Mesa, AZ, United States
Just finished this with the kids. I remember reading this with my mother when I was 10. It is a nice generational conveyance. When I was young, the STORIES of Tom and Huck affected me the most. Now, however, it is Twain's language that touches me. I love how Tom's life and play is impacted by the adventure books he reads. One day Tom is animated by a bounty of pirates, the next day by a shadow of robbers, and everyday Tom's vocabulary and actions are endowed with the books of his youth. 'Tom Sawyer' is just as much an ode to his youth as it is a poesy to the adventure books of a more tender age.
Fundamentally, the thing I love about criticism is the ability to read a damn fine book about a damn speech and recognize the author of the book wrote a little more than a page for every word (292) in the Gettysburg Address. If you count appendixes and notes (why wouldn't you when the appendix and notes matter?).
I once teased my wife, during my early wooing stage, that I wanted to write an ode to every hair on her head (a load of odes). Garry Wills did. This book is both academic criticism (one chapter is infused with new historicism, one is textual criticism, one is formalist, one is mythological) and an ode to Lincoln, Language, and this damn fine speech. I could see Garry Wills publishing each chapter in some well-funded Civil War journal and eventually weaving each paper together. I'm not sure how it really happened. Wills might just have used the chapters and forms of literary criticism as an organizational framework. I am not going to do an exegesis on the book to find out. That would be far too meta.
Anyway, it was a quick and fascinating read and significantly deepened my understanding of Lincoln's motives for the speech while also acting as an Entmythologisierung* of the text. No. Lincoln did not write the text on the back of a napkin while on a train TO Gettysburg. Anyway, a must read for those who love history, the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, or Transcendentalism.
* I'm using the German here as a joke, since there were several instances when Wills referenced Everett bringing back the seeds of Transcendentalism and higher criticism from their studies there. I'm also using it because it is 1.5x as fun as just saying demystification.
My basic take on 'The Mission Song' is similar to Alvy's old joke in Annie Hall:
"um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions."
Well, that's essentially how I feel about this book. Actually, wait no, I don't think 'The Mission Song' was terrible. I thought parts of it were actually brilliant and the potential for brilliance was huge. I loved the idea of Bruno Salvador, the interpreter, caught between two worlds. There JUST wasn't enough of THAT part. The plot was fairly simple and straightforward. Not bad, but again, only a tease, a taunt of le Carré's brilliance wrapped in an average le Carré just makes me sad.
It also suffers from being proximately sat next to (or nearly next to) The Constant Gardener; yes, two le Carré's African twin sisters: one brilliant (The Constant Gardner), and one that only has the hint of brilliance (The Mission Song). One just pales in comparison to the other, and will perpetually be overshadowed by her better looking, more talented colonial twin.
Speaking of Colonialism, le Carré just wasn't pissed enough in this novel. I kind of like it when his anger is turned up to 11. The anger was here, but it was diffuse and subtle and romantic and sometimes a bit misdirected (to me). He merely twirled the narrative knife instead of shiving and shanking.
The amazing thing about James is he can write with precision and humility about something so completely intrinsic and fraught with pit falls. Most writers run at the subject with some large bias of the mystical, the . You have thousand of books written every year proclaiming their strain of Christianity, Judaism, Vegetarianism, Atheism, Mormonism, Buddhism, as being the only true and living way to view the divine AND the only mirror to view and judge ourselves. James is different. He artfully and carefully presents a measured approach to religion. He picks it apart with affection. He looks at it normatively and then he tries to look at each speck and piece through a value lens.
I believe the magic of this book is James isn't selling a belief. He isn't pimping a lifestyle. He is just curious and very very smart. And it isn't a clinical curiosity either (although his precision could be called clinical). It is a joyful curiosity. A drive to discover how we work and what really makes us tick. He wants to know and explain his hypothesis. God **ahem** bless William James. He wasn't just describing the transcendental condition of mankind, he was establishing and building a framework for others to follow for over 100 years.
John D MacDonald presents a combination of James Dickey's prose with Ian Fleming's narrative flourish. With John D. MacDonald, however, you are also likely to find weird paragraphs sprinkled into the novel that deal with economics, politics, love, lust, the John Birch Society, and the ethics of hunting. Reading MacDonald is like having a surprisingly lucid conversation with a drunk economics professor who you recently discovered just killed a man with his golf club. You can't pull away from the conversation and aren't quite sure if the story is going to continue, or if he is going to explore a tangent more appropriate for an economics class or his therapist. HIs brain is amazing and his stories definitely titillate on several levels at once.
John D. MacDonald's pulp novels are a perfect beach read. They are unassuming, consistently over-deliver, produce better one-liners than a George Carlin set AND seem to have captured perfectly a very American, libertarian ethos of the mid-60s to late 70s. Travis McGee is consistently drawn into scrapes that he would rather avoid, beds girls he would prefer to ignore, and kills men he without relish. He perfectly fits Morrell's reluctant hero archetype:
"a tarnished or ordinary man with several faults or a troubled past, and he is pulled reluctantly into the story, or into heroic acts. During the story, he rises to the occasion, sometimes even vanquishing a mighty foe, sometimes avenging a wrong. But he questions whether he's cut out for the hero business. His doubts, misgivings, and mistakes add a satisfying layer of tension to a story"
MacDonald has perfected using the reluctant hero's questions, doubts, misgivings, and mistakes to add heft to his novels. McGee isn't a dime-store hero. He doesn't want the job, but doesn't mind the money, and it seems no one else is qualified to fix the huge mess that has fallen into his lap and seems destined to take him away from the bikinis, boats and beaches for a season.
First a disclosure. I'm a Steinhauer completist. I love Olen Steinhauer. For many reasons. First, he is one of the few, modern spy novelists that seems interested in writing quality espionage fiction, during a period when spy fiction is evolving as the business of espionage shifts. Second, Steinhauer is pushing, incrementally, towards the long shadow of le Carré. With some novels Steinhauer seems almost a breath away from le Carré. He isn't there yet, but he is close with 'All the Old Knives', and he is far closer than most of his peers.
Spy fiction if it is unserious deals with violence, mystery, sex and an almost pornographic, hyper-nationalism. Great spy fiction deals with history, memory, loss, ambiguity, mistakes, regret, and deception. Steinhauer has written what can best be explained as a locked room spy mystery. It is at heart an interrogation that is highlighted with various forms of flashback. It is the intersection of two lives, two loves, and one dark, shared past, finally unlocked in a Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurant.
This is a short book, but one that moves with a measured precision. This isn't a beach read. It is a book to read while you are waiting in a hospital to see if the lump is benign. A book to read while you wait for your spouse to return from a dangerous drive. It is a book that makes no easy heroes and leaves the final curtain cracked just a bit.
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee."
I've been wanting to read this book for years. Patiently it sat, right behind me, waiting. I enjoyed Philbrick's 'Mayflower' and 'Sea of Glory'. Given how much I love Moby-Dick, I'm kinda surprised it took me so long (15 years) to read this history of the Essex.
Philbrick paces this narrative well. He patches together all the major perspectives. When the story leaves gaps, he dead reckons and is able to fill the story in with similar types of accidents, aggressive whale experiences, sailors, oil, blood, starvation, and -- well -- other episodes of cannibalism. He is able to humanize the captain, the first-mate, and the people of Nantucket (while also giving serious consideration for all the other sailors; those from Nantucket, outlanders, and black sailors too). It was a quick read, and compelling.
"Joe had been explaining things in the meantime. He said it was again the beginning of the unfinished, the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable."
- O'Brien (omitted from the published novel)
After finishing Flann O'Brien's dark masterpiece of absurdity, I wanted to jam a well-chewed copy of Joyce in one pocket, a copy of Sterne in the other, push a DFW in my back left pocket, put some dark strawberry jam in my back right pocket, turn left twice, exit into my tight little garage and immediately make sweet sweet love to the nearest bicycle available. No. Not yet. She's not ready, nor is my review. I'll pick up this peach tomorrow.
So, it isn't tomorrow, but time and peaches are relative in purgatory. This is one of those books that is nearly impossible to review, but there is a space beyond impossible where letting go of this book exists. So, let's press forward shall we? The prose is amazing, funky; it floats and bursts from the page. Like Joyce and other Irish writers, O'Brien OWNs the English language (it is merely mortgaged to us mortals). Reading O'Brien is like watching one of those strange kids who can keep a soccer ball from ever hitting the ground. Gravity just doesn't matter. But let's bounce back to bikes and literature >
So, Flann O'Brien's novel seems to exist in a strange purgatory between Sterne's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman' and DFW's 'The Broom of the System'. It is full of digressions, wooden legs, bicycles, murder, policemen (obviously), footnotes*, and much much more. This is one of those novels where rules are murdered and post-modernism is both born and twisted. There are books that are written to be sold and novels written to be worshiped. Get on your knees fellow travelers and start praying.
Norton's narration is brilliant. Seriously, BRILLIANT.
*O'Brien was out DFWing DFW before DFW was born.
I adore Michael Pollan. Sometimes, however, he comes across as a bit too foodie-East Coast-hipster, but his writing and perspectives keep pulling me back. His writing all seems to contain the same germ or basic theme. Whether he is writing about food, gardening, cooking, or building a house/writing room, Pollan gravitates towards simplicity and sustainability. It is like having a quirky, Jewish Zen master show you how to build a house or cook a meal. Yes. Be one with your potato.
'A Place of My Own' is an early Pollan book where he relates his experiences building a writing shed, a small backyard 104-square-foot outbuilding where he can dream, escape, imagine and write. It is part: 'A Room of One's Own' + 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' + 'Walden' + 'Shop Class as Soulcraft'. Pollen is looking at the value of solitude, space, work, nature, etc., in a modern technological age.
Pollan is the Jenna Jameson of hipster porn. I WANT to build my own cabin on family land in Idaho. I want to buy all my food in local, Saturday neighborhood markets. I want to tramp around the woods looking for mushrooms and figure out a way to feed my family in a sustainable and healthy way EVERYDAY. But most days reality just sits on me and I grab some canned crap from Walmart, maybe get my veggies from Sprouts and Fresh and Easy (or as my wife calls it Cheap and Sleazy) and go back to my suburban tract home. Pollen gives me room to fantasize about what part of my brain wants to, but isn't totally able to do -- escape, simplify, and double down on the urban, lumbersexual hipster hiding inside of me. I can't build a small outdoor cabin in my backyard, but I can fantasize about it for a couple hours while I read Pollan in the dark. And maybe, one day, I can pick up that hammer, eat that shroom, and start BANGIN'.
An interesting memoir, partially translated by David Mitchell, and written by a 13 yo Japanese boy with autism. If you teach, live with, know someone who has autism or an autistic child this is (or at least was for me) an insightful glimpse into the struggles and perspectives of a child with autism.
Another reminder that there are multiple ways to experience the world. Too often it seems that we have boundaries and expectations about what it means to be normal. Not all of us see the dress as Blue/Black or White/Gold. Some of us can feel the dress and some of us don't see anything at all. The more tolerant and understanding we become of the diversity of people, I believe, the better the experience we have on this blue rock will be.
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