"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

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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months ago) link

It's nice to see Virginia Plain again !

the pinefox, Thursday, 18 June 2020 15:53 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months ago) link

I'm currently reading The View from Nowhere by Thomas Nagel.

o. nate, Sunday, 21 June 2020 01:22 (nine months 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 (nine months ago) link

There used to be an ILX poster named after Bell Laboratories.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 16:16 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months ago) link


dow, Tuesday, 23 June 2020 20:50 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months ago) link

That was lovely!

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:10 (nine months ago) link

Sure is, bravo dow!

Scampidocio (Le Bateau Ivre), Wednesday, 24 June 2020 21:26 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months 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 (nine months ago) link

Presumably"lefto journo": David Corn, I meant.

dow, Wednesday, 24 June 2020 22:02 (nine months 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine months ago) link

"haven’t read a book since the lockdown started"


xyzzzz__, Saturday, 27 June 2020 19:51 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine months ago) link

Billy Budd, Sailor

mark s, Sunday, 28 June 2020 12:54 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine months ago) link

You found that responses to Landscape on twitter further stimulated-clarified your own take?

dow, Monday, 29 June 2020 19:31 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine months ago) link

xxxpost Thanks Pinefox, will keep your Berman comments in mind.

dow, Tuesday, 30 June 2020 23:30 (nine months ago) link

Should we do a summer thread?

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 1 July 2020 21:37 (nine 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 (nine months ago) link

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