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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Purple America / R. Moody

Stunning, this novel goes directly into the black hole of one's deepest fears about aging, placing one wholly within the skin of an aged Cliffie suffering from advanced MS and ALS, making one feel one is risking one's life by continuing to turn the pages and eliciting torrents of compassion and horror.  It takes nerve to read this work and watch as her son attempts to assume the burden of caring for her when her husband deserts her, she insisting that at a time of her choosing the son assist her in ending her life, to his shock, the story rendered in long and welcome Proustian constructions.  This is a novel there is a good probability I will finish, despite having to brace myself each time I pick it up.

January 7, 2015--Finished it, first novel that's held one all the way through for some time. Stunning, absolutely; deeply scary and deeply penetrating, extreme depths of human nature explored but, the universe of literature being what it is, the story was a festival of Negativity.  The relationship between literature and the Negative is a long and seemingly unbreakable one, and the truism that we cannot bear reading about happy people doing fulfilling things suggests a troubling fact about human nature.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cosmopolis / DeLillo

I picked this up as a used paperback with multiple creases in the pages that annoyed me every step of the way; it was as if someone had bent it in half a dozen times at different angles, most annoying, and the story, as of the halfway point, which is where I bailed, concerns a wealthy cold-blooded insomniac sex addict "genius" currency trader who takes a limousine ride crosstown in Manhattan to get a haircut, receiving a prostate exam from his personal physician en route during which he, yes, during which he has a consultation with a female principal of his firm, how charming, and comes across a political demonstration near Times Square protesting capitalism (cleverly, as a "specter that haunts the U.S.)--not my type a guy.  Some interesting observations about the mechanisms by which cyber-capital circulates, but the coldness of the novel is a turn-off.  Stylistically, not much to notice; too many short sentences, kept tripping over full-stops; isn't that the way beginning writers write?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hesse / Joyce

In the opening of Demian, Hesse writes:

"I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me."

And Joyce:

"We must write what's in our blood, not our brain."

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Search for Christa T. / Christa Wolf

In this novel, from the pages of which a steady cold wind blows, the one-time East-German Wolf writes of the title character:

"One's wishes are only what one is capable of. Thus her deep and persistent wish guarantees the secret existence of her work: this long and never-ending journey toward oneself."

In Demian, the paperback cover art for which ranks among the top ten of all time, Hesse's narrator ventures:

"Each man had only one genuine vocation--to find the way to himself."

But to define the "self"--work of a lifetime.  Cf. Being & Nothingness, The Way of Zen, and on and on.  Consider Demian's (unattributed) epigraph:

"I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.  Why was that so very difficult?"

Thursday, December 11, 2014


A documentary on the global finance industry, Let's Make Money, available on Netflix, ends by stating that if the total private wealth in tax shelters around the world were subject to the taxes of the countries in which the holders of the wealth live, the governments of the world would have a total of an additional $250 billion a year in tax revenues to put toward reducing poverty and hunger, improving education, doing medical research, upgrading infrastructure, etc.

The depravity of the global banking and financial services industries, which directly enable tax evasion, is so extreme as to approach the paranormal.  Too many bankers are not fit human beings. They view the world in numerical, not human, terms and belong behind bars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Restraint of Beasts / Magnus Mills

Picked this blue-collar novel up a few years ago at Rodney's solely because it had a puff quote from Th. Pynchon--not a writer who makes a point of dispersing comments in the literary marketplace--on the back cover, read it, thought it was okay, shelved it, and recently pulled it at random from the bookshelf in an idle moment and, strangely, found it much funnier the second time around.  There's no style to speak of, no philosophical generalizations, no backstories, no speculations about human nature, no tropes; none of the characters are described as to their appearance, and two of the three main players are laconic to an extreme, greeting each work assignment (they install high-tensile wire fences with wooden posts) with "For fuck sake," or "Suffering fuck,"  but the manual labor is described in close detail and I found myself significantly hooked, following the trio from job site to job site, watching them work in the rain, drink at local pubs where they meet no one, in the end undecided as to whether the narrator is fully compos mentis or not, the book clearly based on Mills' personal experience but with some starkly strange elements thrown in to raise it from memoir to novel status, much of the charm of the work rising from its radical simplicity and rigorously aliterary environment.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Alphabet / R. Silliman

A seven-pound book of verse that goes down like a cinderblock in a sea of incomprehensibility.  I tried to cultivate a taste for it over a period of weeks, but felt as if I were drowning in an ocean of maple syrup each time I picked it up.  Cf. George Brandes on Anatole France: "France has what he himself calls the French writer's three great qualities—in the first place, lucidity; in the second, lucidity; in the third and last, lucidity."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Elsa / Tsipi Keller

One is astonished and outraged by the inadequacy of the critical recognition this novel has received.

Shame on The New York Review of Each Other's Books.

This penetrating character study, set in Gotham, is a delightful, effortless, scary read, portraying ambivalence as a way of life and the quest for romance as a wonderful and dangerous instinct.

Third volume of a trilogy.

Literature & Evil / G. Bataille

As Bataille writes in this work of criticism:

"Literature is not innocent."

Caveat emptor.

Letters / J. Barth

A hideous academic novel that will make you wish you never learned to read.  A reliable conduit to repeated occasions of frustration and unhappiness.  A failed attempt at I don't know what.

Women & Men / J. McElroy

Didn't get far--unreadable tripe.  As a wag said of Gertrude Stein: "She gives you nothing very slowly."

Answered Prayers / T. Capote

Though carefully crafted, it gives off an almost detectable stink.  But when a novel drives a woman to actual suicide, you gotta take a look at it, yes?

Infinite Jest

Read halfway and bailed; felt I was in a room filled exclusively with alcoholics and stoners--not ideal company.  And The Broom was amateurish in its gross prolixity.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Silliman's Blog II

But I've yet to find a way to keep myself from checking it checking it checking it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Jean Rhys

The tragedy of her life is enough to make one writhe, then neck a six-pack.  Sexually molested at age twelve by a neighbor in his seventies, placed under the care of a voodoo-crazed domestic as a child by a cold-blooded mother, used as a throwaway sex toy by uppercrust Brits, joined in holy matrimony to two successive men who went to prison, living her entire adult life in relative poverty, her novels largely ignored during most of her lifetime, ending up drinking two bottles of wine or a bottle of whiskey a day, serving a term herself in Holloway Prison in London for assault--hard to imagine this poor cursed brilliantly gifted writer in an MFA program.  Or Burroughs, Hemingway, Salinger, Genet, Pynchon, Tolstoy, Dickinson, Proust, Dostoievski, O'Neill, Pinter, Joyce, Shakespeare, Woolf, Kafka.  If any of these writers entered a seminar room, the walls would immediately blow out from one-half to three-quarters of a mile.

Cf. The Blue Hour, an admirable study of Jean, though the sentences are short throughout and one keeps tripping over periods.

Silliman's Blog

In its schoolboy striving for omniscience and its smothering garrulousness, it amounts to a literary equivalent of the CBS nightly news, intrinsically disturbing in its relentless non-stop ravenous pursuit of one's soul.  Take a day off, will ya?  Has this langpo Gargantua no understanding of the word "work-shy"? Literature is all fine and large, no question, but does one want it coming at one on a non-stop 24/7 digital assembly line?  One can almost hear gears clanking.  And it has overtones of a deplorable and deeply numbing phenomenon, from the writer's point of view--steady employment. One periodically needs to flee it down the nights and down the days.

Cf. Samuel Johnson: "People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed."

And he didn't answer my email.

Corrections, The / J. Franzen

The structure of this thing, through the first hundred or so pages, is as old-fashioned as a house with a dirt floor, but the central character's (surely doomed) pursuit of screenplay success kept me reading, for a while, and may I say, has a wildly successful novel ever had a weaker title?  A high order of craftsmanship prevails, but there's a difference between art and craft.  I felt as if I were gently being choked to death.

Bernhard's Correction refers, with typical forbidden humor, to a character's suicide and the artwork of the cover was so ugly I had to create a brown-paper-bag cover for the thing.  Book as a whole seemed to limp, unlike the hilarious Old Masters.

May or may not finish the Franzen, my hunch is not.

London Fields / M. Amis

Through chapter six: salacious, lowbrow, slimy, unfunny, a disappointment after Yellow Dog, which had hilarious moments, though it too descended into a valley of sleaze toward the end.

May or may not try another.  Happened to see The Zone of Interest in the library the other day, his latest, and just didn't feel like picking it up.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Europe Central II

Upon viewing a woodcut by Kathe Kollwitz titled "Hunger," actual Soviet filmmaker Roman Karmen thinks, "[T]he representation of reality can be more real than reality itself," a point of view that is infinitely and pointlessly debatable.  Death in warfare becomes an opportunity to display literary sleight-of-hand: "The wheel was Poland's clock from which bullets ticked, each bullet not a moment but a moment's end for another Pole bewitched into a blackened, grimacing corpse face-down in the mud beside its scorched rifle or pram."

Alexandrov's narration, which overlaps with that of WTV in places, is "electrified" with recurring exclamation points: Oh, me, oh, my!  But this phony enthusiasm is needed to offset the dullness-factor inherent in unloading seemingly unlimited truckloads of historical data.  The amount of labor that went into the creation of this novel is incalculable, truly impressive.  Alexandrov, a homodiegetic narrator, has access to and reports on the thoughts and feelings of the characters he discusses (the majority of who are actual historical actors)--this is the Proust problem, one Robbe-Grillet and and C. Simon were careful to avoid.  In §18 of the chapter "Far and Wide My Country Stretches" Alexandrov enters into dialogue with another character and presto-bingo! a new unidentified narrator appears and, for a time, the narration becomes heterodiegetic.

Then it's revealed that Shostakovich spoke in incomplete, you know--yes, we've had a good deal of that, that point has been made, glad to get the historical basis for it.  His technique for conveying the horrors of the war is to mention them in passing . . . which makes them all the more chilling, as in the parenthetical tag to this sentence: "Strangely enough, they did not place him within one of those open boxcars already crammed with Russians packed and stacked vertically--still alive, most of them (soon they'd commence eating each other.)"  And a sentence from earlier lingers in mind: "Intellectuals are people whose aspirations tend to outreach their capabilities."

Of German Lieutenant-General Paulus the narrator says: "[H]e began to see war somewhat as our Führer must, which is to say not as the implemenation of preconsidered options, but as music in and of itself, pulsations of godlike creativity . . . ."  Interesting phrasing.  Our German narrator's view of Hitler's strategic and tactical capacity as commander in chief of the German forces is not skeptical: "With a loving smile, he [Hitler] clapped Paulus on the shoulder; and Paulus experienced what Major-General Schmidt liked to call the greatest happiness any of our contemporaries can experience--that of serving a genius."

It is essential to read this work with an intact sense of fun.  An endnote to the chapter "The Last Field Marshall" reads: "All this is the flimsiest speculation, which is God's gift to historical fictioneers." He alters quotations and facts he has researched according to his sense of narrative efficacy, or his whim, which begs the question, Why have the endnotes?  Though I'll confess it is enjoyable to read them.

In the chapter titled "Operation Citadel," which presents a surreal treatment of combat involving heavy use of German Tiger and Russian T-34 tanks, our German narrator i.d.'s himself as a "telephonist."  People keep writing books about WWII because the impact of a story is directly related to what's at stake for the protagonist and antagonist and in this case it's civilization itself, making this an ultimate story.

Hitler referenced throughout as "the sleepwalker."

A formidable work.  I may or may not finish it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Flying High in a Coal Mine

A screenplay has as many moving parts as a 747 and faulty assembly is not unheard of--which explains why they so often crash and burn.  And here's a fine comment from a writer quoted in the helpful handbook Your Screenplay Sucks by William Akers: "Screenwriting is no harder than, say, coal-mining; but it is darker."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Europe Central

The opening of this historical novel by W.T. Vollmann seems to suggest that material objects such as steel and telephones and telephone wire are endowed with volition and that human beings are in some sense subservient to them and he seems to suggest an equivalence between human beings and individual letters of the Hebrew alphabet (is this what human beings actually are, merely means by which various alphabets exercise themselves?) and the narrator seems to be at times History itself, some sort of supra-personal consciousness, then a functionary in the Third Reich, and then the eminent Vollmann himself, after a reference to "this story" and "its author" (who deprecates himself for indulging in "reactionary supernaturalism"); then a Russian (?) operative takes up the narrative reins for a time, transitioning into a heterodiegetic "omniscient" narrator who reports on the thoughts of German visual artist Kathe Kollwitz when she visits Moscow for an exhibition of her work in 1927, giving us almost as many narrators as the crew in As I Lay Dying, this privileged speaker here and there tiptoeing into the story with a shy "I" ; in any case, W.T.V. deposits us back in Littell's bailiwick, ceaselessly shoveling out the historical facts and persons, heaps and masses of them, a writer who clearly takes his reality principle seriously, burying one in objective reality, though tampering with the historical record where he pleases, and I wonder if I shouldn't take a look at Martin Amis's new novel about the same era, but here's a first rate rendering from Vollmann: "[T]he brave young men who rushed against barbed wire, got impaled, and hung there until the bullet-wind blew through them," though I would have said, "got hooked and tangled there until," but his neologistic "bullet-wind" is very fine.

And here's another outstanding sentence: "Her [i.e., Kollwitz's] eyes were not unlike Shostakovich's in that grief seemed almost ready to explode out of them, like corpses flying into the air when a stray shell hits a mass grave."  In Chapter 4 ("You Have Shut the Danube's Gates") our unnamed, plodding German narrator becomes peevish: "That's what I thought.  Of course, nobody gives a shit about my opinions."

In Chapter 6 ("Maiden Voyage") he gets excited about the German Air Force and arrogant vis-a-vis the gentle reader: "When I was a boy, we'd all run out into the street to watch our fire-red biplanes pass over us!  Just take it from me: You'll never understand."  Also of interest is a bogus footnote to this chapter, in which WTV breaks his bond of presumed good faith with the reader (or is one to take it as a jest?) concerning a particular handgun cartridge on which the plot of EC "in part turns." Strange overlapping temporalities: "When Parzival killed Galogandres, the standard-bearer of King Clamide, the attackers called the battle off. The long dark pipelike barrels of their antitank rifles couldn't frighten him: Parzival had saved Queen Condwiramurs!"

The German narrator, apparently an intelligence agent of high rank in the Wehrmacht, is none too endearing: "[N]o one would deny that it's healthy for us Germans to try to get what we want [.]"  The Russian narrator, also a high-ranking surveillance official, isn't much better: cf. his comment anent Anna Akhmatova: [S]he kept her precious head up her ass, or somebody else's--you can't imagine all the filthy things I've seen her do!--so it proved a simple business to keep an eye on her," an endnote confessing this revelation is spurious.  (Why do I feel like I'm reading Gravity's Rainbow all over again?) Narrators who are relentlessly negative, vulgar, histrionic, calloused and arrogant leave one cold.

The M. Amis novel--The Zone of Interest, columnist R. Cohen in the Times giving it good marks today (Sept. 29).  Touching EC, I suppose one should be impressed by the exhaustive and meticulous research that went into its creation, as indicated by the endnotes--not particularly, having read any number of wonderful novels that showed few if any signs of research; though if WTV enjoyed undertaking it, where's the harm?, though it is undeniable EC is a book about other books; a bookish novel, not a Hemingwayesque tale relying on personal experience acquired in dangerous circumstances, or a Proustian reverie in which Marcel attempts to understand his personal past; for novels like EC we can thank our incomparable graduate schools, WTV the proud holder of a PhD in complit summa.

EC is engrossing, no question, but joyless so far, I'm on p. 108 and no real laughs yet which for this reader is a problem.  In an endnote to the chapter "And I Dried My Salty Hair" it is revealed that our Russian narrator is named Comrade Alexandrov.  One doesn't glide through this book so much as trudge, an "artistic" disordering of chronology subverting suspense at every step of the way. Interesting sentence: "Most literary critics agree that fiction cannot be reduced to mere falsehood."

In the midst of the shovelfuls, the dumptruckfuls of erudition, our Alexandrov can be thoroughly informal: "Actually he [composer Shostakovitch] was dwelling on Tatyana Glivenko, who was really, truly, you get the idea."  And when the young composer says a few words, why, just a regular guy; when asked to explain his musical intentions, he replies: "Well [giggled Mitya], why shouldn't I give them a little, you know?  I mean, I, I. well, when you consider Rodchenko spatial constructions, they're like, um, plywood robots!  So why can I get wacky?" (Blogging is reverse-samizdat: U.S. govt. doesn't suppress dissident writing, it encourages it, so that it can "keep tabs" on it, for our protection of course.)  Of Dimitri composing: "His reconnaissance-notes of alienness infiltrated the staffs of score-sheets like flat-capped, rifle-pointing silhouettes creeping through gaps in barbed wire."  Nice!  I'm enjoying this novel, I can't deny it.  Startling fact mentioned in passing: "In 1935, when Stalin made twelve-year-olds subject to the death penalty [!] ...."  And a quote from Dimitri anent Soviet propaganda: "[T]heir speeches make my ears vomit."

Hitler's invasion of Russia is described in musical terms: "[T]he sirens of the Stuka divebombers illustrated the concept of portamento, which, as we know, is the glide from one note to another on a woodwind.... Did you know that under ideal conditions bombs can express all eight degrees of the diatonic scale as they whistle down?";  instances of this tic are plentiful--or should I say "inspired innovation"?  Hardships suffered by the residents of Leningrad during the German siege are rendered starkly: "Cannibals were said to be killing stray children every day; steak-meat was cut from the shoulders, thighs and buttocks of corpses abandoned at the cemetery .... Bundled-up women belly-crawled through the snow between frozen tramcars, hoping to find a frozen rat or a scrap of oilcake which would give them the strength to rise."

The dialogue of historical persons in the novel, such as Shostakovitch and his circle, is massively (compulsively?) footnoted and substantiated--yawn. Reading the 4-1/2 pages of closely printed endnotes for the chapter "The Palm Tree of Deborah" I couldn't help saying to myself: "This is insane!" and feeling on the verge of laughing at the bizarre studiousness of it all.  EC is a composite work, a work of "faction," two-thirds history treatise, one-third fiction.  (To be continued, perhaps.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Knausgaard's Struggle

Oh I don't know, I bought it because of the publicity and my first impression after reading perhaps fifty pages in the middle of the first volume is that the style is commonplace.  Karl Ove Knausgaard could learn a lot from Johnny Updike.  I finished Rabbit at Rest a couple months ago, having dropped it halfway through a few years back and picking it up again I know not why, and was deeply impressed, there's nothing the man couldn't articulate clearly and his description of Rabbit's relationship with commercial television shows was remarkably well done and his descriptions of old songs on the radio as he ran away once again, this time to Florida, were extraordinary.  Updike's world is alive and vivid to an almost surreal degree; Karl's is humdrum.  His general approach, based on what I've read so far, is so old-fashioned the pages creak as you read them.

I watched half an interview with our loquacious Norwegian on Silliman's blog and when he referred to the six-volume project, My Struggle, written over three years, as "anti-Proust," I couldn't have agreed more.  Karl said that when writing he couldn't distinguish between "quality writing" and writing that lacked quality.  Why he said this I couldn't tell you.

Madame Bovary, a mere one-volume work written over four years, approaches perfection and I commend it to our Norwegian titan.  But what in God's name is the point of semi-cryptically referencing Hitler in the title of an explicitly (the narrator's name is Karl Ove Knausgaard) autobiographical novel?  What am I missing?

Sunday, September 14, 2014



Now there's a Sunday morning reading one can cleave to.  And to add to the fun, an insightful quote from Kafka which surfaced during the past week:

"In the duel between you and the world, back the world."

The Kindly Ones

A heavily researched novel that reads like a heavily researched novel, it's like reading a history text, has author Jonathan Littell never heard Wilde's comment that "The most important thing in life is style"?, it's like reading a reference book on the Third Reich, how it won Le Prix Goncourt I'll never know.  I started at the beginning, got bored after forty pages, dipped into it midway and got bored again, having bought it for $.01 online because it was a debut novel of more than a thousand pages with a first-person narrator, 2000 copies (!) of an advance reader's edition (bound paperback) having been mailed, reportedly, to reviewers, etc., prior to publication by Harper's, wonder what the sales turned out to be, Hitler's inner circle a subject I can't say I've ever been much interested in, perhaps I'll give it one final try.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Telegraph Avenue Trance

And this Michael Chabon, bending over backwards to make every sentence clever and precious and "special," oh I can't stand it, it's so self-defeating, I mean you just keep registering 'Here's this ultra clever writer getting between me and the material of the story, time after time after time, he never lets up"--he doesn't give you reality, he gives you writerly reality and it reeks of artifice.  It's as if every sentence has a tiny white bow on it.  Give me a break.  You want a writer to bring you closer to reality, not to put barriers up that you have to be constantly climbing over.  He needs to be more reticent, he really does.  He's too ostentatiously clever, I can't stand it.  I'm referring to Telegraph Avenue which I picked up in an airport primarily because the price was 50 percent reduced because it was used.  Give me my rancid Th. Bernhard or my rancid Beckett, please.  

Now when Christopher Sorrentino writes in his wonderful documentary novel Trance about the abduction of Patty Hearst by the SLA, that a character buys a burrito wrapped in "thin" aluminum foil, this extremely close observation places the burrito in your hands and you experience the reality of the moment just as the character does; the writing brings you closer to reality, doesn't push you away, doesn't show off with imagined imported paraphernalia alien to the moment . . . though on a different day, in a different mood, the fireworks and acrobatic stunts and miniature white bows of Chabon's style might well come across as enjoyable to read, my main concern about him perhaps being the level of intellectual energy he brings to his material, which approaches the straight-up mania of D.F. Wallace and Robin Williams, which can have a massive downside, oh yes, most definitely . . . most tragically.

Why the paragraph supra is highlighted in white I couldn't tell you.  I've tried to get rid of the highlighting but can't seem to do it.

February 20, 2015--This Chabon is a writer infatuated with objective reality.  He presents an unending stream of material objects and provides brandnames for many.  Though I have to admit there are times when I enjoy it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, David Ives

Reading Lucky Jim which I got half-price used at H. Bookstore in a deluxe paperback edition published by the eminent New York Review of Each Other's Books and am not much enjoying it, set as it is in a college and peopled by academics but I do very much share his low opinion of Dylan Thomas though I would not go so far as to describe him as "excrementally evil" or express a desire to "walk on his face" though, in fairness, this was the young Amis speaking, and speaking of young, his son Martin Amis's Yellow Dog is an extraordinarily funny novel (funny ha-ha) in places though in the second half it descends into an exploration of the pornographic film industry that I read with distaste and which spoils the book as a whole but still, the laughs were great, and speaking of laughs, David Ives's play Polish Joke, which I read in an edition from Dramatists Play Service, had me laughing, over the first two scenes, harder than almost anything I've ever read, hand to God--after that it tails off horribly, pity.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Michael Hemmingson

Stunned to discover a week or three ago that Hemmingson died in Zona Norte (Tijuana) in the recent past.  A prolific writer of "racy" novels, journalist, screenwriter, ethnologist, playwright, he commented on this blog once when I happened to write a few words about Gordon Lish a few years ago, who would be the perfect husband for novelist Gish Jen (if I'm spelling that correctly), what cooler name than Gish Lish?, Hemmingson, having activated a Google Alert for Gordon in connection with a book of literary criticism he (Hemmingson) was writing on him, letting me know Gordon shies away from the Interweb and does not have a blog . . . just brings you to a halt when someone you know, no matter how slightly, dies.  R.I.P. Michael.  

Donald Barthelme

A sheer waste of time.  I keep trying to find something to like but only find whimsy, frivolousness.  An immensely irritating writer.  Darling of The New Yorker.  Though thanks to Forvo I finally, after decades of wondering, know how to pronounce his name: bar-TOL-oh-may.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mulligan Stew

A writer who intentionally engages in bathetic writing to generate laughs runs the risk of descending into "silliness," embarrassing himself and the reader, and Sorrentino suffers from this here and there in the headline novel, but when he hits just the right note he is hilarious, as in his description of the business methods employed in the unnamed publishing house protagonist Martin Halpin runs with his partner Ned:

"Ned Beaumont and I devised contracts that scrambled, boiled, fried, poached, roasted, sautéed, baked, broiled, and basted our faithful authors at every turn; marvels of economy, they ever wert."

And I should mention that my earlier comments on Claude Simon's The Trolley were superficial and ridiculous and should be disregarded.  This novella, on closer inspection, is a gem.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Surprising Statistics

Sen. (R) Rand Paul on C-SPAN yesterday stated 70 percent of Americans lack a college degree.  In Capital in the Twenty-first Century, T. Piketty writes: "Over a long period of time, the main force in favor of greater [economic] equality has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills."  A large poster on the bus shelter near the corner of Green and Magazine proclaims that every school day in the U.S., 7,000 students drop out of high school. Picketty's work, aimed at elucidating the drawbacks to efficiency of radical income inequality, is monumental in scale, posing a time management-problem for a light-minded sentimentalist like the present writer, particularly since one has just (nearly) finished J. Stiglitz's outstanding The Price of Inequality with its heavy load of statistics.  A quote from the latter: 

"America has been hot in pursuit of the wrong goals.  We've lost our way.  We thought that simply by increasing GDP all would benefit but that has not been the case.  Even if the American economy produces more goods and services, if, year after year, most Americans have lower and lower incomes, our economy is not performing well."  

Writing in the current Atlantic on the concept of reparations to be paid by the U.S. government to the descendants of former slaves in the U.S., staffer Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes Yale historian David W. Blight: "In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America's manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together.  Slaves were the single largest, by far, financial asset of property in the entire American economy."  And I remember Skip Gates, in his PBS documentary of a few months ago on U.S. slavery, saying that some 400,000 slaves were transported to this country from Africa, and eventually increased their numbers to 4 million.  And the Economist reported some months ago, if I remember correctly, that in 2013 there were some 389,000 millionaires in New York City, and some 80 billionaires.  Income inequality is alive and well in the Apple.  And Richard Lyon posted on Daily Kos yesterday: 

"A survey released today by the Commonwealth Fund ranks the United States dead last in the quality of its healthcare system compared to ten other developed nations.  At the same time, it's also the most expensive in the world.  Frustratingly, the new report (pdf) shows that the U.S. is not improving; it ranks last, just like it did in the 2010, 2007, 2006, and 2004 editions of the survey. Call it a ten-year losing streak.  Other nations evaluated in the survey included Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  The U.K., which spends just $3,405 per person on health care, ranked first overall among the 11 nations. Compare that to the United States' $8,508 per person."