Spring 2021: Forging ahead to Bloomsday as we read these books

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Inspired by several glowing ILB recommendations I just have dipped a toe into I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith, and the narrator is so gosh darned charming I don't know how I could refuse to accompany her the rest of the way through her adventures.

A successor thread to Winter 2021: ...and you're reading WHAT?!

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Saturday, 20 March 2021 16:58 (six months ago) link

Thanks Aimless, I’m going to repost my post from the end of the last thread!

Scamp Granada (gyac)
Posted: 20 March 2021 at 15:52:41
Having one of those weekends, so rather than sleeping away the day I found myself rereading The Mystery of Mercy Close (Marian Keyes). I’ve actually read this before, probably about a year after it came out, but had only meant to dip into it today and instead ended up rereading the whole thing with barely a pause.

I think her stuff is very unfairly maligned, mainly by people who’ve never read her and mainly because of the marketing, cos her subjects are dark. There’s addiction (Rachel’s Holiday), bereavement (Anybody Out There?), all the classics. But even the lightest books are tinged heavily with darkness, as the author has experienced these things herself and writes them too.

TMOMC is about depression - something the author talked about a lot - but it’s also as the title says, a mystery. Not just the titular one in the plot but the things that our narrator Helen, a misanthropic post-crash private detective struggling through the ruins of her life - has going on in the background. Why won’t her former best friend speak to her anymore, what happened with her and sleazebag Jay, why has she ended up homeless?

So I really enjoyed it and all its wonderfully detailed characters on reread, particularly the overachieving sister (been there) and the fussy, overinvolved mammy (been there too), but most of all the long slow tightening as Keyes unravels the plot and as Helen falls apart. Even the tertiary characters in this have life and vigour and the short sharp sentences that sometimes fade into spiralling vague thoughts exactly mirror Helen’s personality at different times. Sometimes it is brisk, sometimes it is slow (but not very often, the whole thing takes place over a week with sparingly used flashbacks). Truly a great way to spend a grey Saturday morning/evening.

Scamp Granada (gyac), Saturday, 20 March 2021 17:20 (six months ago) link

What Maisie Knew. Outstanding of course but it's a real mental workout trying to figure out exactly what Maisie knew, what she thought she knew, what the grown ups thought she knew, what they wanted her to know, and what they actually knew.

Ignore the neighsayers: grow a lemon tree (ledge), Saturday, 20 March 2021 21:09 (six months ago) link

Charm is a much neglected thing in literature, and ICTC has it in spades.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 21 March 2021 00:15 (six months ago) link

Still reading Lorrie Moore's Collected Stories. I'm up to "Real Estate" (they're arranged alphabetically). I've been swamped with other, work- and dissertation-related reading these last few months, so a giant collection of short stories is actually the ideal thing to be able to dip in and out of right now.

edited for dog profanity (cryptosicko), Sunday, 21 March 2021 00:31 (six months ago) link

i quit twitter for lent and started finishing a book per week

patricia highsmith - the price of salt

kinda boring and ponderous? i watched Carol the day after i finished it, and while usually i dislike film adaptations after i've read the book because i get too attached to the parts they remove, in this case there was so many dragging that needed to be excised in the novel i was delighted to see it pared down. also, despite not having ever seen the film before (loved it) i knew of its existence and couldn't help visualize carol as cate blanchett the whole time i was reading it (in the novel carol is only in her early thirties). which, i'm not complaining ;)

ottessa moshfegh - death in her hands

this was definitely a throw-away publication (apparently it was shelved over half a decade ago) to tide over the fans until her next Big Important Novel, and while it's noticeably her most "minor" work, it's really not a drop off in quality. most similar to eileen in that it's a bit noir, but similar to everything she writes in that it's all about how well the writing inhabits the inner dialogue of her characters. i know a lot of people think she sucks because she's like an edgy gen x'er but that's kinda what i love about her, even her characters' ugliest thoughts feel relatable. i was at big bookstore chain indigo (like the canadian borders or something) and saw this book on a display called said "ASIAN VOICES" next to Jenny Han and a book about Avatar: The Last Airbender, which made me lol

molly brodak - bandit: a daughter's memoir

excellent but reading if after the author's suicide a year ago makes it much more devastating than it otherwise would have been. a memoir that's nominally about growing up with a father who was a gambling addict and bank-robber, but that's more the sales hook than what it's actually ~about~ imo

flopson, Sunday, 21 March 2021 01:41 (six months ago) link

i quit twitter for lent and started finishing a book per week

If more people did this the world would be better.

edited for dog profanity (cryptosicko), Sunday, 21 March 2021 01:53 (six months ago) link

Started re-reading The Woman in White, and wow that novel is such a delight. It starts a little slow, but now I've gotten to the point where the plot has been set in motion and Fosco hasn't appeared yet but we've heard his name, and I'm remembering how much fun this book is.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 21 March 2021 16:51 (six months ago) link

It is a delight.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 21 March 2021 16:53 (six months ago) link

after all the discussion of long foreign books, i abandoned mdme bovary after 60 pages, think i might've had a duff copy because it seemed like words were missing. it's not even that long.

read Slade House which i enjoyed. 200 pages.

now reading more Hugo, the last day of a condemned man, or sentenced to death or whatever (it seems to have many names). only 92 pages and like 50 chapters.

koogs, Sunday, 21 March 2021 18:06 (six months ago) link

Count fosco is the best villain in literature

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 21 March 2021 22:43 (six months ago) link

Thanks Aimless, I’m going to repost my post from the end of the last thread!


Oh thank god

calstars, Sunday, 21 March 2021 23:36 (six months ago) link

Being judged by calstars, a new low

Scamp Granada (gyac), Sunday, 21 March 2021 23:39 (six months ago) link

Not sure what your problem with me is or why you dissed me on slack, I never you existed until you attacked me

calstars, Sunday, 21 March 2021 23:49 (six months ago) link

1491 by Charles Mann.
Reading about the tribes at the time the Mayflower arrived. So not exactly sticking to the timeline.talking about Europeans trying to trade with increasingly hostile groups of natives. The more familiar with Europeans the more hostile.
I thought this stuck more to the time before European contact though.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 01:42 (six months ago) link

Reading about the tribes at the time the Mayflower arrived.

More like Christopher Columbus w/ the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Monday, 22 March 2021 02:13 (six months ago) link

I finished Robert Christgau's memoir, "Going to the City". The "Dean" is pleasant enough company and you tend to believe he's telling you the truth, at least as he sees it, which is a good baseline requirement for a memoir, I think. I kind of wish he loosened up his trademark compressed and sometimes gnomic style more than he does, but I guess he's set in his writing ways by this point. It's fun reading about bohemian Manhattan in the '70s, and possibly even more fun to read about what kind of underground cultural touchstones hep '50s kids were into, since that stuff seems to be more forgotten these days. Some of Christgau's touchstones are not so underground. It's kind of funny to see Christgau apply his critical lens to "Casey at the Bat" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", kind of like the book report he always dreamed of turning in.

Now I'm reading the "Early Stories" of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Dover Press edition, stuff that was published in the big national weeklies in the late teens/early '20s.

o. nate, Monday, 22 March 2021 02:52 (six months ago) link

I like Christgau, and have read his other books, but I'd feel absurd reading a rock critic's memoir.

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 22 March 2021 03:31 (six months ago) link

Not that I regard anyone else reading it as absurd!

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 22 March 2021 03:31 (six months ago) link

Point I was just making about 1491 was that it appears not to stick with that strict timeline. Author is talking about the Powhatan who helped out the pilgrims fathers as well as some other tribes from around the same time who are showing lack of welcome and broadly hinting it's time the Europeans moved on.
I had thought it was a survey of the time at the end of the 15th century. But looks like it extends to other first and early contact. Like Columbus didn’t hit the US mainland anyway. I'm still early in the book so not sure how late Mann goes. There were a lot of different tribes in different areas. While there were trade networks which later helped the spread of disease that decimated the population there were still other points of first contact.
1491 was presumably therefore more of a snappy succinct title with connotations because the Columbus related date from the next year was so well known. Rather than being a point of chronological accuracy/parameter delineation.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 07:44 (six months ago) link

Heading towards the end of the Françoise Hardy autobio now. She has such an enormous imposter syndrome - like in the mid 90's she subs in for Marianne Faithful on a duet with Iggy Pop, made for a compilation of current artists doing torch songs (how 90's is that??) and talks so much about her and her producer being terrified of living up to the guy's talent. I mean I don't hate Iggy Pop or anything but if you're recording a fucking crooner track and you're Françoise Hardy I don't think you need to feel too intimidated by the aging punk dude.

She also tells a story of a 20something woman in New York approaching her in a hotel corridor (again, in the 90's) saying "I know who you are! Françoise Sagan!". She assures her she's not and her travel partner shows up going "hey Françoise", so woman goes "I knew it!". Hardy's takeaway from this is "of course she didn't know who I was!" and not the to my mind much more likely scenario that she totally knew who she was but had just gotten her Françoises mixed up.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 22 March 2021 11:14 (six months ago) link

Xp to Stevolende: I haven't read Mann, so not sure how good or bad he is on the subject – and I'm sure there is plenty of good history in the book – but the mention of disease transmission in the context of first contact means that I have to bring up the excellent work now being done to deconstruct the idea of "virgin soil epidemics." Jeffrey Ostler's doorstopper Surviving Genocide is probably the definitive work (with a second volume still to come!), but my suggested point of entry would be this recent polemical essay by Nick Estes: https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-empire-of-all-maladies-estes

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Monday, 22 March 2021 12:08 (six months ago) link

ok cool thanks
Did wonder if the Mann was still the best choice of book on the subject since it has been a decade plus since it came out.
if there were any better choices. I have meant to read this since i first heard of it
I just read the bit where Most of New England got wiped out by what appears to be hepatitis A.

So this should be better insight into this.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 12:30 (six months ago) link

I mean, there absolutely _were_ entire indigenous populations wiped out by virgin soil epidemics. It's just that the "survival of the fittest" genetic immunity explanation has become so cemented (thanks to authors like Jared Diamond) in our telling of American history, and there are all sorts of other pertinent questions that are evaded by it. How is it possible that populations in the interior of the continent survived their first encounters with epidemic smallpox and measles (via the trade networks you mentioned), only to perish of those diseases in huge numbers 100+ years later? Those are the kinds of questions that Ostler and others are beginning to answer.

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Monday, 22 March 2021 13:03 (six months ago) link

Great, will try to get to read that stuff then. Will just fill out my understanding of the era.
I did wonder if there were better native histories written by native writers since they would have a better perspective on things.
I picked up a couple of Jared Diamond books over the years that are still unread and might not have been in a while. I'm now seeing that he is not being looked at as favorably as I'd assumed.

That hepatitis A thing in New England was new to me.

I listen to the This Pod Will kill You podcast when I get a chance and quite enjoy it. Which may be a cue for me to find out i should scrutinise it better. But seems quite good.

Stevolende, Monday, 22 March 2021 13:20 (six months ago) link

Re: the Mann books, one of the things that 1491 does a good job of drilling down on is that Indigenous populations were not living in some sort of vast wilderness, but were actively engaged in land management and forms of agriculture— it's just that the dumbass Europeans didn't recognize it.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 22 March 2021 16:15 (six months ago) link

o. nate,I think there's also a piece on xgau's site in which he checks for anachronisms in Inside Llewyn Davis, and consults w some of his contemporaries to see if he's remembering right, or missed something. His collection of book reviews is titled Book Report, for the schoolkid associations you mention, and I might get it: the reviews on and linked to his site are often more emjoyable than the later music writing, and good for variety anyway (dioot the Greil Marcus book reviews that I've read, esp. those culled from his olde Rolling Stone column).

dow, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:33 (six months ago) link

*ditto* the Greil

dow, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:34 (six months ago) link

There are a number of reviews of (music) books in Christgau's collection Is It Still Good To Ya?, he seems to relish getting into context-rich topics that way.

Halfway there but for you, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:41 (six months ago) link

Count fosco is the best villain in literature

Rivaled only by Wilkie Collins's other great villain, Lydia Gwilt in Armadale.
I've gotten to the part of the book that Fosco is in, and he's such a perfect Sydney Greenstreet part it's hard to remember that Collins created him well before Greenstreet was even born.

Lily Dale, Monday, 22 March 2021 17:44 (six months ago) link

Due to the manuscript workshop I'm running at the moment, most of my non-work reading has and will consist of shorter chapbooks for the next few weeks, though I started keeping Clark Coolidge's 'Solution Passage: Poems 1978-1981' by the bedside, and it's been making for some really lovely reading— I'd never been able to access Coolidge's body of work on previous attempts, but it's sticking this time. He's had such a voluminous output that I kept picking up books of his that are more for the 'true heads,' so to speak.

Anyway, I finally 'get' Coolidge because I picked up this somewhat-rare paperback omnibus of his first few books, and other than some chaps and pamphlets, I'm awash in the manuscripts of of younger poets looking for guidance and feedback. Not a bad place to be!


it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 22 March 2021 18:54 (six months ago) link

Love Coolidge's verbal drumming. 'Jerome in His Study' is all-time.

pomenitul, Monday, 22 March 2021 18:57 (six months ago) link

It took me so long! I'd read 'The Crystal Text,' of course, but every other book of his I'd get a few pages in and realize I was just not in the right headspace...I'm definitely understanding why friends kept urging me to get this book!

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 22 March 2021 18:59 (six months ago) link

I had my timeline a bit mixed up. The first four of the F. Scott Fitzgerald stories in the Dover edition I'm reading were published in the Princeton student literary magazine. That makes more sense, actually. I can't imagine a mainstream national weekly in those days publishing something as edgy and dark as "Sentiment - And the Use of Rouge", which is basically about how WWI led to the loosening of morals among the young women of Britain.

o. nate, Tuesday, 23 March 2021 19:55 (six months ago) link

I read the first half of Ta Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me first thing this morning.
Resonated I Thik. I'm assuming this is mainly his own biography as told to his son supposedly.
NOt read him before but do have some more of him coming.

Also started reading heads by Jesse Jarnow again over the night before the Coates arrived. I read the bit about Keith Haring and his girlfriend which surprised me since I thought he was gay, then got to the end of teh section to find out he was just discovering he probably was. Need to get through this sometime this year.

Our iNner ape by Frans der wal
which has been sitting on a shelf since I picked it up cheap in a local newsagent chain several years ago. Read teh first chapter might go back to it.

& Charles C Mann 1491
He's gone back in time to what I thought was going to be teh timeline and is looking at teh inka empire which connected the peoples along the west coast of South America for several thousand miles for the first time.

Stevolende, Tuesday, 23 March 2021 23:44 (six months ago) link

I have continued obsessively reading Annie Dillard: FOR THE TIME BEING is almost as good as Tinker Creek, but more... gnostic? Structured on some obscure principle, threading clouds, sand, birth, death, Teilhard de Chardin and Baal Shem Tov. The theodicy of HOLY THE FIRM is even more baffling. AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, which I just started, by contrast feels almost too light - blithe memories of gilded youth? Still think she's the most brilliant writer I've read in the last five years.

LUX THE POET by Martin Millar. Remember picking this up when it came out in the late 80s but never finishing it. Now feels incredibly redolent of that even-then vanishing sCity Limits-squat-GLC era London - a kind of hysterical-realism partner to Geoff Dyer's Colour of Memory. Has some charm, but even at barely 160 pages outstays its welcome.

THE EXPLORER - Katherine Rundell. I have enjoyed Rundell's natural history bits in the LRB, and heard her kids books were good, so started reading as this month's bedtime book with my daughters. Honestly surprised that this kind of poshos-in-peril stuff is still published! Four kids stranded in the Amazon and they're all frightfully earnest public school types (one of whom is wearing a cricket jumper for the first three chapters), obsessed with Percy Fawcett. Take out the incessant references to snot and it might have been published in 1927.

LIGHT PERPETUAL - Francis Spufford. Follows the might-have-been postwar lives of kids killed in the Woolworths New Cross V2 explosion. Quite nicely written on a sentence by sentence basis - certainly compared to similar stuff by Lanno - but doesn't escape the temptation to drop soc-historic DO-YOU-SEEs - eg the character who works as a Fleet St compositor, on strike as the Tories are voted in in 1979 (allows FS to drop lots of lovely but strictly irrelevant science about hotmetal printing), another who makes a killing from ex-rental property after Right to Buy etc etc. This felt like a cliché when eg Tim Lott did it, decades ago - kind of hoped for more from FS. Still have 100 pages to go, so maybe he pulls it around?

SLOW DAYS, FAST COMPANY - Eve Babitz. Have been reading this off and on since last year and as with all the Eve I've read, it's so pleasurable I never want it to end.

Piedie Gimbel, Wednesday, 24 March 2021 13:34 (six months ago) link

For reference, an essay by Willa Cather:

the pinefox, Thursday, 25 March 2021 18:47 (six months ago) link

Piedie, many consider HOLY THE FIRM to be a sort of hallucination— many believe Dillard was under the influence of psychedelic drugs while she wrote it, which I wouldn't doubt. Her daughter from her first marriage is a fine poet, C0dy-R0se Clevidence.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Thursday, 25 March 2021 20:26 (six months ago) link

finished dennis cooper's guide a few days ago. probably the novel in the george miles cycle i liked the least, but it still felt necessary? it's like the tropes of the series so far are so outrageously exaggerated that they start to disintegrate, leaving the skeleton of the novel exposed, c.f. when "dennis cooper" is breaking the fourth wall and telling you he's arranging these people who may or may not be real into situations of his own contrivance. i also found the return of george's name to the text super heartbreaking. finally i will never not be loling at his choice of pseudonymizing silverchair as "tinselstool"

just started period, about twenty pages into it and it is the best book i've ever read

mellon collie and the infinite bradness (BradNelson), Sunday, 28 March 2021 23:36 (six months ago) link

what should i read next: pnin or 2666?

flopson, Monday, 29 March 2021 04:45 (six months ago) link

Youll know when you get there.
Bob Gluck's book on the Mwandishi band.
Only in the first chapter where the band is being introduced but been meaning to read this since it was reviewed in Wire.
Seems to have rather extensive end notes so i need a 2nd bookmark.
But looking forward to knowing more about the band.

1491 Charles Mann
Now in the bit about how disease preceded initial contact in a lot of places. Which is why small groups of Europeans could succeed in conquest. Do now see there is an alternative understanding as to how disease spread could happen but he's looking at white dismissal of population estimates pre Columbus and reasons for that. So I need to read the more recent counter claims and know their context better.
I'm finding this book difficult to stop reading so it's not great as a bog book.
But now I've started it I want to get through it.

Between the World & Me Ta Nahesi Coates
His letter to his teenage son regarding his own context in society etc. Quite eye opening. Possibly would be more so if this was the first thing I'd read on dealing with racism. Still a good read I'd recommend.

We Were 8 Years In Power
Coates look back at several articles he'd written for magazine etc publication in a post Obama world. The title is a reference to a Reconstruction era statement by a black politician who has been stripped of power by changes in government becoming a lot more racist. But it also fits the Obama era having ended and a far more racist and corrupt one starting. This came out in 2017 so not sure exactly how much impact had been felt so far.
I have read the first section which was triggered by Bill Cosby facing trial. Need to read the rest.

Stevolende, Monday, 29 March 2021 06:19 (six months ago) link

I was very confused there for a second when I saw the name Bob Gluck, as there's also my friend Bob Glück, who...uh...wouldn't have written about the Mwandishi band, knowing him lol.

Glad you're enjoying the last of the cycle, Brad.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 29 March 2021 15:03 (six months ago) link

I'm halfway through HEARING, a collaborative poem written by Lyn Hejinian and the late Leslie Scalapino. It is the sequel to their book, SIGHT, which dealt with that sensory realm. An interesting history behind it— when Scalapino passed away from pancreatic cancer in mid-2010, Lyn shelved the work, thinking that because she was unable to edit it with her friend and collaborator, it wasn't respecting Scalapino's legacy or their friendship.

Then, in 2017 or so, one of the trustees of Scalapino's papers, my friend Michael Cr0ss, was searching through Hejinian's correspondences with Scalapino and came upon a *FAX* that had Scalapino's edits of the collaborative manuscript, and a note that once these were implemented, she thought the book should go to print.

So, more than ten years after her passing, a new work emerges. It's a very cool thing, and a great book.

it's like edging for your mind (the table is the table), Monday, 29 March 2021 15:12 (six months ago) link

I'm still reading Siri Hustvedt: MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE. A hybrid form I suppose: memoir, fiction, essay, together. It could just be non-fiction, but she seems to change certain facts and thus complicate that.

I quite like this book: late 1970s NYC, literature. She's serious about memory, time, mortality, looking backward and forward in life.

Less good is the very long and tiresome series of scenes where she listens through the wall to her odd neighbour. SH doesn't seem to have any idea how boring these are.

The book also contains too much whingeing about things, which becomes too generalized. She goes to a lecture by Paul de Man, doesn't like it much (fair enough, I find de Man dull and fiddly too, would genuinely be quite uninterested in listening to him). It then becomes very convenient that de Man is later disgraced (a pretty old story now). But she also extrapolates that any time anyone gives a talk he's a 'Great Man' communicating nothing but his charisma and power to his adoring audience, and thus the same as Donald Trump.

Not very convincing.

But I still, on balance, tend to like the book.

the pinefox, Monday, 29 March 2021 16:41 (six months ago) link

Last night I finished I Capture the Castle, having enjoyed it quite a bit. The plot was updated Austen, but the voice was wholly original.

Unlike horseshoe, who in the Novels of 1948 thread expressed the idea that Dodie Smith found high modernism dubious, I thought Smith produced a very cogent defense of it. She chose to place that defense in the mouth of Simon, a different character than her narrator, Cassandra, whom we the readers are clearly meant to identify with, but in doing so I didn't read that choice as Smith dissing Joycean modernism. It just made more sense to do it that way in terms of the plot and characters she had created and who her likely readership was. Anyway, a greatly engaging book.

Now I have started Gringos, Charles Portis.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Monday, 29 March 2021 18:38 (six months ago) link

you think we're meant to identify with Simon? i...disagree.

horseshoe, Monday, 29 March 2021 18:38 (six months ago) link

i just think Cassandra is an aspiring writer in a Dodie Smith mode. i think Smith acknowledged that there must be merit in high modernism, because some smart people liked it, but personally it left her cold.

horseshoe, Monday, 29 March 2021 18:40 (six months ago) link

you think we're meant to identify with Simon?

uh, no. we're very much meant to identify with Cassandra. sorry if the referent of that clause wasn't clear.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Monday, 29 March 2021 18:42 (six months ago) link

oh sorry, no, i just read carelessly. you're right, she does produce a defense of it, but i think Cassandra's lingering skepticism reflects Smith's own.

horseshoe, Monday, 29 March 2021 18:42 (six months ago) link

laughin my butt off @ Pnin

flopson, Tuesday, 30 March 2021 05:36 (six months ago) link

Finished Rindon Johnson's "The Law of Large Numbers." Got a package from my friend Ed in the mail of a collaborative book he did with an artist entitled "The Rose" alongside a chapbook from M. Elizabeth Scott. Going to read the latter when I get off work this evening.

heyy nineteen, that's john belushi (the table is the table), Monday, 7 June 2021 19:09 (four months ago) link

found the copy of Ken Kesey's the Last Roundup that I have to return at the end of the month yesterday/
Quiite enjoying the prose. Read the first few chapters.

bought some more books today cos I didn't think I was reading enough at the same time

Stevolende, Tuesday, 8 June 2021 15:53 (four months ago) link

Finished both of the books in the package from Ed. Now re-reading Dennis Cooper's "The Sluts," because Jackie Ess' "Darryl" makes explicit reference to its universe, and I am pondering writing a review of the latter.

heyy nineteen, that's john belushi (the table is the table), Tuesday, 8 June 2021 18:49 (four months ago) link

reading some swedenborg for the first time. was hoping for descriptions of conversations with angels & demons and depictions of heaven & hell... what i got: 300+ pages of biblical exegesis.

no lime tangier, Wednesday, 9 June 2021 07:17 (four months ago) link

I just got Impro by Keith Johnstone, who was a British theatre guy who specialized in improvisation and spontaneity. A friend recommended it for running/playing rpgs.

Vin Jawn (PBKR), Wednesday, 9 June 2021 11:13 (four months ago) link

speaking of dennis cooper i started b.r. yeager's 'negative space' which feels like a post-cooper book: a lot of kids and they're all fucked up on drugs and stuff like that, lots of violence and blankness, the internet is in there too. sadly it just makes me realise again how singular cooper is, because the yeager book seems flat, cliche, even tedious in comparison - there are some alright parts, but a disappointment based on how enthusiastic the reviews and endorsements for it have been

dogs, Wednesday, 9 June 2021 13:04 (four months ago) link

Sill reading this Library of America Melville, and struck by how the third person narration of "Benito Cereno" seems integral, after the struggles with it in Pierre. It's not omnisicent narration: everybody but the POV character is a mystery to him, less to the reader, seeing through the well-meaning American Captain Amasa'a limitations what he keeps trying to explain away, soothing his riled self, with professional observation and filters of courtesy, congeniality, and confidence of status---as a superior, he is even something of a negrophile, as Eddie Murphy used to put it. This almost gets him killed, but the system adjusts. Testimonial documents don't incl. motive for the slaves' revolt---does incl. descriptions of several of the core participants has having been known as smart, talented negroes, good negroes in the community---but it's easily inferred that they were driven to it by having been uprooted from that community, sailing with their master to wherever--even if it were to turn out to be a better place than they've known, could just as or more likely be worse. there is still no agency.The Captain is as much a creature of his own gilded cage as the first-person narrator of "Bartleby, The Scrivener," as tested by the Other, but what the hell, both old privileged white guys are the survivors (spoiler).

dow, Wednesday, 9 June 2021 17:11 (four months ago) link

Apologies for being lazy, but I'm looking for a recommendation - can anyone recommend a good, short book or article about Yugoslavia in the 80-90s? I'm looking for something that covers culture as well as history and politics. (I have a work thing I need to get up-to-speed for fairly quickly...) At the moment I'm just cribbing bits from Judt's Postwar...

Chuck_Tatum, Thursday, 10 June 2021 10:37 (four months ago) link

I continue with TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980 - I realise that it would seem rational to abandon it but I have this nice hardback and I want to do it justice.

So far I can't really remember reading a good sentence - though it's better on the synaesthetic colours, its best theme. It's strangely wooden on 1960s Argentina - does the author know much about this world? - it all feels very potboiler-level - but disappointing on the US too. A girl in the Mid-West suddenly realises that she needs to move to NYC - especially when she sees a postcard of it and "Her heart actually stopped". Actually? When she gets to NYC she sees the horrible womaniser artist and experiences, wait for it, "love at first sight".

Meanwhile I returned to a couple of chapters of Hugh Kenner, THE POUND ERA. The magnificence of this book is known. I wonder, though, how easy it is to learn concrete facts and ideas from it, as it's all a montage of suggestions and asides.

the pinefox, Saturday, 12 June 2021 09:01 (four months ago) link

I'm closing in on the end of World Light, Halldor Laxness. My major impression is that it is a sort of ambitious anti-epic extended to epic length. But even though Laxness had many things he wanted to say and he says them all, the book never quite settles down or decides what kind of story it wants to be. It sloshes around from spirituality to sentimentality to satire and this dilutes the effect of all of them.

What's It All About, Althea? (Aimless), Saturday, 12 June 2021 20:06 (four months ago) link

Finally cracked open In the Land of the Cyclops, the Knausgaard essay collection that I received earlier this year via my Archipelago sub. Despite never having read K's fiction, I am pretty squarely in the target audience for this type of thing; and the brief piece I read this morning (a laudatory review of Houellebecq's Submission) was perfect in its length, depth, breadth, and the rhythms of its prose.

I'm also taking a rare excursion into contemporary fantasy with my book club's latest pick, The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. The first 100 or so pages have been long on setup and short on conflict, but I appreciate that the setup is heavily character-focused, with the world-building happening unobtrusively around the edges.

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Sunday, 13 June 2021 22:59 (four months ago) link

Another reason to never read Knausgaard is his love of Houellebecq, a vile writer and person.

heyy nineteen, that's john belushi (the table is the table), Monday, 14 June 2021 14:07 (four months ago) link

He said in the review that this was the first book of Houellebecq's he had ever read, after years of ignoring people recommending his work *shrug*

I thought it was a very fair review that didn't turn into a defense of Houellebecq, though I could see others reading it as special pleading (he is keen to downplay the ~contemporary relevance~ of Submission, in favor of its more putatively universal literary virtues)

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Monday, 14 June 2021 14:42 (four months ago) link

There is literally nothing that Houellebecq has written that isn't Islamophobic, misogynist trash— perhaps I'm missing something in translation, as I've only <<Les particules élémentaires>> in the original, but he's not a great stylist, just a racist provocateur. Not trying to attack you, bernard snowy, I just find anyone actually liking his books to be a bit suspect because there doesn't seem to be a way to enjoy his books without endorsing his ideology, which is monstrous to say the least.

heyy nineteen, that's john belushi (the table is the table), Monday, 14 June 2021 16:34 (four months ago) link

He's also been writing a variation on the same book for his entire career: depressed middle-aged man with addiction problems has racial anxieties that are confirmed by outlandish, fantastical acts. In the meantime, he has bad sex and ponders the meaninglessness of existence. The end.

heyy nineteen, that's john belushi (the table is the table), Monday, 14 June 2021 16:36 (four months ago) link

Submission had a very funny ending

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Monday, 14 June 2021 17:09 (four months ago) link

One funny thing about Submission is that Islamic government is in many ways an improvement over the previous secular French regime, not least for sozzled, aging, sex-obsessed, economically-precarious, bachelor intellectuals.

o. nate, Tuesday, 15 June 2021 15:04 (four months ago) link

Yes exactly! I love that the threat of this scary alien religion gets totally neutralized when it comes to power as a pragmatic and venal ruling order, and none of the sharia restrictions really have teeth provided one knows the right people and is willing to at least make a public show of converting. The idea of wealthy Arab princes amassing prestige by generously endowing university chairs of French literature is admittedly farfetched, but it's also a very funny rebuke to neoliberal austerity -- like, "If you're so worried about this culture changing or being lost, why haven't you done anything to help the people whose life's work is preserving and transmitting it?"

Nature's promise vs. Simple truth (bernard snowy), Tuesday, 15 June 2021 15:44 (four months ago) link

Forging ahead to Bloomsday.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 15 June 2021 22:44 (four months ago) link


Happy #Bloomsday2021! Introducing my son Daedalus way back when to his namesake. Look at that smile. He knows good literature when he sees it. 😍 pic.twitter.com/tLY09BRqTt

— Nora McGregor (@ndalyrose) June 16, 2021

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 09:50 (four months ago) link


AP Chemirocha (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 16 June 2021 10:06 (four months ago) link

Finished the Penguin Book Of Japanese Short Stories. Loved it, with one main reservation: I like Haruki Murakami well enough, but two (admitidely short) stories and an introduction in which he himself admits to not being big on Japanese literature and not having read many of the stories before is way overkill. Still, gotta move copies I guess.

Some highlights:

"Peaches", Abe Akira - on the unreliability of memory, long deconstruction of a childhood recollection.

"Cambridge Circus", Shibata Motoyuki - deals w/ the infinite possibilities brought up by our everyday choices, great sadboi stuff.

"Kudan", Uchida Hyakken - Narrator wakes up to find himself a cow demon that people demand prophecies from.

"Mr English", Genji Keita - About an office worker whose only skill was speaking English before this became common in the Japanese business world; a cantankerous, insecure jerk, but we end up feeling for him because he's such an underdog. Apparently the author wrote a bunch of salarymen stories, would love to track down.

"American Hijiki", Nosaka Akiyuki - Middle aged middle class dude has to entertain american tourist couple his wife made friends with in Hawaii; meanwhile he's remembering being a pimp in the early days of the US occupation.

"Pink", Hoshino Tomoyuki - A horrible heat wave hits Japan, leading to people spinning for hours on end as a sort of spiritual remedy. Thing quickly escalates into Japan going to war. A description of how a right-wing radical is recruited feels very much akin to the western alt right playbook.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 14:56 (four months ago) link

Today is the anniversary of when James Joyce wrote the entirety of Ulysses in a single day. You don't have to like the result to respect the process!!!

— scott manley hadley (@Scott_Hadley) June 16, 2021

mark s, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 15:41 (four months ago) link


So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 16 June 2021 15:46 (four months ago) link

Just starting north and south by Gaskell. Early days but must admit I’m finding it a bit of a slog so far. Any thoughts before I tap out?

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 16 June 2021 18:15 (four months ago) link

It's good; it has like two false starts before the story gets going, but it ends up working.

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 18:20 (four months ago) link

It's her most clunkily written book, though, on a sentence level. And she has a huge crush on her main character so you have to deal with A LOT of her going on endlessly about Margaret's white taper fingers. It's still really good though, somehow.

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 18:22 (four months ago) link

All the cultural stuff, south vs. north, the pov of mill-owners and the pov of workers, she handles really well.

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 18:27 (four months ago) link

“False starts” is good enough for me to persist. Thank you!

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Wednesday, 16 June 2021 18:34 (four months ago) link

ha I'm a squinter and was reading that as referring to Kentucky-Cali-Kentucky's own Mary Gaitskill---I love most of her stuff, but could kinda see her going in that direction (but I'm a squinter).
Still reading the library's Library of America Melville, and just finished (for now) The Confidence Man--His Masquerade, which, appropriately, resists any any comfortable stance of interpretation, or at least mine. All I can do is watch, as the con or cons (one guy in many guises, I assumed, but come to think of it, maybe nor: there's a lot of that going around), on a riverboat "bound for the auction blocks of New Orleans, " as the jacket flap copy emphasizes, approaches his or their lastest chosen mark, adapting conversational gambits accordingly. It seems too patterned at first, like a popular Saturday Night Live sketch, methodically working that premise to death, 'til time for the next recycling---in a more longwinded and otherwise complicated-not-complex way.
But the con just has to keep going, in and around the moment and boat (hi ho, lets go though the "poor emigrants" banging against the walls in their shoddy hammocks, didn't know riverboats had steerage too, but why not), changing even before the pushback gets stronger and scarier, with stories from Reality vs. The Man's sweet undertow of reductive optimism-p-eventually, his own pushback even seems honestly, and understandably, indignant, vs. one relentless revelation of financial snares (searing focus evoking the experience of the author's father, who died young, his uncle, who then tried to sort things out, and Herman himself, as compulsively hapless heads of household, at least on contracts)--which gets twisted back, reduced to one point, now seeming the pissiest--the Confidence Man pushes back against such zealous overkill (that he thought he could turn aside), and, in scenes like these, he seems not entirely wrong: we do need some kind of basic lower-case confidence, faith in faith's ability to keep us going, despite all the amputations, beyond-below the limits of rational discourse and all its elaborations---but he/they can't leave it alone, can't be alone, or lower-case for long (and then there's the money, which can sometimes seem like a trophy, but 0 social safety net here, as the reader is often reminded in passing: money and talk about money occupy all tables and pews here).

dow, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 21:12 (four months ago) link

So despite all the talking, it's effectively more show than tell, much more.

dow, Wednesday, 16 June 2021 21:17 (four months ago) link

An unexpected connection, from an email I sent this morning:

Just read (mark s)'s incredible Sight and Sound deep focus survey ov Alice on film (and in the art of Tenniel, Ernst etc), http://old.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/49605...Struck by the description of Dodgson-Carrol-Tenniel creative tension, incl. in connection with this:

Louis Aragon and André Breton lauded Carroll, for whom nonsense, as Breton wrote in his 1939 Anthology of Black Humour, constituted “the vital solution to a profound contradiction between the acceptance of faith and the exercise of reason, on the one hand, and on the other between a keen poetic awareness and rigorous professional duties… No one can deny that in Alice’s eyes a world of oversight, inconsistency and, in a word, impropriety hovers vertiginously round the centre of truth.”

(Which also makes me think of recently read Library of America edition of The Confidence Man---His Masquerade, last finished novel by Melville the artist and head of household, finally on his way to being salaryman, having first passively received and then extracted hand-outs through most of his life)

dow, Thursday, 17 June 2021 17:49 (three months ago) link

Now I'm reading World of Wonders, third book in the Deptford trilogy by Robertson Davies. Like so many of his books, the theater in all its many forms plays a very prominent role. In this case it is far, far from the "legitimate theater". This tale features carnival side shows, vaudeville, and stage magic, where the essence of the job is putting something over on the rubes. There's a lot there to play around with and Davies plays out his story at fast clip.

What's It All About, Althea? (Aimless), Friday, 18 June 2021 04:53 (three months ago) link

Deptford, London SE8? That's about 20 minutes from me.

the pinefox, Friday, 18 June 2021 11:25 (three months ago) link

I finished "History of Rock and Roll Vol. 1 1920-1963" by Ed Ward. It's a long and fairly dense book, so probably for specialists and serious fans only. Mostly it reads like a guy with a massive record collection taking you through all his favorite early rock, r&b, country, pop, vocal, gospel, etc records in roughly chronological order and telling you a little story about each one, giving equal time to the artists and the label heads (who in those days of small, independent labels were at least as colorful personality-wise). It's a good way to discover lots of forgotten songs and get a sense of how the form evolved in those early days. The book ends fittingly with the story of the formation and early days of the Beatles up to their EMI signing and the eve of their arrival in the US. I'm assuming that story is picked up in the next volume.

o. nate, Friday, 18 June 2021 13:38 (three months ago) link

Hmm, that sounds like something I might be interested in reading.

Rich Valley Girl, Poor Valley Girl (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 18 June 2021 15:55 (three months ago) link

Deptford, London SE8?

Kit Marlowe died there! But for the purposes of Davies' novels Deptford is a small town in Ontario Province, Canada.

What's It All About, Althea? (Aimless), Friday, 18 June 2021 16:19 (three months ago) link

I went back to a short book once given to me as a gift: Alain Robbe-Grillet, WHY I LOVE BARTHES (UK edition 2011).

If you like Roland Barthes then this is priceless stuff: it mostly consists of a R-G lecture at a symposium on Barthes, in which Barthes is on the stage and interjects and converses, along with others. In vintage French Intellectual style they say daft things; Barthes quite casually remarks that 'The body is the most imaginary of all imaginary objects' (p.13).

This lecture is followed by R-G's tribute after RB's death, and 'Yet Another Roland Barthes', from as late as 1995, which talks of RB's insecurities and concludes with a quite startling conceit: R-G imagines RB writing a novel in which he repeatedly transforms, changes his name, even ending up as ... Orlando (p.75). Was R-G thinking of Woolf? You'd think so, but as this is French not English culture, I'm unsure.

The little book concludes with R-G's list of 'I like / I don't like', including: 'I liked Roland Barthes's voice' (p.78).

the pinefox, Saturday, 19 June 2021 09:34 (three months ago) link

Two I just started:

Doris Lessing, The Memoirs of a Survivor. Slow-motion-breakdown-of-civilization stuff intrigues me after the year we've all just had, so I jumped on this when I saw it mentioned in a Bookforum essay. First Lessing I've ever read. It's... odd.

Michael Guasco, Slaves and Englishmen: Human bondage in the early modern Atlantic world. A quite dry but interesting looking history of 17th-century English attitudes towards slavery, and attitudes towards non-European races, as those two attitudes were in the process of becoming welded together in the single idea of the plantation economy.

Nature's promise vs. Simple truth (bernard snowy), Saturday, 19 June 2021 13:23 (three months ago) link

White Fragility.
Have read first few chapters and recognise what's being talked about.
Wonder if there will be a point after the thought processes talked about here cease to be widespread.
Got from library and have on loan for a guaranteed 6 months which seems weird.
But an extended return date for other books I have out automatically extended a few days ago and this has early December listed. I checked library website to see if it picked up that earlier extension and no its longer.

Stevolende, Sunday, 20 June 2021 02:46 (three months ago) link

Read a lot of scattered poetry this week, including some John Weiners and Jack Spicer, as well as two new-ish JH Prynne chapbooks.

heyy nineteen, that's john belushi (the table is the table), Sunday, 20 June 2021 14:45 (three months ago) link

Started "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf. I was assigned in once for a college humanities course once but only skimmed it, for the most part, and bounced off the long and winding sentences. God knows how I managed to say anything intelligent-sounding about it in the discussion section. Still not an easy read, but managing to digest most of it this time around.

o. nate, Monday, 21 June 2021 14:20 (three months ago) link

Forging ahead to Bloomsday.

― the pinefox
Have you ever taken the Bloomsday tour? I'd like to, if it's good.

dow, Monday, 21 June 2021 23:05 (three months ago) link

Which also provides a good reminder that a summer 'what are you reading' thread is in order.

What's It All About, Althea? (Aimless), Monday, 21 June 2021 23:55 (three months ago) link

I needed something propulsive and comforting, so I'm on what is becoming my biennial re-reading of Jonathan Raban's Coasting. Raban is best when he's running from something (which is most of the time) and here he's trying and failing to escape the gravitational field of the UK as he spends four years orbiting the main islands in his boat. Like lots of boys of his generation, there's a sense that Raban is always dealing with the trauma of boarding school and the boat becomes a little like an extension of that milieu - down to the library he assembles the and gross figurehead of Thatcher he puts up in the galley.

I'd forgotten that he meets Paul Theroux halfway round. Theroux is writing his own 'what's Britain really like?' book (The Kingdom By the Sea) and it's a weird and intense meeting, neither wanting to reveal too much. (I forget if Theroux mentions Raban in his book. I'd assume not.) There's a also a cute meeting with Larkin in Hull.

Anyway, I always come for the descriptions of the sea and the dreams of escape; there are few who do those better than Raban.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Tuesday, 22 June 2021 09:00 (three months ago) link

We discussed TO THE LIGHTHOUSE here a year or two ago, but I'll just repeat the view, both my own and fairly standard, that it's a magnificent masterpiece.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 22 June 2021 09:11 (three months ago) link

I don't know if there is one 'Bloomsday Tour' but I have extensively visited the Dublin locations of Ulysses, on Bloomsday and other days.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 22 June 2021 09:12 (three months ago) link

I've heard of that book before, Chinaski - it sounds remarkable, especially the Larkin episode which I didn't know about.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 22 June 2021 09:13 (three months ago) link

We have a summer thread now, thanks to dow:

Buffalo Moon, What Are You Reading In The Summer Of 2021?

What's It All About, Althea? (Aimless), Thursday, 24 June 2021 04:19 (three months ago) link

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