessa -- Kate Elizabeth Russell (better than I thought it would be)
Severance -- Ling Ma (cliche pick, but this is my all-star find)
Station Eleven -- Emily St. John Mandel (cliche pick)
Breasts and Eggs -- Mieko Kawakami (witty and wise)

In progress:

Pizza Girl -- Jean Kyoung Frazier (fun debut, L.A. content)
The Plague -- Camus (rereading, ur-cliche pick)

Bought for the book club but haven't read yet:

Deacon King Kong -- James McBride
The Glass Hotel -- Emily St. John Mandel (this author again)

Ordered, but haven't picked up yet:

The City We Became -- N.K. Jemisin

Virginia Plain, Thursday, 18 June 2020 05:52 (one year ago) link

Oh I forgot -- I was reading War and Peace with some Twitter book club but I gave up after about 150 pages. I wonder if they are finished now.

Virginia Plain, Thursday, 18 June 2020 06:00 (one year ago) link

Just had the Tony Allen autobiography drop through the mail yesterday from the Duke University Press sale.
Started reading the introduction but was falling asleep so did that instead.

Been reading a bit of Japanoise which was also Duke UP sale.should be interesting once I get underway. Already coming across some interesting stuff. Price of entry to gigs in Japan for 1 $50 has been mentioned for a small literally underground gig.
Also people's reaction to loud mesmeric noise. Can make some lash out. Author mentions one guy needing to be brought down and sat on to prevent him hurting people with his flailing arms etc.

Stevolende, Thursday, 18 June 2020 07:21 (one year ago) link

Really enjoyed PIZZA GIRL, and keep meaning to get to BREASTS AND EGGS.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Thursday, 18 June 2020 12:13 (one year ago) link

Oh I forgot -- I was reading War and Peace with some Twitter book club but I gave up after about 150 pages. I wonder if they are finished now.

― Virginia Plain, Thursday, 18 June 2020 bookmarkflaglink

I am mutuals with people on book twitter who were doing this and some of them got deep into it.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 18 June 2020 15:08 (one year ago) link

I finished it in late March as the virus got rollin'. As good as people say, and quite easy to read, but I'm not sure I'd return to it like I do Anna Karenina.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 18 June 2020 15:10 (one year ago) link

Vladimir Nabokov - Lectures on Russian Literature
Pierre Michon - Masters and Servants

Nabokov's lectures are, as they say on the internet, problematic. Love the way he can attack the page, close read the hell out of it (the sketch of the timelines in Anna Karenina are impressive, as is his insight into the nature of time in the book/realist fiction (the way Tolstoy can follows the reality of time in which his characters live so closely, from even A, to B, to C...as oposed to how someone like Proust would do it)). On the other hand his account of Dostoevsky eats @ his narrow conceptions of art, individual genius (and this is from someone who quite likes D and doesn't hold him up as a god or anything) and what the nature of the novel. By the time he lectures on these books its very clear that even reading D for him is an ordeal, to an extent that he can hardly pick up the page (almost as if there isn't a technical display he can enjoy and make the reader, in turn, enjoy his taking apart of it). Kinda feel his liberal-ish politics falls apart too, its almost as if a person cannot be (as one of Dosto's books put it) Humiliated and Insulted, or that a book for adults -- very telling he liked Crime and Punishment when he first read it at 13 -- cannot contain imbalances and still be an artwork. The insight that D could've been a playwright makes you doubt his knowledge of the theatre. In these lectures you see the failures of a kind of literary criticism in the way it can deal with something that isn't polished in that literary manner.

As for Michon I really liked it, as I love almost anything by him (one of my favourite discoveries in the last couple of years). His pieces are these fake autobiographical tales, re-tellings (a lot of them in this volume are to do with painters like Goya, or Vasari -- someone who did not succeed as an artist) that allow for a set of thought-flights. Just finished an hour ago, the three books I have read need a week's worth of re-reading and more of a think. I love the writing, but find I do wonder what he is driving at.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 18 June 2020 15:39 (one year ago) link

It's nice to see Virginia Plain again !

the pinefox, Thursday, 18 June 2020 15:53 (one year ago) link

yes, good post! pizza girl sounds like my cup of tea thank you.

jenny offill - weather. not as smart as dept. of speculation and absent that smartness her style (snippets from notebooks pasted together in a word doc?) is kind of grating.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Thursday, 18 June 2020 16:29 (one year ago) link

I finished Notes From Underground, which did not improve my opinion of it.

Next I read Equal Danger, a brief 'crime' novel by Leonardo Sciascia. This was much better. Unlike the other two novels of his I've read, it was only loosely tethered to realism, setting itself in a non-existent country and allowing the characters to drift slightly away from the human and into the emblematic, so as to shift the tone nearer to the border of fable by the end.

Now I am reading a history of Bell Laboratories, The Idea Factory, by John Gartner.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 20 June 2020 05:31 (one year ago) link

I'm currently reading The View from Nowhere by Thomas Nagel.

o. nate, Sunday, 21 June 2020 01:22 (one year ago) link

I read NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND when I was 21!

If nothing else, at least it's short.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 16:15 (one year ago) link

There used to be an ILX poster named after Bell Laboratories.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 16:16 (one year ago) link

I continue with Curtis Sittenfeld, PREP : about 120pp in. It's readable and fun so far.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 16:17 (one year ago) link

I read NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND when I was 21!

I read it some time in my youth, too, but that would put it about 45 years ago. I'm pretty sure I couldn't make heads or tails out of it, but took it for granted that, being by Dostoevsky, it must have had profundities in it I was just unable to decipher. Now it reads like a very crude pamphlet in an obscure shadow fight among Russian intellectuals.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Tuesday, 23 June 2020 16:59 (one year ago) link

Bob Dylan's new album is giving me lots of Feelings about history and art and death and immortality that can only be dealt with by re-reading The Master and Margarita. God it's such a good book.

Greetings from CHAZbury Park (Lily Dale), Tuesday, 23 June 2020 18:39 (one year ago) link

And inspired or led to "Symphony For The Devil," according to some---think I first saw it cited in Anthony Scaduto's bio, Mick Jagger: Everybody's Lucifer (1974 hardback).

dow, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 20:49 (one year ago) link


dow, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 20:50 (one year ago) link

So I finally (will try not to say too much about it, knowing that some of you will be like, "Ah, dow discovers the wheel") read Marshall Berman's 1981 All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. Perfect title, from prime-time Marx, and neither means it as a complaint, not entirely: There are times when it is good to melt (ooo babe), and we need air. Both sides now go also with subtitle, The Experience of Modernity, inevitably, so we must find our way in the modern maelstrom, dig out the ghosts of modern past for modern present and future for a better bearable modernist and modern space and time---developing a dialectic(al vision) that can be---beautiful---to use many of his keywords in one sentence.

Like the previously noted David Mancuso, he could be seen as the psychedelic Mr Rogers---but, less discreetly than Mr R., Berman and Mancuso challenge their audience: Prof B is so nice and reassuring as he passes out the syllabus incl. 150 years of writing on a lengthy reading list (suspect he made his actual CUNY students write their butts off too), through which he proceeds (eventually "crabwise," as Tim Lawrence describes his own progress, through inter- and intra-related developments in the arts and other), on several translucent, action-packed levels---concisely enough---this Penguin trade paperback is 381 pages, counting the index, of nice-size type---but also with a jeweler's eye for detail, presented just so. It is granular, in the grain of his voice, stylistic->conceptual flights still on a leash, and for the greater good.

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 20:05 (one year ago) link

He reads 'em, so maybe we don't have to, but this trek is very involving---and brings out facets I'd missed in things I had read, or tried to read: gave up on Faust Part Two way before the best stuff (some of which, he indicates in typically valuable footnotes, is in passages belatedly and gradually discovered and restored). After many toils and snares and other teachable moments, Faust becomes an inspired real estate developer, unprecedented since the ancient world---and he doesn't need an Empire to back him, he's got running buddy Mephistopheles--he does need many many workers, and they come, also inspired, wanting a new town, a new life---but many are sacrificed---nevertheless, the Master Plan is fulfilled, But then---no spoilers, but poetic justice, not of an obvious development: sucks for him, not for his audience, incl author and Mephistopheles. This could be taken as a cautionary scientific romance, finished in the late 1820s, Berman says, so in the wake of Frankenstein. Yet Goethe was also a big fan of the Saint-Simonists, with their big ideas that many dismissed: Panama Canal? Gettouttahere!
And Marx wanted to, did, in vision, build on the best of bourgeois civilization, as the rest melted away (tensions, contradictions, fallacies, other probs in Marx duly noted, and/or notes of other notetakers).

Yadda yadda, Haussmann realigns Paris, to put it mildly (critiqued in an essay by Robert Moses that foreshadows the decidedly mixed blessings of his own career). Baudelaire goes slipping and sliding through his own responses to the boulevards and their actual mud, losing his halo and then kind of digging the lighter head (I must read Paris Spleen). Le Corbusier not so much, but then he also has to dodge automobiles, and so his City of Tomorrow builds above and beyond the street (and eventually, Berman points out, seeds a kind of AntiCity, an Antitommorow, an everlasting Now of building, in and between old civic centers, via suburbs, interstates, etc---self-perpetuating--until the financial crises of the 1970s, when Berman is writing this).

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 20:44 (one year ago) link

But not so fast---there's also "the modernity of underdevelopment," exemplified here in Saint-Simonist stan Peter The Great's Faustian Petersburg---which wears "the mantle of civilization, " as one contemporary observer puts it, over the equally Faustian inner murk, the pressures of modernity. So the Nevsky Prospect is a great street, worthy of Haussmann, on which to see and be seen, to behold the crystal world of wares from beyond, because no modern means of production, because---cue, in the mud, the underclass of scriveners and scribblers, in certain stories of Pushkin, Gogol, Chernyshevsky, Dusty--eventually also at least one double or triple agent of "police socialism" and revolution---and Biely's Russian Modernist As Fuck novelPetersburg, which asks, where's your shadow passport? Go get it. Meanwhile, here's several devastated, devastatingly beautiful poems of Mandelstam, such as "Leningrad," included in their entirety.

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:06 (one year ago) link

That was lovely!

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:10 (one year ago) link

Sure is, bravo dow!

Scampidocio (Le Bateau Ivre), Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:26 (one year ago) link

Back in the USA, with young Berman and his local friends observing first hand the advance of Moses's expressway through the heart of their Bronx--from junior high school through early college years--something for Berman to come home to, in breaks from Columbia. But he recognizes that Moses, whose career of good and evil lasted "from the early 1900s to the late 60s," tapped into the modern and modernist and modernizing, from when that last was the great good thing--earlier on, he did bring the ideal, idyllic Jones Beach, and many parks, and his gradual decline in good works/ascent of power was so much in the spirit of the age, as were his fellow New Yorkers---although, even before he and many of them ran out of financial etc. juice, there was a countermovement,, first cresting in Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities(1960)--which Berman and others came to critique as another mixed blessing, but needed, in several ways (she never mentioned "feminism," not in 1960, but it was a woman's view of the city, all day and into the night, shopping and taking care of babies etc, while Dad was at work or asleep).
Much more going on, all over town, but for instance, later in the 60s, Berman meets a famous futurologist just back from Vietnam. B is New Left, but that night he didn't want any trouble just then, so I asked him about his years in the Bronx. We talked pleasantly enough, till I told him that Moses's road was going to blow every trace of our childhoods away. Fine, he said, the sooner the better; didn't I understand that the destruction of the Bronx would fulfill the Bronx's own moral imperative? What moral imperative? I asked. He laughed as he bellowed in my face" "You want to know the morality of the Bronx? 'Get out, schmuck, Get out!'" For once in my life, I was stunned into silence. It was the brutal truth: I had left the Bronx, just as he had, just as we were all brought up to...I pulled back and went home as he began to explain Vietnam...His laughter carried all the easy confidence of our official culture, the civic faith that America could overcome its inner contradictions simply by driving away from them.
Cue Part 3 of Modernism in New York, "The 1970s: Bringing It All Back Home."

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:38 (one year ago) link

xpost Thanks yall. I'll shut up now (but don't sleep on for instance "my Bronx modernist dream: The Bronx Mural," for Moses's Cross-Bronx Expressway).

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:48 (one year ago) link

I do think he's wrong to dismiss all post-modernism, which is also part of our experience---I'd say the death of Oswald, on live TV and surrounded by police, not to mentioned the whole(?), so-far cockeyed narrative of O, incl. death of JFK and everything left here and there---is a good example, also lefto journo, who actually seems to have examined the hanging chads etc., said that it was a post-modernist experience, and George W was sometimes referred as a or the post=modern President. But Berman heaps scorn on those po-mos who heap scorn on all idealism, in his telling.

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:57 (one year ago) link

Other disagreements, but he does give me a vision of his vision that I don't duck, and that's---enough. For now---what other books of his should I read?

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 22:00 (one year ago) link

Presumably"lefto journo": David Corn, I meant.

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 22:02 (one year ago) link

Having finished the book about Bell Laboratories, which was adequately informative, while waiting to decide which book to read next I took a side excursion into some of Orwell's essays from a humongous (over 1350 pp.) collection published by Everyman's Library. At random I read mostly political book reviews from 1938-39. They were extremely sound, fair-minded, and always drove straight to the heart of the matter.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Friday, 26 June 2020 16:07 (eleven months ago) link

Dow: it's nice that you have been able to get so much out of Berman. That work feels a bit overfamiliar to me but I haven't read it as closely as you have for a long, long time. It was clearly always meant to be exciting so it's good that someone is still responding to it that way.

I recall that Berman wrote an early book on Rousseau but the later works, I think, are patchy - collections of essays that partly overlap with ALL THAT IS SOLID, etc - like ADVENTURES IN MARXISM. I also have a co-edited collection, NEW YORK CALLING, which is appealing if you like modern NYC history, people talking about 1970s Manhattan, blackouts, graffiti, etc.

Berman's response to Perry Anderson's scintillating if rather unkind critique of him (c.1984), 'signs in the street', might eventually be of interest.

the pinefox, Saturday, 27 June 2020 15:01 (eleven months ago) link

I've settled on re-reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I first read it at college, decades ago, when Stein was just re-emerging from the eclipse of her reputation during the 50s and 60s. Gertrude channeling Alice is much more readable than Gertrude striving to do away with the noun, but I have the Selected Writings, so I can dabble a bit around after I finish with 'Alice'.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Saturday, 27 June 2020 17:57 (eleven months ago) link

I started printing a Gertrude Stein pamphlet today, I hope it turns out ok.

I haven’t read a book since the lockdown started, can’t seem to make myself do it. Have dipped into “Life A Users Manual” a bit.

Tim, Saturday, 27 June 2020 19:26 (eleven months ago) link

I liked that book. Kind of lost my mind at how many octagons were in it though.

all cats are beautiful (silby), Saturday, 27 June 2020 19:39 (eleven months ago) link

"haven’t read a book since the lockdown started"


xyzzzz__, Saturday, 27 June 2020 19:51 (eleven months ago) link

I've had real trouble finishing books since lockdown started, but thanks to the Dylan album I managed to finish re-reading The Master and Margarita, which was every bit as amazing as I remembered it, and then read The Strangers in the House by Simenon, which I liked a lot. Bob Dylan to the rescue yet again.

Greetings from CHAZbury Park (Lily Dale), Saturday, 27 June 2020 19:59 (eleven months ago) link

I'm still going with Nagel's View from Nowhere, but it's not an easy read, so for some light distraction I've also started Dr Faustus by Thomas Mann, which someone had put out on their stoop.

o. nate, Sunday, 28 June 2020 01:11 (eleven months ago) link

Lily Dale: is there a specific connexion between the Dylan LP and these books?

the pinefox, Sunday, 28 June 2020 12:43 (eleven months ago) link

About 200 pp into PREP.

Meanwhile about 40pp into David Thomson, THE BIG SCREEN. Vividly written.

the pinefox, Sunday, 28 June 2020 12:43 (eleven months ago) link

Billy Budd, Sailor

mark s, Sunday, 28 June 2020 12:54 (eleven months ago) link

After finishing the Atocha Station about three weeks ago, I've not been able to consider fiction. Nothing to do with the text, as such, which I liked, without loving. I was leery from the start at dealing with another struggling writer of privilege, however much, and however skillfully (and amusingly) it is battling with that particular conundrum. The Ashbery section is pretty extraordinary and will lead me to at least read his Hatred of Poetry.

I've recently finished Seamus Heaney's Finders Keepers, which Good Reads tells me I've been reading, off and on, for eight years. Magnificent.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Sunday, 28 June 2020 13:19 (eleven months ago) link

pinefox: not exactly. I posted upthread that the Dylan album got me thinking about art and death and immortality in a way that sort of suggested The Master and Margarita to me; it's more of a mood than anything else. But also, listening to new Dylan seems to have jolted my brain out of its lockdown-induced rut and helped my attention span temporarily. The Simenon was just something my brother gave me, and from his recommendation I felt pretty sure I would like it, but I didn't want to read it until I was back in a reading frame of mind.

Greetings from CHAZbury Park (Lily Dale), Sunday, 28 June 2020 16:53 (eleven months ago) link

I finished spring reading with:

Various - A Hidden Landscape Once a Week (ed. by ilxor mark s)

This is the first time I ever contributed to a book being published (through kickstarter) (I was spectating at the conference much of this book is drawn from on the last day). I suppose I'll describe myself a satisfied customer. Reading and flicking through all the contributions felt at times like a music magazine. By turns good, bad, irritating, or sometimes you just flick through with little to no feeling. Taking things in, letting it settle to...what exactly only time will tell (like when I started picking up music mags in the late 90s). Things work through and you end up where you end up. The editor's essay does a very good job on addressing (or squaring up to) what a contributor brings to the table in terms of perspective, but does not seem to work through - which is a common enough struggle for all of us (anyway there was a gap here). Politically it was a weird read because -- picking this up post-Corbyn, BLM, at our current moment etc. -- and seeing a few music/culture writers behave badly on twitter is a thing I just rubbed up against (I'd like to think Mark smartly covered this up when mentioning John Harris lol). But it was a thing for me. I ended up thinking someone like Charles Shaar Murray or Edwin Pouncey would be bad on twitter. Maybe Morley too. Penman is on twitter (and is often really good, so I didn't feel his absence from the book).* Liz Naylor (who was great on the conference panel I saw) is on there but a quiet presence, she doesn't tweet ofen.

You wouldn't really know unless you were present but what does come through is Penny Reel's heckle/engagement/questions from the audience (in a light enough way as it appears on the book, there are a couple of instances, maybe one or two more on the day). The panel with him on was great -- and I love how this was the placed last in the book, and Richard Williams' interview with Val Wilmer placed first, this partic bit of ordering here is A++ although its probably just chronology with jazz mags covered a bit more upfront -- and his assertion that he wrote for Black people (after saying at first he didn't care who read him) moved me very much.

* this is a book where time on twitter enhances in whatever way your experience of it. Reading Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary recently was the first time I became more aware of this dimension.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 29 June 2020 12:40 (eleven months ago) link

* this is a book where time on twitter enhances in whatever way your experience of it. Reading Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary recently was the first time I became more aware of this dimension. Sorry, I don't follow this ending to your post at all. What do you mean?

dow, Monday, 29 June 2020 17:35 (eleven months ago) link

I mean that I would have a different reading of the book if I wasn't on twitter. With the Serge I credit twitter with a wider knowledge of anarchist thinking (as opposed to state communist thinking) so by the time I'm reading the Memoirs certain passages aren't as obscure as they might have been.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 29 June 2020 18:53 (eleven months ago) link

You found that responses to Landscape on twitter further stimulated-clarified your own take?

dow, Monday, 29 June 2020 19:31 (eleven months ago) link

That's what happened when I started reading Creem---not that I always agreed with reviewer's verdicts or house doctrine, but that wasn't the point.

dow, Monday, 29 June 2020 19:37 (eleven months ago) link

Twitter makes me think a little further about a reading of the book, because some of the people who write about music/culture as a job/vocation are on it.

I don't think I even was on twitter (or if I was it couldn't have been for long) when I attended the conference.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 29 June 2020 19:47 (eleven months ago) link

Will have to dig around on Twitter for responses. Here's a good informative and extensive interview/conversation:
And my initial take, posted on there:
Great interview—can see I’m going to have to re-read to catch every bit of it (possibly)–as with Mark’s intro to the anthology (was immediately gratified by his hailing of 80s syncretism, a new age [somebody pointed out that this was in part because of cassettes, rough and ready in areas around the world where record and CD players weren’t feasible}. In contrast to some of his contributors, who dismissed the 80s for plastic on everything, Phil Collins and shoulder pads bleghh).
Fave contributions pretty obvious choices: adventures of Val Wilmer, Cynthia Rose having lunch with Andy and his corsets, Hon. Chas Shaar Murray stylin’, Penny Reel! )thanx so much for link to Mark’s Freaky Trigger on him) Also the intriguing Paul Morely, applecart-upsetter Paul Gilroy, and Mr. Frith on his experience in xgau’s version of the Voice line-edit (goes with what I’ve heard from other survivors).
That last was presented *after* another participant, an early reggae writer, complained about Frith editing his own work, trying to clarify for a wider readership, apparently---so the sequencing could be inferred as turnabout, comeuppance---results: I was always struck by austere, downcast, depressive even, Frith's Voice column seemed in contrast to his Creem contributions---and now I know at least part of why that was. Cannot imagine going through the Voice line-edit with Christgau, patient though he was with me under most other circumstances---it was a weirdly intimate process even in the very gentle hands of Chuck, who was no fool, yet no self-appointed Dean.

dow, Monday, 29 June 2020 20:32 (eleven months ago) link

xxxpost Thanks Pinefox, will keep your Berman comments in mind.

dow, Tuesday, 30 June 2020 23:30 (eleven months ago) link

Should we do a summer thread?

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 1 July 2020 21:37 (eleven months ago) link

go for it! I can't believe an entire season has passed already since I started this v_v

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Wednesday, 1 July 2020 23:03 (eleven months ago) link

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