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Sunday, July 26, 2015

T-shirt / No. 1

At Barron "Plaza" maybe ten years ago:

"Music is salvation"


Novels in General

N.O. Ting: "The wonderful thing about novels is they allow the people who write them to believe they are magnificent human beings."

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Price of Inequality / J. Stiglitz

Indispensable critique of an economy far out of balance and threatening the survival of U.$. democracy.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Capitalism and Climate Change

There is nothing within the ethos of capitalism to prevent its adherents from continuing to do business as usual, plundering and exploiting as they go and worshipping themselves on a round-the-clock basis, and since they own the world's politicians, I just do not know what is going to prevent civilization from continuing its sleepwalk into catastrophic climate change and a return to the Dark Ages.

Pope Francis has keen insights into this mess, having come from Latin America, a continent massively abused by U.S. and European corporations--cf. E. Galeano's indispensable Open Veins of Latin America: Four Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.

I'm Still Here / Joaquin Phoenix Doc

How low celebrities can sink is brilliantly displayed in this documentary on the bizarrely self-incriminating Joaquin Phoenix; can no longer tolerate viewing this individual, which is unfortunate because he is a born actor who holds the screen like Brando.

The Godfather / Coppola

The trilogy of Godfather films is worshipped. I don't get it. The main characters are psychopaths dripping with the pus of malice, premeditated evil, animal selfishness. I saw Supreme Court justice A. Scalia on teevee, in the PBS special about the history of Italian-Americans, raving about how great these films were, expressing no reservations of any kind.

And it's widely known Brando was an uncontrollable sex addict.

Spare me the filth.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Atlas Shrugged / A. Rand

N.O. Ting: "This is a poor title. Because when Atlas shrugs, the world, which happens to be humanity's home, falls from his shoulders and shatters into countless pieces when it hits the ground. This title was written by someone reckless, someone with no sense of solidarity with humanity, someone who is not one of us. No way am I going to read a book with a title like that."

Well now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Updike / A. Begley

A not worthless piece of secondary material written by the standard hunter-gatherer biographer, filling his wicker basket with inside stories and gossip gathered over many years, not to mention the fruits of any number of discussions with solemn librarians, and plot summaries right, left and center. And I've got to say at the outset, the asterisks scattered about the text are the smallest one has ever seen; over and over one would come to a note at the bottom of a page and have to go back and scour the text for the missed star (though I remember Vonnegut somewhere using a * as a simplified drawing of a particular part of the human anatomy one would rather not mention in a family-entertainment blog) and each time it was hard to find, annoyingly.

Begley's writing is lucid and graceful. But there are armies of people who can do that.

As to the thrillingly gifted sex-addict novelist under discussion, what was he really? He was a male homewrecker, with a massive disregard for his children's feelings. I'll never forget a sentence from Rabbit Redux I read in the early '70s; the pathologically self-centered Rabbit looks at his offspring sitting at a table in a restaurant and thinks:

"I had squandered my identity in the faces of my children."

One hadn't known how massively autobiographical his output is and this was interesting to learn. His openness about his parasitism on the lives of family members, lovers and friends was freakish; I remember reading a comment somewhere, no doubt expressed with his ready signature smile, relating to a reading he had given or was going to give, the Plowville escapee telling the audience not to hesitate to invade his privacy during the Q&A "because that's what I've been doing myself for the past thirty years," ho, ho, ho, no harm, no foul. This is funny?

And somewhere else I remember reading him commenting about himself and a roommate in college taking pains to keep their self-gratification quiet at night to conceal it. I mean who talks about things like that in a public setting? Makes you squirm. He'd of course respond, "Americans don't know how to talk about sex," to which one responds, "I should hope so." That he was forthcoming, somewhat appallingly, about what a feminist in the Begley calls his "priapic narcissism," doesn't make his revelations rewarding to encounter. And violating people's privacy, that is simply low. His first wife Mary [Pennington '52]'s comment after reading Couples was that she felt "smothered in pubic hair."

His prose style is poetic and unforgettable, his fluency mind-boggling, his intellect (hadn't known his I.Q. was genius level) penetrating, seemingly omnipotent. But so what? No matter how gracious and cultivated he comes across on camera, he was a low person, in my venomous opinion, of today, based on what Begley reveals. Tomorrow? Who knows, dithyrambs. One grew up reading the guy, after a recommendation from Ross Lyle in '65.


"[T]he literary scene is a kind of Medusa's raft, small and sinking, and one's instinct when a newcomer tries to clamber aboard is to stamp on his fingers."

"Fiction is nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that Mankind has ever invented."

"I disavow any essential connection between my life and whatever I write." [Blatant lie.]

"What is important, if not the human individual? And where can individuality be better confronted, appraised, and enjoyed than in fiction's shapely lies?"

"We all want to avoid painful experience, and yet painful experience is your chief resource as a writer."

On evolving as a writer: "You have to be in some way excited, and in a way frightened." [Correct. Cf. M. LeClerc: "The new is the forbidden."]

* * * * * *

In discussing a review by Berkeley academic Frederick Crews of the novel Roger's Version, which pegged the novelist as "morbid and curmudgeonly," accusing him of "class-based misanthropy," "belligerent, almost hysterical callousness," and "outbursts of misogyny," a critique which, in Begley's words, hinted darkly Updike was a "closet nihilist," Begley writes: "What turned Updike into such a miserable, twisted soul? According to Crews, the damage came from Updike's having 'radically divorced his notion of Christian theology from Christian ethics.' " Begley ends the discussion of the Crews' review by saying it reeks of "willfully punitive misreading," allowing our faithful biographer to have it both ways with respect to an accurate assessment of J.U.'s character.

Begley notes Updike pointed out in the introduction to The Early Stories that the ending of  "Friends from Philadelphia" "owes something" to the dead Easter chick in the bottom of the wastebasket at the end of "Just Before the War with the Eskimos." Updike published more than one hundred stories in the New Yorker, Salinger the classic nine.


Interesting thing about Updike is that seemingly every sentence he wrote was in some way distinctive. His fluency, on subjects from A to Z, is almost miraculous, and he comes across as somehow authoritative on every subject he discusses.

Was John Hoyer Updike '54--poet, Talk of the Town reporter, best-selling novelist, literary jurist, globetrotter, indefatigable book reviewer, owner of a mansion on the North Shore's Gold Coast--an admissible human being?  Each reader must decide for herself, but two quotes from the author, as reported by Begley, are instructive in this connection:

"There's something irredeemably perverse and self-destructive about us [i.e., the average person]," and:

"The heart prefers to move against the grain of circumstance; perversity is the soul's very life."

Monday, July 13, 2015

Invisible Cities / Calvino

Sheer fantasia and it bored me stiff when I first read it, halfway, back in '13, but now that one realizes it has a direct relation to one's own current project, the rewriting of another novel from the '80s, it becomes, at this time, an object of fascination.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler / Calvino

Too, too good, unforgettable, wild.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Writing Degree Zero / R. Barthes

This may have been the work in which he proclaimed: "There is no more Literature, or literature, only writing," though I can't say for sure because it's been some time, calling to mind an observation by N.O. Ting:

"The entire intellectual enterprise--chasing the wind."

I do remember it had a yellowish-beige cover, and was skinny; that I'll take to the grave.

Hothouse / B. Kachka

Some ripe comments from authors in the Farrar, Straus & Giroux "stable," as reported by Russian emigré magazine editor and journalist Kachka in his insider history of FSG:

Kerouac to Giroux anent the scroll of On the Road: "The hell with editing! Not one word is to be changed. This book was dictated to me by the Holy Ghost!"

Tom Wolfe to editor H. Robbins touching The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: "I intend to dazzle, startle, delight--and win on every level. I can do things no other writer can do or has ever done."

Journalist and author Thomas Friedman to an unnamed assistant upon being told his editor was unavailable to take his call: "Do you know who I am? I'm Tom fucking Friedman, and I pay your fucking salary!"

My, oh, my.

Venting his indignation on learning his most recent contract, for three novels, was dwarfed by a deal Wolfe had gotten, Philip Roth protested: "My p---- is as big as his!", Kachka reporting generalissimo Roger Straus, a college and high school dropout with an uppercrust pedigree who was given to swanning around the office wearing an ascot, told him to "f*ck off," Straus a person with no serious qualms about using earthy language, flap copy for the book indicating he would customarily refer to S.I. Newhouse as "that dwarf" and literary agent Andrew Wylie as "that sh*t," one of the CEO's favorite toasts reportedly: "F*ck the peasants!"

The moral atmosphere of the FSG office?  According to Kachka, Strauss' wife Dorothea termed it a "sexual sewer" and Leslie Sharpe, a former FSG assistant who Kachka says occasionally slept with Straus after she left the firm, reportedly told the author:

"Everybody was f*cking everybody in that office."

As to Kachka's claim that FSG was uniquely "literary" among New York publishers, a review in the New Yorker by FSG author R. Gottlieb said this view is fundamentally bogus, though granting the firm "has maintained an amazingly consistent level of quality."

Full title of the work: Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, now owned by a German firm.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Old Masters: A Comedy / Th. Bernhard

Read this I don't know five or six years ago, bought a new copy yesterday, $17 for a paperback!--used to pay that for a hardcover. This novel is a showcase of Negativity unto hysteria--but so funny.

A masterpiece of cynicism.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Of Human Bondage / W. Somerset Maugham

Started this a long, long time ago, in a deluxe edition Edna gave me, never finished it, remember nothing.

Happened across a quote from him last night as I was clicking around:

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

Three-Piece White Suit

Um, like attention much?

Little Lord Fauntleroy as an adult.

What's too funny is to imagine Hemingway dressed like that and regarding himself in a mirror.  I can just see him struggling to suppress the laughter ready to burst from every pore.

Two writers on very different planes of existence.

The Savage Detectives / R. Bolaño

Read the first page in a bookstore today.  Describes a creative writing class.

Farewell Bolaño, I'm sure you're the immense talent everyone says you are.

T.S. Eliot Can Do No Wrong

However, according to the relatively recent biography (Painted Shadow?, by Can't Remember) of his wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood (sp?), when she was confined to a multi-year stay in a mental institution, according to a decision by her immediate family in which Tom may or may not have participated, he visited her how many times?

Not once. Or perhaps once, my recollection is not clear, checking needed.

In either case, what a loser.

Did she ever get out?

No, she died behind bars.