Thursday, December 1, 2016

Quick Hits on Select Lit 4

A Twelve Step Guide, Jason Bredle.  A surprisingly amusing chapbook in spite of its sobering title.

A Dog's Heart, Mikhail Bulgakov.   A stray dog that becomes human couldn't help but remind me of Kafka's "A Report to An Academy," about an ape in a similar fix.  Both stories are clever, but Bulgakov is hilarious.  I may like this even better than The Master & the Margarita, which, by the way, is mighty, mighty good.

Hinduism Made Simple, Shalu Sharma.  Despite myriad mechanical errors & awkward, if not ungrammatical constructions, this free ebook is immensely informative.  It helps dispel many of the stereotypes & mythical mystifications (or perhaps mystical mythifications) surrounding Hinduism, making the religious practices understandable to a devout agnostic such as myself.

The Roar Beneath, Donald Mangum.  I'll tell it to you straight, as comedian Stewart Lee would say, like a pear cider made from 100% pears: Don Mangum is a friend & former classmate.  He wrote such a glowing blurb for my latest collection, Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, that you can practically read my poems in the dark, so if I told you I had nothing but praise for this novella, you'd probably say I'm biased.  Well, fair enough.  Don't just take my word that Mangum is an expert craftsman who blends mystery, adventure, romance, & the minutia of everyday life on the Gulf Coast just before Hurricane Katrina with humor & intelligence.  Read C.M. Johnson's review of the book here.  Better yet, read the book & decide for yourself.

The Ogre's Wife, Ron Koertge.  I enjoyed Fever so much that I immediately leapt headfirst & headstrong into The Ogre's Wife, a collection of poems loosely concentrated--like frozen fruit juice, perhaps pear cider (see above)--on the characters, creatures, & sundry stuff of fairy tales.  If this book were a lake, enchanted or not, I'd probably have broken my fucking neck, but fortunately for me, I hadn't extended the metaphor.  Anyway, it's an enjoyable collection, but I like Fever, not to mention Geography of the Forehead & Making Love to Roget's Wife, better.

The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño.  I decided to read this novel after reading a Bolaño poem in my Visceral Realist poetry discussion group.  Well, to be honest, we're not actually Visceral Realists.  At least I'm not.  The Visceral Realist movement, if you want to call it a movement, which I do merely for convenience because I don't now what else to call it, never produced a noteworthy poet--unless you consider Bolaño a Visceral Realist, which I don't.  He's quite good, so I felt bad that I'd not read him before, but I plan to read his posthumous novel 2666 soon, or at least by the end of 2666.  Also, I'm currently reading his collected poems, however slowly, for if you want to know the truth, I'm not feeling altogether all together these days.

Swerve, Jeffrey Skinner.  I didn't like this chapbook when I first started reading it, but I began to like it, so when I finished, I gave it a second reading.   Maybe you should, too.

Ubik, Philip K. Dick. Now nobody can say I haven't read Dick.

The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff.  I first came across this book twenty odd (& how) years ago when my son was little more than a toddler.  I figured if I were going to watch the cartoons--as well as read the original A.A. Milne stories that the Disney characters are very loosely based on--I could use that experience to improve my understanding of Taoism. I can't deny that at the time I enjoyed Hoff's use of Pooh's adventure to explain Taoism.  The Taoist's easy-going, come-what-may prescription for happiness appealed to me as a single father raising a young boy.   However, rereading this book now, crusty curmudgeon that I've become, I find myself taking a more critical view.  For instance, Hoff seems to miss entirely the point of the Pooh song Cottleston Pie, whose nearly nonsensical verses better illustrate the folly of syntactical expectations & logical fallacies than the tenets of Taoism, but Hoff, albeit ironically, tries to force the lyrics to fit a Taoist belief system.  Square peg, meet round hole.  Very un-Tao, dude.

Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, trans. William Scott Wilson. After watching Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog,  I snagged Hagakure off the shelf of a small, artsy bookstore in Brooklyn.  Struck by the selfless dedication that Forest Whitaker's character displayed toward his career as a professional assassin, I'd planned to use the teachings of Master Tsunetomo as a way to rededicate my life to poetry.  Since I couldn't give up--if giving up were easy, I would have given up the ghost & his mangy spectral mutt years ago--I figured what I needed was to devote myself with even greater fervor to my art.  Sadly, instead of an illuminated path to success, I found myself constantly trying to make sense of one unrelated episode after another that usually ended in acts of extreme & senseless violence. Then, of course, there was Hagakure.

Selected Stories, Ernest Hemingway.  The reviewer placed his fingers on the keyboard.  He contemplated what he should say about the book he'd recently read.  After all, he had read many books by Hemingway in the past, not only stories, but novels, too.  The reviewer leaned back in his chair.  He remembered reading The Sun Also Rises while a freshman in Dr. Walther's literature class at college.  As a student, the reviewer had liked the novel so much that he'd read For Whom the Bell Tolls on his own during the summer break at his parents' home.  He didn't remember anything else about that summer, but he remembered sitting on the red metal glider in the backyard reading For Whom the Bell Tolls.  When he read the novel again many years later, he decided it was Hemingway's best book.

As the reviewer skimmed over what he'd written, he discovered that he'd not talked about this collection of short stories.  He'd talked about his reading experiences in his salad days.  He wondered if he used to digress to this degree, for example, when he'd written theme papers for his literature classes.  Probably not, he decided, for he'd always made good grades & had graduated with honors.  He hadn't written about Hemingway for Dr. Walther's class, but Wallace Stevens, probably the reviewer's favorite poet.  Several professors in the English Department at the university had predicted the reviewer would enjoy a successful career as a poet himself.  In the years that followed, the reviewer had enjoyed some minor success, but he felt dissatisfied with his career, if it were fair to call it a career, especially in comparison to Hemingway & Stevens.  Apparently, the two great writers didn't like each other.  Hemingway, the story goes, had once punched Wallace Stevens in the face at a party in Key West. 

Focus! the reviewer told himself angrily, annoyed again with his digressions.  After he'd typed the name of the book & its author, the reviewer realized he couldn't recall the titles of the stories other than "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" &  "Soldier's Home."  He kept his fingers on the keyboard, as if this would force a rush of titles into his memory.  He knew that some of the stories came from The Nick Adams Stories & The Snows of Kilimanjaro & Other Stories.  Still others came from additional Hemingway short story compilations.  The reviewer had enjoyed reading these collections, what he'd read, yet he didn't enjoy this recent collection as much as he had the others.  He wondered if that was why he couldn't remember many of the titles.

As he sat as his desk, he told himself to retrieve the book from his bedside table. That would mean climbing the stairs, he thought.  He was too lazy to climb the stairs.  He didn't consider himself lazy by nature.  Usually he wasn't lazy, but now he was lazy.  Recalling one of the stories was "The Revolutionist," he wrote that down before he forgot.  Then he remembered "A Very Short Story" & wrote that down, too.  There was a story about a matador.  Hell, he thought, there were lots of stories about matadors.  The stories were about matadors, he wrote, except when they weren't.  The reviewer smirked..  He liked what he'd written because it was true & it meant he wouldn't have to climb the stairs, which he really really really really really really really really really didn't want to do.

Want more?
Quick Hits on Select Lit 3
Quick Hits on Select Lit 2
Quick Hits on Select Lit
Fistful of Comments about a Few Books I Read This, Er, Last Year