Monday, August 15, 2016

Quick Hits on Select Lit 3

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler. Well told story, but the ending seems rushed & unsatisfying. I guess Chandler had a deadline to meet, not to mention rent to pay.

The Stranger, Albert Camus.  I like The Stranger better than The Fall, which I found artsy & pretentious, yet less than Marcel loved his mother. I keep telling myself that I need to read The Myth of Sisyphus to get a feel for Camus’s nonfiction, but I avoid it, for whatever reason, like The Plague.

Daisy Miller, Henry James. For me, James is escapist literature. A story about well-to-do Americans hobnobbing with the creme de la creme of European society is, from my perspective, as farfetched as busty magical girls in frilly dresses flying heavily armored unicorns into outer space to protect the planet from giant mechanized invaders from the darkest recesses of the cosmos. Is a subconscious desire to be "amongst them" (the rich shits, not the giant robots) possibly the reason I enjoy tucking into a James book from time to time? Fuck if I know, though the ending of this particular novella seemed like an easy out for the author, who perhaps tired of his own stuffy characters.

The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford.  An uneven collection--actually, it's 138 pages, so I guess it's even--Stafford wrote more than a few amazing poems.  You can read one of my favorites, "At the Bomb Testing Site," by clicking here.

Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin.  I'm sorry.  I tried to read this, but I couldn't finish it.  Or to put it simply:  I'm sorry I tried to read this.

Why Does the World Exist? Jim Holt. I’d hoped for a more scientific answer to the question of what conditions existed prior to the Big Bang. If nothingness preceded the existence of the universe, how is possible for something to come from nothing? If chaos existed prior to the universe, exactly where did that chaos–those unassembled atomic/subatomic structures that would eventually come together to form our universe–exist if the universe itself didn’t yet exist? (I don’t know where it existed, to paraphrase former veep Al Gore from an episode of Futurama, but I know where it didn’t exist: the universe.)  Since scientists apparently don’t know, Holt spends the better part of his book in metaphysical contemplation, recounting conversations & interviews with personages from literature, philosophy, & science trying to crack open--if not crack, then pry--the old philosophical chestnut, Why is there something instead of nothing? Fortunately, I enjoy metaphysics. I find it stimulating to seek answers to questions that are more than likely unknowable, for as they say at gift-giving occasions, it’s the thought that counts. Yes, in case your wondering, this book was a gift–a very thoughtful one at that.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston. Some rough edges, some disturbing passages, but still & all, an interesting, enjoyable read, well worth your time, whatever you're doing now, whoever you are, yes, by god, you: read it!

Trout Fishing in America, Richard Brautigan.  In this loosely constructed narrative, Brautigan employs a plethora of humorous & unexpected metaphors & similes to relate the story of Trout Fishing in America, which is not merely a way of life, but a life-form itself.  I see Trout Fishing in America as more a poem than a novel, more poetic even than Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, Brautigan’s book of lineated free verse. Though it too is an enjoyable read, Brautigan seems to let a preconceived, perhaps ill-conceived, definition of poetry stifle his wonderfully bizarre imagination at times. For the most part, I found Trout Fishing in America, which had set around on my shelves since high school, immensely rewarding.  Hell, I may re-read it yet again.

Fever, Ron Koertge.  In "Since You Asked," Koertge describes his style as "conversational, or maybe loquacious / like someone trying to pledge a good sorority, someone / who can't stop talking about her stuffed animals."  He's not, as he admits later in the poem, one of those "people who can lean into a sonnet with their stethoscopes," who "count perfect iambs" & "think deep / thoughts while snow . . . collects on the brims of their somber hats."  Instead, he says, he's "long-winded" & "go[es] / on like one of those blue highways through Montana with / an occasional joke or simile like a roadside attraction."  Yeah, I can see that.  He's also a pleasure to read.

This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein. Picking up where The Shock Doctrine left off, Klein makes a strong case that neoliberalism not only lies at the root of inequality, but also at the core of environmental degradation.  Rather than depending on white coats in laboratories to invent miracles--the questionable science proposed thus far may cause more danger than good--Klein believes the way to repair this ailing planet is to change the economic system from one that promotes greed to a more egalitarian one, for as long as profits are valued more than the earth itself--more than life--the destruction of the planet will continue. While the topic is bleak, as Klein herself admits, she manages to provide a glimmer of hope by citing numerous examples of people taking action against carbon-emitting assholes & winning.

The Metamorphosis & Other Stories, Franz Kafka.  Thanks to years of therapy, I may not always grasp the seemingly unending depths of the spiraling psychological dramas that Kafka's characters commonly convey, but what can I say that hasn't already been said about Kafka?

Reparation, Roy Bentley.  An interesting group of poems about the Vietnam War from a soldier’s viewpoint, published by Pudding House, which also published my two chapbooks, Here's How & Greatest Hits, neither of which is available now that Pudding House has apparently & unfortunately gone out of business.  You can find most of the poems in my chappies in my two full-length collections, Nearing Narcoma & Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, available for purchase from the publishers, as well as from Amazon & other book dealers.  If your local bookstore doesn't carry them, as often is the case with poetry collections, ask if they'll order a copy for you. If, on the other hand, you'd like either chappy--maybe both--it's possible for you to buy directly from me via this blog.  Just send me a message in the comment section so that we can make the necessary arrangements. (I should be clear that I'm talking about selling my chapbooks.  I'm not actively trying to sell my copy of  Bentley's Reparation, a fine book in its own right, though I'll listen to offers.) 

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