The Double Dream of Spring 2019: what are we reading?

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Finishing up City of Quartz by Mike Davis, starting in on Impatience of the Heart by Stefan Zweig

A funny tinge happened on the way to the forum (wins), Sunday, 24 March 2019 18:38 (two months ago) Permalink

Reference link to previous Winter 2019 WAYR thread.

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 24 March 2019 18:43 (two months ago) Permalink

I will finish it, but I would rate Gore Vidal's Washington D.C. as easily the worst of his series of American political history novels. It is more sensationalized, less substantial and less grounded in historic fact than any of the subsequently written entries in that series. It was probably worth skipping, but I'm close enough to the end that my 'completist' urge has kicked in and I will see it through.

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 24 March 2019 18:48 (two months ago) Permalink

And you can learn anything you want about James Burden Day from Empire and Hollywood, thus making Washington DC eminently skippable.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 24 March 2019 18:53 (two months ago) Permalink

JG farrell, "troubles"

PaulDananVEVO (||||||||), Sunday, 24 March 2019 21:54 (two months ago) Permalink

The Train, Georges Simenon (originally published as Le Train).

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 26 March 2019 16:00 (two months ago) Permalink

A Hidden Landscape Once a Week
Walter Benjamin: the Story of a Friendship - Gershom Scholem

woof, Tuesday, 26 March 2019 17:30 (two months ago) Permalink

Dobson's murderous contagion. It's interesting but very dry reading. Interested in more books on medicine/diseases. But after this I want to read sth lighter. Prob more PK Dick. I finished Skull the other week and realized how great his writing is.

nathom, Tuesday, 26 March 2019 21:04 (two months ago) Permalink

I'm ashamed: never read Simenon. It's ab time I did.

nathom, Tuesday, 26 March 2019 21:04 (two months ago) Permalink


the pinefox, Wednesday, 27 March 2019 10:10 (two months ago) Permalink

It's ab time I did.

Just remember you are not required to like his books. He has his flaws and limitations, like any author.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 27 March 2019 16:22 (two months ago) Permalink

Richard Stern's Other Men's Daughters, available in the NYRB edition. I know he's a Writer's Writer, revered by Roth and Bellow, but, boy, is his precision impressing me, especially at the service of the world's least interesting plot.

I must read him.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 27 March 2019 16:41 (two months ago) Permalink

If you had added one more “Writer’s” in front you would have got me.

Theorbo Goes Wild (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 27 March 2019 21:16 (two months ago) Permalink

Amy Levy, The Romance of a Shop
John Knowles, A Separate Peace
Gore Vidal, "The Zenner Trophy"

Timothée Charalambides (cryptosicko), Wednesday, 27 March 2019 23:33 (two months ago) Permalink

About 2/3s of the way through the Big Midweek Steve Hanley's memoir of life in The Fall. Quite enjoying it and he is completely scathing about the Smiths maybe all of them.
I can't quite place when I am in the book at the moment I think it's past the point I have at least lps by the band. I do have the Peel session box.

Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi
Book on underlying violence of trade and society etc.

Fighting The Banana Wars
Memoir on Fsitrade history.

Bob Woodward Feat
The Woodward book on the Trump story which I got half way through then started reading something else a few months back.

Stevolende, Thursday, 28 March 2019 07:13 (two months ago) Permalink

Started Gravity’s Rainbow. Made it through 80 pages in college, then 300 pages in law school. This time I’m going all the way.

Mazzy Tsar (PBKR), Thursday, 28 March 2019 15:24 (two months ago) Permalink

godspeed pbkr, it is totally worth getting through, its most beautiful passages are toward the middle and at the very end

jolene club remix (BradNelson), Thursday, 28 March 2019 15:25 (two months ago) Permalink

i am still stuck in the last third of the rest is noise but i'm gonna finish it this or next week and start doctor faustus, which will also prob take me three months to read bc thomas mann

jolene club remix (BradNelson), Thursday, 28 March 2019 15:26 (two months ago) Permalink

Felix Krull surprised me -- it's the nearest equivalent to a beach read he ever wrote

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 28 March 2019 15:29 (two months ago) Permalink

Nearly finished Monte Cristo. I got a little bored of it around the third quarter, but then a couple of twists in the plot brought me back in.

jmm, Thursday, 28 March 2019 15:40 (two months ago) Permalink

Having finished The Train, I am of two minds about it and it is difficult to explain without describing the entire book. Maybe it would be sufficient to say that the story is set in 'a time taken out of time', where a young ("22 or 23 year old")woman simply appears, attaches herself to the protagonist, has sex with him within hours of their meeting, makes no demands upon him, and after many weeks of liaison she disappears at the proper moment, gratefully absolves him of any further responsibility, and he more or less resumes his prior life.

The mechanism that makes all this ring true is that the story is set at the first weeks of Germany's invasion of France in WWII and the main characters are refugees from the area near the Belgian border, thrown violently out of normal life into chaotic circumstances. Within that framework, the premise is less jarring. But the fact that the plot runs directly along lines of a common male fantasy just kept niggling at me as I read it and I never did feel like Simenon quite managed to put enough complexity into his story to distance it from that simple underlying fantasy world.

Then I had some extra time last night and read Elizabeth Hardwick's critical essay, "Melville in Love". As indicated by Alfred, it was a good one.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 28 March 2019 16:30 (two months ago) Permalink

<i>Leave It To Psmith</i>. Had no idea Comrade Psmith was a Blandings spin-off; I'd read some Blandings before but this being a novel it still feels really weird to read a Wodehouse that is not in Bertie Wooster's voice,

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 28 March 2019 17:02 (two months ago) Permalink

Psmith started life as a secondary character, a student of Wryken, the public school where Wodehouse set some of his earliest novels, patterned loosely after Tom Brown's School Days. He later moved up in the world.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 28 March 2019 17:23 (two months ago) Permalink

/It's ab time I did./

Just remember you are not required to like his books. He has his flaws and limitations, like any author.

I must support my fellow country man completely. (This is one of our great flaws: Belgians rarely support eachother.)

nathom, Thursday, 28 March 2019 19:16 (two months ago) Permalink

I like the Maigret books that I've read (not very many) for their undersold invitation to a measure of compassion, or sympathy, in the justice meted out by getting the goods on characters, however they may fare in crime, court, or anywhere else in the System: there's a sense of dry desperation even in success, where legit biz and rackets parallel and merge, not to mention on other rungs, indoors and out on the streets, day and night. Maigret can't ever seem to forget his own origins for long, as s motherless hick who flunked out and started over as a beat cop in the City of Light, hungry all the time, and now, as a celebrity cop with a decent check maybe, he eats a lot (one commentator mentions that his wife feeds him "like a toddler), drinks a lot, smokes a lot, as his best friend the doctor reminds him, though some of it is stress of the job---he's certainly no bleeding heart, but he knows what makes people tick, and he has a conscience.
In Maigret's Failure, a bloated figure from the bad old days in the sticks suddenly materializes, richer than ever and demanding protection--M blames himself for letting personal distaste (the Meat King is a poison madeleine for all kinds of unwelcome memories) interfere with professional judgement. No one else seems to agree---the guy was a notorious ahole, had it comin'---but he knows.

dow, Friday, 29 March 2019 16:23 (two months ago) Permalink

I've been reading the Homeric Hymns in a poetic translation by Jules Cashford.
I must say it is a nice translation, modern enough to be readable while preserving a sense of the archaic. Another plus: no thees and thous.

I also own the Loeb edition of the Hymns, with the Greek text and a prose translation on the facing page, but it's mostly in my library so as to have the Battle of the Mice and Frogs and other odd fragments of Homerica.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 30 March 2019 23:17 (two months ago) Permalink

there's a sense of dry desperation even in success

There's a really great instance of this in the first Maigret adaptation featuring Jean Gabin - case has been solved, everything's ready for the ending, and Maigret just walks into the Paris rain, grim music letting us know there's nothing to celebrate.

Daniel_Rf, Sunday, 31 March 2019 12:55 (two months ago) Permalink

Was wondering about the Gabin connection, since his picture is on a bunch of Maigret audiobooks.

Theorbo Goes Wild (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 31 March 2019 13:07 (two months ago) Permalink

Yeah, he did three Maigret adaptations late into his career.

Not as intuitive a choice for him as Rowan Atkinson of course.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 1 April 2019 10:32 (two months ago) Permalink

I have kicked off spring with some Jose Saramago. Cain is a re-write of a bundle of old testament tales, some of which (Abraham) worked really well, and recalls Pasolini in his readings - although the abrupt ending hints that he didn't quite know what to do with what he started. Now on another one of his All the Names, which is shaping up to be something else, there is a re-writing of Kafka's bureaucracy going on already and I am definitely here for it!

I am also pacing through Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, and nervously laughing. Its quite soemthing picking this one up - the failing upwards hits in a way that it might not have done if I picked this up in the late 90s.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 1 April 2019 11:18 (two months ago) Permalink

Eugenides, Fresh Complaint

calstars, Monday, 1 April 2019 12:08 (two months ago) Permalink

still Jane Eyre, over halfway. Fantasizing about a sequel/fanfiction AU where Jane and Rochester do crimes together

moose; squirrel (silby), Monday, 1 April 2019 17:17 (two months ago) Permalink

I read that ages ago actually! Catching up to the source material. Maybe if I reread it I'll get more of the jokes.

moose; squirrel (silby), Monday, 1 April 2019 17:21 (two months ago) Permalink

I finished Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. It won me over. The characters get more fleshed out (as they slim down) and she has a few other tricks up her sleeve. I'm now reading Spartacus by Aldo Schiavone. I liked the previous book on Ancient Rome that I read by him, and this one is shaping up to be just as good.

o. nate, Tuesday, 2 April 2019 01:54 (two months ago) Permalink

Reading Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories From The Trailblazers Of Domestic Suspense. Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, some lesser known names.

I have kicked off spring with some Jose Saramago. Cain is a re-write of a bundle of old testament tales, some of which (Abraham) worked really well, and recalls Pasolini in his readings - although the abrupt ending hints that he didn't quite know what to do with what he started.

I remember the hype around that one felt very stale at the time - Saramago pointing out that Christianity is fucked up for the millionth time, the church throwing its usual temper tantrum, rest of the nation went on as usual.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 2 April 2019 10:08 (two months ago) Permalink

I slogged through "Rotting Hill" by Wyndham Lewis, in which WL conjures a bunch of straw men with whom he can argue or agree, such that he can fulminate against the post-WWII Labour administration and the - apparently - inevitable slide of the UK into total, permanent, Soviet-style state control of everyday life.

This is fundamentally a bad book but the combination of occasional passages of glorious writing plus the weirdness of reading such trenchant political analysis that turned out so wrong made me just interested enough to keep going.

Tim, Tuesday, 2 April 2019 11:26 (two months ago) Permalink

I just finished 'Jane Eyre' which is one of the best books I've ever read.

To celebrate I got 3 books out at the library

Anita Brookner - Hotel du Lac
Muriel Spark - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Jean Rhys - Wide Sargasso Sea

hot dog go to bathroom (cajunsunday), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 11:38 (two months ago) Permalink

Finished The Big Midweek which was a bit of a downer but has me wanting to be more familiar with teh era of fall I like most. Hadn't really heard Room To Live before. Do love Dragnet and Hex Enduction Hour. Not sure how late I'll go with it now. But that late 70s/early 80s does seem to be pretty peak.

So got Heads by Jesse Jarnow as the book by my bed. Seems to be 1973 and talk is about the birth of theh internet, graffiti and jam bands/living in bushes in Central park.

Started reading Bob Woodward Fear again & I think I'm roughly half way through. Tillerson has just called Trump a moron.

Been listening to Podcasts while i'm moving around town so not been reading on the bus.

Stevolende, Tuesday, 2 April 2019 13:10 (two months ago) Permalink

Reading Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories From The Trailblazers Of Domestic Suspense. Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, some lesser known names.

ordered this immediately

moose; squirrel (silby), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 16:58 (two months ago) Permalink

Anita Brookner - Hotel du Lac
Muriel Spark - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Jean Rhys - Wide Sargasso Sea

That's quite the trio! Enjoy.

I finished The Lay of the Land the third Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe quartet. Like the previous two, it details the lead up to a US holiday, this time Thanksgiving, and it's, I suppose, a narrative of the epic in the everyday. Bascombe is a one time writer now a realtor, and his worldview is a rational one, at heart, but like the rest of us, he's dealing with the sublimity and enormity of what it means to be human - albeit from an ultimately privileged, middle-class American viewpoint. As a reader, you're left to wonder why he writes (yes, it's a constructed narrative, a trick, of course), and you wonder if it gives his life meaning and vice versa. I've read somewhere that Ford's project is along the lines of 'writing is a report from the real world directed through the craft of fiction' which I need to think about a bit.

I'm now in that trough that comes after finishing a huge novel, and I'm reading bits of Emerson (who is probably Bascombe's closest thing to a guardian angel) and desultorily re-reading Homage to Catalonia for an upcoming trip to Barcelona.

Good cop, Babcock (Chinaski), Tuesday, 2 April 2019 19:06 (two months ago) Permalink

This month's Penelope Fitzgerald is "At Freddies". It's (seemingly) less deep but so far lot funnier than anything else I've read by her (Bookshop, Human Voices, Offshore).

Chuck_Tatum, Wednesday, 3 April 2019 11:31 (two months ago) Permalink

Leave it to Psmith is my favorite Wodehouse. Surprised it hasn't been made into a movie (or maybe it has?). First I read, and the gateway drug to all his other novels. Local 1/2 Price Books stores are sadly slim on Wodehouse novels, aside from a few constants. I keep hoping to luck into an estate sale quantity.

After seeing The Sisters Brothers, catching up on Patrick deWitt's novels. TSB, Undermajordomo Minor, both read & liked. Now 1/2 into French Exit, with Ablutions next.

the body of a spider... (scampering alpaca), Wednesday, 3 April 2019 15:52 (two months ago) Permalink

I read "The Drawer and A Pile Of Bricks" by David Berridge, which is I suppose what they call experimental literature (the tell is the positive quote from Joanna Walsh on the back). I couldn't really work out what was going on, though I think something probably was going on. I found a certain pleasure in reading it, grasping odd bits and patterns, but it was a bit like reading a set of clues for a crossword, clues for which you don't understand the rules and the crossword grid's not there. I wonder if I read it again whether all will become clear? I may never find out.

Tim, Wednesday, 3 April 2019 15:57 (two months ago) Permalink

I'm at loose ends. I read some of Virgil's Eclogues last night and due to their similarity to counting sheep, I fell asleep on the couch.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 3 April 2019 16:01 (two months ago) Permalink

I still need to check PSmith, but enjoyed Uncle Fred In Sprigtime: the gallant UF is an alarmingly alternative Jeeves to his manor-born/borne relations.

dow, Wednesday, 3 April 2019 16:46 (two months ago) Permalink

"Uncle Fred Flits By" is the ultimate Wodehouse story for me

Number None, Wednesday, 3 April 2019 16:49 (two months ago) Permalink

I read a Psmith in my adolescence, which I undoubtedly enjoyed but don't recall much of

moose; squirrel (silby), Wednesday, 3 April 2019 17:22 (two months ago) Permalink

This is fundamentally a bad book but the combination of occasional passages of glorious writing plus the weirdness of reading such trenchant political analysis that turned out so wrong made me just interested enough to keep going.

this is such an otm summary of WL (who i still love, which is bad). outside a couple of notable exceptions - Tarr and I think Self-Condemned - his fiction writing was bad not good. but by god bits of it are unlike anything else in a good not bad way.

one of the fascinations of him generally and of Time and Western Man specifically, is watching cultural history take a different turn to the one he is recommending at that point. His anger with Bergsonian time is a good example.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 3 April 2019 20:05 (two months ago) Permalink

(If you want this knackered 1st edition of RH, Fizzles, it’s yours.)

Tim, Wednesday, 3 April 2019 23:01 (two months ago) Permalink

just finished will eaves’ “murmur”. really beautiful book

||||||||, Thursday, 6 June 2019 19:23 (one week ago) Permalink

^^^^^^^ 1000x

And according to some websites, there were “sexcapades.” (James Morrison), Friday, 7 June 2019 02:32 (one week ago) Permalink

Antonio Munoz Molina - Like a Fading Shadow
Rachel Cusk - Outline

Two similar autofictiony novels around writing, creation. Both conversational, both full of flat sentences (and not in a bad way at all).

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 9 June 2019 17:17 (one week ago) Permalink

Short intro on French Revolution.

nathom, Sunday, 9 June 2019 19:03 (one week ago) Permalink

I'm about 85% through The Dispossessed. It is an interesting book to me, mostly for reasons other than what Le Guin wanted me to be interested in. It is both crammed with matter and action, while at the same time it is oddly impoverished. The plot has managed to incorporate a couple dozen themes, including (but not limited to) exile, linguistics, the physics of time, cultural norms, anarchy, dreams, capitalism, sexuality, proxy war, censorship, ecology, marriage, the role of the scientist in an economy, and class war.

Le Guin obviously was an intelligent, curious and perceptive person who investigated every academic subject she encountered and thought broadly about global current events. She has an incisive opinion on all these themes and weaves them all into a story that has a convenient hook upon which she can hang each of these incisive opinions and perspectives. But all these abundant ideas are given only brief notice before passing on to the next one. Each is a little capsule of intellect, but each contains no more than that. They're provocative hints, but stop there.

For me, this makes it a queer sort of novel. Kind of like eating a 24 course meal of intellectual tapas or dim sum. Or watching a film festival showing with 90 minutes worth of 3 minute animations. How she did this is a fascination to me, mainly because of its novelty compared to my normal reading, but I'm fairly sure that almost nothing of this book will stick with me past the moment I read the last page.

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 9 June 2019 19:31 (one week ago) Permalink

Last night I started reading The Day of the Owl, Leonardo Sciascia. It's an NYRB reissue of a Sicilian author; it was written in 1961 and concerns a mafia killing. Good so far.

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 11 June 2019 16:24 (six days ago) Permalink

Sciascia is genuinely great IMO.

Tim, Tuesday, 11 June 2019 21:50 (six days ago) Permalink

Gert Hofmann, The Parable of the Blind: wonderful

And according to some websites, there were “sexcapades.” (James Morrison), Wednesday, 12 June 2019 01:05 (five days ago) Permalink

Cool! Is it translated by his son, Michael Hofmann: poet, translator, critic?

TS The Students vs. The Regents (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 12 June 2019 01:14 (five days ago) Permalink

Been a long time since I read The Dispossessed--early 90s, if not late 80s---but what's stayed with me is the sense of a group, which sees itself/has inherited the self-image of a principled community, now challenged by the option of taking a chance on unprecedented adaptation (true to the spirit, not the letter?), or of trying to stay the course, and maybe stagnating at best.

dow, Wednesday, 12 June 2019 02:23 (five days ago) Permalink

Present-buying question. Can anyone recommend any good travel journalism or non-fiction about Australia, that's not written from a Brit/white/outsider perspective?

Chuck_Tatum, Wednesday, 12 June 2019 14:44 (five days ago) Permalink

Not a Michael Hofmann translation--though he does write an afterword! It's a Christopher Middleton translation.

Off the top of my head, recenti-ish Australian non-fic by Australians, would recommend (excellent, blackly funny history of Sydney) (true crime)

Travel: this is a series by novelists about their home cities. Haven't read the one on Brisbane, but be warned that the author is a nitwit.

And according to some websites, there were “sexcapades.” (James Morrison), Thursday, 13 June 2019 01:20 (four days ago) Permalink

Edouard Louis - Who Killed My Father - read this for university, I guess pop auto-fiction with a short, sharp, political message about France. It's sort of written as a letter to the author's father, personal relationships mixed with the father's industrial injury and subsequent struggles with the state.

I guess I feel like auto-fiction or creative nonfiction seems incredibly fashionable and I'm a bit suspicious of it all. Dunno if it's the Catholic in me but it sort of feels like the literary equivalent of a selfie. This was a decent personal story though.

I'm nearing the end of the collected stories of John McGahern which I think I mentioned upthread. It's been on the Kindle app on my phone for times when I don't have a papperback. A really giant collection, so much mournful Catholic regret. Like anything that comprehensive it is not without its duds. The meandering, meditative and I suppose emotionally soft nature of the stories is sometimes refreshing and other times just old-fashioned. Still, it has the same deep compassion for its characters as William Trevor or the like, I enjoy that a lot.

FernandoHierro, Thursday, 13 June 2019 07:45 (four days ago) Permalink

paperback* ffs

FernandoHierro, Thursday, 13 June 2019 07:46 (four days ago) Permalink

A history of Korea by Kyung Moon Hwang, in anticipation of visiting (South) Korea for my honeymoon.

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 13 June 2019 09:53 (four days ago) Permalink

I finished The Day of the Owl last night. It conveys what seems like a very accurate picture of how the mafia was deeply enmeshed in the fabric of rural Sicily and how it operated when the book was written in 1961, and it does so with great economy of plot and detail. The characters are beautifully drawn with a minimum of strokes, too. Very good stuff.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 13 June 2019 18:42 (four days ago) Permalink

I'm now about 50 pp. into Vertigo, Sebald. So far it seems rather disjointed and pointless to me. He writes one sentence after another and each successive sentence tracks with the preceding one, but they never culminate in anything noteworthy. I'll keep trying, but this book may be one of my failures to thrive.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 14 June 2019 05:42 (three days ago) Permalink

Sebald makes me feel like I'm really not getting something. It reads like dull wittering to me, like being trapped inside a boring Harper's article for all eternity.

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 14 June 2019 09:47 (three days ago) Permalink

The best I can make out so far is that the reader is asked to be held in a state of cumulative admiration for the calm purity of the author's prose. What I cannot figure out yet is what end all that calm purity is written to serve. Maybe that will emerge later on, but any end we might be travelling toward is obscured by a complete lack of purposeful direction.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 14 June 2019 20:42 (three days ago) Permalink

haven't been on ILB for a while, so am a bit ring rusty:

Fireflies – Luis Sagasti trans. Fionn Petch. I did not enjoy this book, but wonder whether I missed something. There's a sort of book which contains essayistic observations on a range of often quite disparate things and in some way links them together. I struggle with these sorts of books. Eliot's phrase from The Waste Land always pops into my head

'On Margate Sands
I can connect
Nothing with nothing'

Or connecting anything with nothing, or anything with anything. It feels like writing on easy mode, and the lack of constraint means nothing really emerges out of the text. I think the most successful aspect was its forced metaphysics where the mouth is a cervical passage, which can both give birth to a void and accept a void in, and the irreducible elements of the cosmos are the stars and the cold only. It's spare and weird, and yes, forced, and I liked it. The book also reminded me I should read some Bashō.

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein. Very good this. Been on my pile for a while, but never got round to it because I felt it would probably cover the same ground as philosopher Ian Hacking's The Taming of Chance. And so it does, but it's got a different focus, more on the practical applications of understanding future probabilities than their philosophical implications. The chapters are nicely shaped around the various mathematicians, scientists and social thinkers who have developed this area, and Bernstein writes clearly. One big takeaway is how easy it was to troll Johann Gauss:

Gauss took special pride in his achievements in astronomy, feeling that he was following in the footsteps of Newton, his great hero. Given his admiration for Newton’s discoveries, he grew apoplectic at any reference to the story that the fall of an apple on Newton’s head had been the inspiration for discovering the law of gravity.

Journals - RF Langley. Really great. I'll update on the journals thread as there's plenty that deserves attention. A Gerard Hopkins level of attention to the natural world, especially the insects, but also a non-Hopkins of how the world around him relates to feeling, sensation, understanding and (artistic) expression – the Romantic logic in a non-Romantic age. One passage in particular struck me. Langley is driving his car along the wintry Suffolk country roads with his companion Barbara:

..I take a stretch of the road too fast, lose all control, and we twist, first into the opposite lane, on the compacted snow, then spin right round to the left and mount the verge into a drift and the hedge, where the car stalls. The only other car on the scene, following us, stops, and I see the driver agape. Complete unshaken, for some reason, I referse out of the drift onto the road, facing back towards Southwold, nod to him as he mouths 'All right?' and drive back to the entrance to the girls' school, where we turn round. .. What might have happened did not. Goldwater did not become President. A meteorite has not yet blasted the Earth. It helps to narrow down the line to what did happen, and strip the swathings of possibles away. But I don't know what happened, in any final way, as I drove off the road. Even as it happened I was blaming Barbara, blaming the tape of Russian chant we had on the recorder, both such crass miswritings that they have nothing extra to tell, because I already know that sort of cheapness in myself.

Miswritings. The use of the word here fascinates me. Not misreadings. My immediate notes (not very good, sorry), were this:

Our continual and immediate midrashic commentary on the world. The world is rich, infinitely interpretable (or containing so much it is inexhaustible - not infinite, not the same as infinity which is a sort of logical nihilism). “Or does it leak” (after RFL has iterated the minute domestic sounds and clankings as an example of the continual richness to be found at any time and in any place).

Our midrashic commentary is also inexhaustible but is separate to that which the world contains (tho as we know the world must also contain it) meaning it may catch it correctly at times, is enough to be able to get on with, at times, and can be miswritten, deliberately or otherwise.

and so the importance of poetry, see also the end of the remarkable entry in the church from August 1988:

"The image that comes unexpectedly, not illustrating a predetermined thought or mood. That poetry should be like that. To fetch the sudden, shining fish in your bill. Riskily."

later, studying an unnameable insect making its toilsome way across the railway bridge ledge (p99):

> There is nothing for it to look forward to. *It will never be seen by anyone who has words again*. (my italics)


> Leaves and words. A general tumbling around what is proper, what might cover the situation.

Europe at Dawn - the last of Dave Hutchinson's Fractured Europe trilogy, which I've enjoyed less and less as it's gone on. Thought 1&2 were great. Struggled to keep up with the cast of 3&4, and found some of the writing a bit painful. The conceit was less interesting once it was fully uncovered I think. Also, on an editing note, how do you get two passages like this within a page of each other?

Amsterdam was a quiet, haunted place. The Low Countries had been hit hard by the Xian Flu and for a long time, even after the pandemic had burned itself out, very few tourists had come here. The trade still hadn’t recovered in any meaningful way;

The place was half empty. The Netherlands had borne the brunt of the Xian Flu, and unlike, say, England, they had somehow not quite bounced back. Alice couldn’t remember how many people they had lost but she knew it was a large percentage of the fifty million or so who had died in Europe during the pandemic. There was a reflective, slightly haunted feeling about Amsterdam which grew even worse once you were out in the countryside.

Territory of Light – Yūko Tsushima. Loved this. In a sense its a sort of micro-genre with which we're very familiar now. A young woman with a child, managing a break up which is like much else opaque and confusing to her. The immediate thing I was reminded of when reading was Elena Ferrante. But of course this was published in 1979, in Japan. An observation I didn't make until quite late, and felt it applies to Ferrante as well, tho haven't gone back to check, is that the way the material of the emnotional crisis is managed is in an extremely *sensory* way, that is the content of the book. Sensory confusions, breakdowns, and interpretations, moments of relief and intense oppression. That's separating out the elements too much: this is an emotional-sensory experience. The crisis of sensation and emotion that is a young child.

Some other points of note: this was serialised in chapters, and remembering that when you're reading gives each chapter the sense of a pearl on a necklace. Independent of, but belonging to, the 'novel'. The chapters will often be centred round a dream – that sensory presentation allows for a wonderful interpenetration of the dream and quotidian world. Psychic fear appears in incongruous places.

There are shadowy figures of oppression around here (representative you feel of the sexual politics of Japan at the time, a subject I know nothing about). But there are also strange allies. An immobile drunk, a passive student, oddly sexualised dream figures. These allies are characterised by physical *presence*. They may be or seem unpleasant or unhelpful in themselves, but the solidity of their bodies helps the mother and daughter through the book.

This is not, as far as I am aware, an autobiographical book, yet an extraordinary passage towards the end seems to contain the force of the novel, and acquires its force from the knowledge that Tsushima's father, the writer Osamu Dazai, committed suicide when she was one. This passage seems in some ways to provide the key to what the book has at its heart and emphasises why the need for physical bodies is expressed in the book.

Fizzles, Saturday, 15 June 2019 16:06 (two days ago) Permalink

I guess I feel like auto-fiction or creative nonfiction seems incredibly fashionable and I'm a bit suspicious of it all. Dunno if it's the Catholic in me but it sort of feels like the literary equivalent of a selfie. This was a decent personal story though.

I haven’t read the Louis book but my own feeling is that selfies, or portraits of the artist or whatever you call them, predate the voguish term autofiction & are neither inherently interesting or dismissible. I liked this from Chris Kraus interviewing Olivia Laing:

What do you think of autofiction as a term? It makes me feel a bit sick, but I don’t quite know why. I think it’s the idea that it’s some voguish new style, rather than something writers have always done. Is Proust writing autofiction? Is Virginia Woolf? What do you think about it and roman á clef? Is that what you see yourself as doing? And why, anyway, do people feel such an urge to pin things down in terms of genre? An additional question—your novels are composed of multiple forms, love letters, diaries, memoir, art criticism, political exegesis, biography, but they’re emphatically novels. Why? What does the novel facilitate for you?


I hate the term too. Autofiction? What literary work doesn’t draw on the writer’s own background, obsessions, biography? I think the term diminishes our sense of the novel as an intimate communication between writer and reader with personal stakes. As if regular fiction was really genre fiction—formulated entertainment with invented stories and characters that have nothing to do with anyone’s life. I think what makes something a novel is its intent and emotional cohesion. The mash-up of information sources and styles is nothing new. There are precedents everywhere—Balzac, Herman Melville, Alfred Döblin, John Dos Passos. The important thing is that in a novel, all of the information is passing through the writer.

shhh / let peaceful like things (wins), Saturday, 15 June 2019 18:28 (two days ago) Permalink

i’d add zin

Sebald makes me feel like I'm really not getting something. It reads like dull wittering to me, like being trapped inside a boring Harper's article for all eternity.

oh oh, i was going to cite sebald as an example of the fireflies problem i was talking about. it’s just general connecting of stuff and i struggle with it. not enough constraint.

Fizzles, Saturday, 15 June 2019 18:31 (two days ago) Permalink

After reading another ~50 pp. of Vertigo last night, I decided to lay it aside for something else. My second notable 'fail' this year. Some day I might try another of his books to see what he has to offer, but not this one.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 15 June 2019 18:51 (two days ago) Permalink

@wins I understood auto-fiction to be a term which is quite old, that's the context in which I heard of it. I think it's hard to deny writing about the self, creative non-fiction, call it what you will, is in fashion though. It is huge in academia and there are a lot of best sellers.

I don't know if that quote sheds much light for me, of course all fiction draws on the self and at some point the two blend into each other, but some of the non-fiction that's popular at the moment is pretty deeply about the self in a way that goes beyond the smoke and mirrors or fiction.

As for the selfie thing, I mean I don't generally dismiss the selfie either but I cited them generally as I think at worst they can be symptomatic of an age or narcissism. Sometimes in creative non-fiction I find myself thinking I am bored by the writer's determination to aggrandise their own life. It's not quite the same as disliking a character in a work of fiction, to me.

FernandoHierro, Saturday, 15 June 2019 21:20 (two days ago) Permalink

*of - both times

FernandoHierro, Saturday, 15 June 2019 21:22 (two days ago) Permalink

I know the term’s been around awhile, just suggesting the concept is older (Proust et al as Laing cites), also didn’t mean to suggest it isn’t a thing that’s au courant with varying levels of success. I guess I’m wondering if there’s an objection to the premise itself as opposed to the examples you’ve read, and do you have the same issues (“the writer's determination to aggrandise their own life”) with “straight” memoir?

shhh / let peaceful like things (wins), Saturday, 15 June 2019 21:35 (two days ago) Permalink

they can be symptomatic of an age of narcissism

My sense is that public life has grown so disconnected from the wellsprings of meaningful action that people are turning inward to a degree that was not common back when communities were smaller and more isolated. People are feeling that the power to effect change has drifted away from them, flowing upward to concentrate in ever more remote and 'elite' centers they feel no connection to and have no influence upon. I would guess that this trend is not due to narcissism so much as social fragmentation.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:02 (two days ago) Permalink

It is hard for me to distinguish it from memoir at this point - I'm coming to the end of a creative writing MA and there were two separate modules for this type of writing, "creative non-fiction" and "writing the self". I didn't take either of them but I've read a lot of work of that type as a result of swapping stuff or seeing people's work in the wild. A lot of it was like memoir, a bit.

Except my feeling is that memoir or eg the sort of non-fiction I probably read via the Longform website every day tend to be very concerned with representing the facts as far as possible, whereas maybe these more modern forms seem to fictionalise factual stories freely, or even disregard facts.

Yet they're still putting themselves as characters in the story, it just feels sort of disingenuous to me.

I guess something like Knausgaard felt so boring, deliberately and otherwise, that my only concerns about the "truth" were the ethical side of things as regards his family etc, which I don't really have to think about I suppose. But it's still bad if I do.

Louis's book felt very true to me, though for all I know it isn't. In parts I guess I felt like a person insisting to me that I be concerned with minute details of their life and their suffering but with no sense of trust that they're not lying to me. And yes I could just run with it regardless, I sort of can.

But when I read this style and it's classmates or people I know, it can be more difficult to allow them the leeway and easier to guess what's fabricated, that sort of makes it all feel a bit like a house of cards.

I suppose I think at heart most people's lives aren't interesting enough to merit being made into auto-fiction. I definitely think that about my own life, even the parts I know I'd be encouraged to write about if I took an auto-fiction class.

It feels sort of egotistical whereas I've found writing fiction to be a process that strips away a lot of that. It is very hard to extricate from two years of a lot of change in how I think about books and stories though, so apologies if none of that makes sense.


FernandoHierro, Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:04 (two days ago) Permalink

TLDR I sometimes feel emotionally manipulated by it

FernandoHierro, Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:05 (two days ago) Permalink

Read and enjoyed Dave Weigel's prog history. Now working my way through Grand Hotel Abyss, was tough going for the first 60 pages, but really opens up after that. Great introduction to the work and personalities of the Frankfurt School, putting them in much needed historical context.

Which of these doorstoppers should I try to tackle next?

The Pale King
The Silmarillion
1919 (Pt 2 of USA trilogy)
Gravity's Rainbow

Mario Meatwagon (Moodles), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:10 (two days ago) Permalink

I "enjoyed" 2666 and can recommend it as a highly worthwhile book. But it can be harrowing at times. I found The Pale King to be uneven and fitfully interesting. I could not finish Gravity's Rainbow. The others, I can't say.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:26 (two days ago) Permalink

That makes perfect sense fh. I think I’d need to read more of the stuff that’s lumped in with this (have read like 10 pages of knausgaard) but I have a feeling the things that bother you wouldn’t bother me if I thought the writing had merit otherwise

shhh / let peaceful like things (wins), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:29 (two days ago) Permalink

I see that, like in a way they are sort of technicalities. I feel like this shouldn't matter in art but maybe my MA gives me a sort of warped sense of this, plus it makes me speculate about "what if I personally knew this writer" - again a technicality.

I saw Julian Barnes speak a year ago (never read any of his books) and he said "fiction is telling hard exact truths through beautiful elaborate lies" and it's one of my favourite quotes about writing, but to me maybe auto-fiction etc is that inverted.

FernandoHierro, Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:37 (two days ago) Permalink

gravity's rainbow is extremely rewarding but takes a lot of effort

american bradass (BradNelson), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:40 (two days ago) Permalink

which reminds me that if i ever finish doctor faustus i really want to read mason & dixon next

american bradass (BradNelson), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:40 (two days ago) Permalink

I have started Doctor Faustus four times. Yet I read Joseph and His Brothers blissfully, wishing it were 16 volumes.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:47 (two days ago) Permalink

As for Sebald, Aimless, Vertigo is his least interesting "novel." The Emigrants, which at least presents itself as a story collection, has a couple of gems. His best work is Austerlitz, which also presents itself as a meditation on post-Napoleonic Europe.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:48 (two days ago) Permalink

Finally, I don't wish to connect them other than they write a fiction that's purportedly autobiographical but I doubt is, I vastly prefer Elena Ferrante to Knausgaard. She has a relish for basic narrative besides a curiosity about other people that makes Knausgaard look insufferable.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:50 (two days ago) Permalink

I’m the kind of degenerate who loves and agrees with every good “fiction is <x>” quote while absently gathering up counterexamples in my mind

xp Ferrante I have read (the first Neapolitan novel) but was unsure if that even purports to be autobiographical

shhh / let peaceful like things (wins), Saturday, 15 June 2019 22:54 (two days ago) Permalink

I never assume anything is autobiographical, despite the artist's best efforts to promote it as such. I know how it works.

recriminations from the nitpicking woke (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 15 June 2019 23:00 (two days ago) Permalink

at the moment:

- re-reading Etel Adnan's The Arab Apocalypse, which remains one of the most harrowing poems I've ever read.

- a catalog of Dana Claxton's first major retrospective

- the introductory pages to a massive and rare Lakota/English dictionary that my friend gave to me

- Christa Wolf's Accident: A Day's News, which i purchased for a dollar at the local sidewalk sale today

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Saturday, 15 June 2019 23:42 (two days ago) Permalink

i should probably really get on reading more to prepare for my classes this fall, but oh well.

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Saturday, 15 June 2019 23:43 (two days ago) Permalink

the rings of saturn is my favorite book, vertigo is a very early draft of what he ends up achieving there

american bradass (BradNelson), Sunday, 16 June 2019 05:58 (yesterday) Permalink

re: sebald, which i feel like i end up in a sebald conversation on ilx at least once a month

american bradass (BradNelson), Sunday, 16 June 2019 05:58 (yesterday) Permalink

an addendum to the auto-fiction piece - although it didn’t have the name at the time Jocelyn Brooke writes in this mode and i wrote fairly extensively about the opportunities and problems it presents here.

It helps that Brooke is an exceptional writer. But there are some specifics that i think led him to this mode. he cites his shyness, and also wanting to avoid “the laws of libel”, and between the two seems to sit Brooke’s only partially successfully expressed sexuality, which is of a part with a habitual self-effacement and irony.

the autobiographical mode appears to be chosen because he had a strong sense of the places he inhabits, and the people who he has encountered. the self-effacement and laws of libel, the imperative of art and aesthetic means he sifts the elements into fiction.

it works very well, for me.

it is i think as Alfred said - it can be unclear even when an author states a thing to be one or the other, whether that is in fact the case. both involve emphasis and selection.

Brooke quotes Thomas Browne in relation to this very matter:

Some Truths seem almost Falsehoods and some Falsehoods almost Truths; Wherein Falsehood and Truth seem almost aequilibriously stated, and but a few grains of distinction to bear down the balance... Besides, many things are known, as some are seen, that is by Parallaxis, or at some distance from their true and proper beings, the superficial regard of things having a different aspect from their true and central Natures.

Fizzles, Sunday, 16 June 2019 06:16 (yesterday) Permalink

I tried to re-read Austerlitz a year or so ago and found it too much. It has a kind of structural melancholy that seeps into your bones. Like all Sebald's first-person narrators the story the narrator is really telling - beneath the still surface of his tightly controlled sentences - is of actual and deferred silence. All of his work seems to orbit this absence and I think that's why it possible to find him directionless or not providing nourishment.

I need to think about Fizzles' post about Langley. He's a magician.

Good cop, Babcock (Chinaski), Sunday, 16 June 2019 09:26 (yesterday) Permalink

I need to think about Fizzles' post about Langley. He's a magician.

i’ll try to post something more extensive in the journals thread. “midrash” is a bad word to use in the notes i put in there for one thing.

Fizzles, Sunday, 16 June 2019 09:28 (yesterday) Permalink

I looked it up! I can totally see how Langley is a kind of mystic, reading nature as a holy text (without the attendant naffness that that implies - eg like Iain Sinclair at his worst).

Good cop, Babcock (Chinaski), Sunday, 16 June 2019 09:34 (yesterday) Permalink

Finally, I don't wish to connect them other than they write a fiction that's purportedly autobiographical but I doubt is, I vastly prefer Elena Ferrante to Knausgaard. She has a relish for basic narrative besides a curiosity about other people that makes Knausgaard look insufferable.

Jumping into this, if you put craft to one side (which you can't ofc) I think part of my enjoyment of Ferrante is that to me it is inherently fascinating to hear about what it was like growing up poor in 1950's Naples, and I'm more than willing to take some embellishments along with that (assume most ppl talking about "the old days" irl are embellishing to make their narratives more interesting too, besides memory being an unreliable narrator anyway). Hiero's fellow student's experiences will probably be fascinating on that level too, in some future and for people in different places, tho I see that this doesn't make them any more interesting here and now.

Semi-related: I sometimes feel like proto-reality tv - Chronicle Of A Summer, Place De La Repúblique, the Up series, as well as oral histories, Studs Terkel's stuff - is my favourite genre in any medium, tho i don't care much about reality TV itself.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 17 June 2019 11:02 (six hours ago) Permalink

I'm reading The Saga of Grettir the Strong, translated by Bernard Scudder. I've read nearly one Icelandic saga per year for about a decade now. It's been a good run, but this may be about the last one I'm interested in.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 17 June 2019 16:33 (one hour ago) Permalink

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