Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stuff I've Been Reading: May

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakmi
Midnight’s Children, Rushdie
I’m A Stranger Here Myself, Bryson
From A Sunburned Country, Bryson
The Mother Tongue, Bryson
A Short History About Everything, Bryson
Beowulf On The Beach, Jack Murningham
Flannery O’ Conner’s Spirtual Writing, Flannery O’ Conner
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
Fury, Salman Rushdie
Cities On The Plain, Cormac McCarthy
Hero Type, Barry Lyga
Memory, Donald Westlake
Final Fantasy And Philosphy
The Turnaround, George Pelacanos

Pride And Predijuice, Jane Austen
This Side Of Paradise, Fitzgerald
The March, EL Doctrow
Tell All, Palaniuk
Our Man In Havana, Greene
Roads, Larry McMurtry
Wise Blood, Flannery O’ Conner
The Napoleon Of Notting Hill, Chesterton

Pride And Prejudice: If I may betray my philistine roots I read Pride And Prejudice mostly because I was pretty sure that reading Pride And Prejudice And Zombies first would land me a place in lit nerd hell right next to people who pretend to have read Infinite Jest and those who “don’t get” Cormac McCarthy.

Part of it is that Pride is one of those texts so thoroughly ingrained in the culture that reading it seems almost besides the point. Part of it has to do with Mark Twain’s vitriol towards Austen’s work.

(To me his prose is unreadable -- like Jane Austin's [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death
- Letter to W. D. Howells, 18 January 1909

Jane Austen's books, too, are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it.
- Following the Equator

I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.
- Letter to Joseph Twichell, 13 September 1898)

Lord knows that no one needs another analysis of Austen. So I’ll just say that while its true that four hundred pages of upperclass English people being polite to one another can be a little much. I still found Pride And Prejudice to be a rewarding experience. If nothing else invaluable for Austen's wit and for being such a comprehensive record of its time place and mindset.

This Side Of Paradise:, F. Scott Fitzgerald

If Pride And Prejudice is merely a collection of upper class English people being polite, then This Side Of Paradise can be summed up as an upper class twit learning gradually to be less of a twit. That’s right today I’m going to be dismissing all the great works of Western Canon. Ulysses? Overrated.

In all seriousness I did find This Side Of Paradise a bit disappointing if only, unlike Austen, I do have a very real affinity for Fitzgerald, and all of the “lost generation” authors. Its not as though its bad or not worthwhile, indeed it’s a fascinating look at the young Fitzgerald (who famously wrote this book to pay for his marriage to Zelda. Bad luck that.) Still despite a few iconic moments (“I don’t want my innocence back I want the pleasure of losing it again.”) and the grace and beauty of Fitzgerald’s writing, This Side Of Paradise is an unapologetically minor work.

The March, EL Doctrow

The March ended up placing very high on many best of the decade lists. And it has to be said that it earns such distinction. An ambitious multi narrative tapestry that potray’s Sherman’s March of War as the coming of modernarity itself. Its rich in both in its imagery and thematically. Written with a sure hand. And mercilessness nature, seemingly central characters die at a whim, but there’s always someone to pick up the march. It’s a kaleidoscopic view point, beautifully complex, and Doctrow makes it look easy.

The book’s not perfect the descriptions of some of the battles and sackings can come off as Cormac McCarthy light. Doctrow is too civilized an author to really get into the viscera making even a pile of severed limbs seem oddly anemic. And more problematic two main characters undergo a change of character that seems both unmotivated, and later on even unsubstantiated. More problematic is Doctrow’s disdain for quotation marks in this particular work. Which is one post modern affectation too many.

Still on the whole it’s a monumental work. Jaw dropping in both aspiration and achievement.

Tell All, Chuck Palaniuk

You know, I was going to write a detailed put down on Tell All. But really its just the same old shit. Pygmy might have been an unsuccessful work, but at least there was some effort behind it. There are some funny moments and clever turns of phrases. Of course there are it’s a Chuck Palahniuk book. But God just go back and look at Fight Club, Invisible
Monsters, Lullaby
, and Choke. For all the problems those books have they’re the work of a man who cares deeply about his art and his characters. Snuff, Pygmy, and Tell All is the work of someone who just plain doesn’t give a fuck.

Our Man In Havana, Graham Greene

Our Man In Havanna is the first novel of Greene’s I’ve read and I was therefore surprised to find it a farce. Albeit with Greene being Greene an exceedingly dark one. The story follows a lowly vacuum cleaner salesman in Havanna before the revolution who is pressed into service as a spy by the British government. Virtually untrained and having no idea what he’s doing, he begins to simply make shit up. You can imagine his surprise when his “informants” actually do begin to die.

The book betrays the world of espionage far from the glamour of Flemmings, or even the downbeat professionalism of LeCarre, but instead as a nightmarish sapient Bureaucracy that is forever craving fuel, even if that fuel is bullshit. With Graham’s straightforward yet lyrical prose, dark humor and ruthlessly unsentimental sensibility, it becomes a disturbingly plausible vision

Roads, Larry McMurtry

Another month another minor Larry McMurtry work. People may justly wonder why when I bitch about him so much I read McMurtry all the damn time. The answer is simple, at his best McMurtry is among my favorite authors, with a lean evocative prose styling, great ear for dialogue, and eye for incident and imagery, he’s like the Jim Jaramusch of literature. Able to make the most mundane of people and places and make them wonderful.

I liked Roads more then the last half dozen or so McMurtry books. It consists of nothing but McMurtry documenting his trips across the country’s main interstates. It might not sound like much. And its not much. But His mind wanders agreeably as it tends to do when one drives, and McMurtry begins dropping interesting Literature criticism (perversely more then there was in Books), history both personal and natural, and vignettes about friends who he will ramble about before casually dropping the horrible manner of their demise.

Those who don’t know McMurtry probably won’t get to much out of it. But those who love him will enjoy the trip.

The Napoleon Of Notting Hill, GK Chesterton

GK Chesterton continues to be one of the most pleasurable authors I know of. The Napoleon Of Notting Hill is his usual delightful concoction of social commentary, often laugh out loud funny, fantasy, theological and philosophical musings, and ideas that have dated very badly (Boy the crusades sure were awesome huh!?!)

Still no matter how far off the rails GK flies, I never find him anything less then intrinsically loveable.

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Conner

Pound for pound, there are days that Flannery O’Conner is my favorite author. I have trouble writing about her. Dissection with O’Conner seems pointless. There are few authors who are more resistant to term papers then O’Conner. Her stories are not about what they make you think, but what they make you feel. What they bring up in the muddiest waters of the self. The way she makes you feel as though you’re reading her prose through a heavy fever. Like all great art O’Conner’s is unquantifiable.


The Dirty Mac said...

I knew there was a reason I had stopped reading new Palahniuk, like there was some supernatural force that told me he could never do any better than his early work.

I'm glad to see Bryson is being added to your library. Make sure to read A Walk in the Woods if you haven't!

Bryce Wilson said...

I haven't hit Walk In The Woods yet. Though I surely will. I want to read his first American Book "I'm A Stranger Here Myself" first which is next on the reading list.