Saturday, September 2, 2017

BiB 3

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood.  I subscribe to the theory that the more something's hyped, the more it's to be avoided. With that in mind, given the amount of hype this novel's generated over the years, including its recent miniseries adaptation on Hulu--which, for the record, I don't subscribe to--The Handmaid's Tale is surprisingly good.  If you ask me, the last chapter creates unnecessary problems in the narrative, yet Atwood proves, as usual, a worthwhile read.

Animal Farm, George Orwell.  Orwell demonstrates definitively that animals are really no better than humans in this satiric send-up of PETA.  For a further discussion of satire, click here.

Beloved, Toni Morrison.  A suspenseful, richly woven story, though perhaps it moves a bit too slowly & runs a tad too long, Beloved is, I'm ashamed to say, only the second Morrison novel I've read. Apparently, I can't urge myself enough to read her more often.

The Waves, Virginia Woolf.   I've read a half dozen Woolf novels, most of them two or three times--she's that good--but The Waves is kind of, to be kind, dull, if not indeed very dull. I wouldn't say it lacks imagination, but it's lacking in imagery for roughly the first 2/3 of the book.   While there are moments of Woolf's brilliance, too much of the narration focuses, if that's the right word, on disjointed, abstract, introspective, internal monologues, many of which concern aggrandized visions of the future conveyed via monotonous litanies of "wills" & "shalls" (but absolutely no "gonnas," puh-leze, as these people are quite posh, not your common street variety riff-raff).  Nevertheless, I kept reading like a religious devotee expecting my reward at the end.

Persuasion, Jane Austen.  Not Austen's best--I've read most of her novels--but I enjoy the diction of England's Regency period, so I decided to try another Austen, as in . . .

How to Do Things with Words, J.L. Austin.  While the title suggests that this is a how-to book on clever & creative ways to use words, it's actually a collection of the author's Harvard lectures, in which Austin delves at length into the way that words are used, i.e., how words function in sentences.  If you're interested in philosophical probing of the often pedantic world of sentence diagramming, by all means, read the hell out of this fucker.

Free Air, Sinclair Lewis.  In my recent run on dystopian novels, I mistakenly--while looking over the menu at a Mexican restaurant--downloaded Free Air, confusing it with Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, in which fascists take over the USA.  Since the first chapter of Free Air depicts tire tracks leaving swastikas in the dirt, I didn't catch my error until the middle of the second chapter, & by then, the entrees had arrived, so much as with my choice of Zacatecas, I lived with my mistake. Anyway, Free Air's a light but amusing story about class & culture shock on a great American road trip. Think On the Road set in the 1910s, only well-written.

The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx & Fredrich Engels.  I probably hadn't read Marx's Manifesto since college, but with "socialism" bandied about these days in all manner of dilution & perversion, I thought I'd give it a quick read.  It's basically a pamphlet that you can read in a single sitting--then read it again, for it's packed with information.  I'd forgotten the section that deals with socialism's meaning being usurped even back in Marx's day, though Marx makes it clear that socialism means the elimination of private property.  Thus, former Daily Show host John Stewart--who once identified himself as a socialist who doesn't believe in collective ownership--is, in other words, not a socialist.  Indeed, Stewart's even less of a socialist than Bernie Sanders, who despite his self-designation & proposals for sweeping domestic change, still supports American imperialism & the spread of neoliberal values through various military & economic means.  Both he & Stewart are, among other things, reformists in the mode of, if I want to be extraordinarily generous, FDR, also not a socialist. The Daily Show, on another occasion, re: the Occupy Wall St. protests, suggested private & personal property are one & the same.  While they passed this off as "humor," it is, unfortunately, a common misconception shared by running dog lackeys & others too lazy to Google the terms, much less read a 100 page pamphlet.  As a rule of thumb, personal property consists of things you can use yourself, without help, whereas private property requires the labor of others to make use of.  Conflating the two terms is a way to propagate fear that socialists will, say, take away your personal computer & make you go to the public library & stand in long lines for your turn on the state computer, a refurbished Dell with 2 MB memory--& just think about how horrible it will be when you'll have to stand in the same long line to use the community toothbrush, comrade!  The thing is, even in Marx's time, 90% of private property was already owned by the 1%, so capitalism provides just the illusion that private property is available for acquisition by the masses.   Some things never change unless you change them

The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser.  I'd first read The Faerie Queene as an undergraduate, so when I saw it named in an online list of the most difficult books to read, my initial reaction was, "It's about knights & dragons & stuff.  How difficult can it be?"  To be fair, I'd read only Book I in college, & while I'll admit the length of the entire work is intimidating--just be glad Spenser didn't finish it--it still isn't difficult unless you find such allegories as battling the seven daily--er, that is, deadly--sins hard to understand, even with Spenser providing a synopsis before each canto.  If anything, it's kind of dull after a while, what with all its stale morality.

Raw Heaven, Molly Peacock.  After reading The Faerie Queene, I can only take so much rhyming before I'm calling on Dr. Bombay to come right away to cure the barbaric strain I've contracted, but Peacock tosses an assortment of sight & slant rhymes into the mix, so the poems--which employ a conversational, if not light tone-- are less predictable than much rhyming verse, especially the bad kind, tends to be, such as Robert Creeley's "A Wicker Basket."

The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde.  Wilde's wildest work.  Wickedly witty.

Wicked, Gregory Maguire.  An old friend--well, I shouldn't say that since she's much younger than I am--used to love Wicked, though it was probably the musical more than the novel, given how she'd break into a cappella renditions of "Popular" without provocation.   I wouldn't call this light reading--it's a huge tome with actually something to say about the perception of evil--but for an (harrumph) intellectual such as myself, I felt I was wasting my time & mind when I could have been nose-diving into . . .

Lobotomy, Dee Dee Ramone. Dee Dee (aka Douglas Colvin) is all over the place in this, um, autobiography, I said questioningly, as he cretin hops & blitzkrieg bops from the fifties & sixties in Berlin to New York in the seventies & the end of the century almost randomly, but, listen, I don't care.  It's still fun for Ramones fans & anyone with nothing to do & nowhere to go & interested in the punk rock scene.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson.  Considering the way the story's commonly portrayed in popular culture, you'd expect to find a madman tearing through London like Jack-the-Ripper on every page, but this novella depicts nonesuch violent scenes, save those few conveyed after the fact via hearsay & confession.  However, Stevenson deftly shows Hyde's distinct lack of manners, which, I guess, some may view as monstrous behavior.

On Poets & Others, Octavio Paz.  Revelations about Soviet labor camps, precipitated in part by Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, created a litmus test by which Paz judged the political character of all leftists.  Those like Breton and Paz himself who denounced the Soviet labor camps are the good guys, while Neruda, Sartre, Aragon & others who didn't acknowledge, much less condemn, the labor camps--since they believed in the ultimate cause of socialism & felt that Western media was already rampant with anti-Soviet propaganda--were tagged as hypocrites & worse.  Paz seems to interject the artist's position on the labor camps as part of his literary criticism. For instance, Paz held Sartre in contempt as a philosopher, writer &, it would seem, a human being, based on the latter's position that many Western societies employ practices just as heinous, yet receive little attention in the press.  If you consider Michelle Alexander's take on America's prison system in The New Jim Crow (see below), Sartre's point (though he, too, later renounced the Soviet practice) seems particularly apt.

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander.  Alexander presents a convincingly detailed analysis to show how a racially biased system of incarceration in America is used to create a subclass of citizens. While the second half seems a bit repetitive & less focused & I may differ here & there--well, when don't I--it is an extraordinary book & highly recommended.

Sometimes I Call Old Lovers, Bernadette Savage.  Some of the poems in this chapbook seem less finished than others, but my general impression is positive.  I especially like "Photo Album."

The Art of the Poetic Line, James Longenbach.   Even if he gets a bit repetitive, which for a book of this length is no mean feat--although it is an unkind criticism--Longenbach provides excellent analysis of the function of lines & line breaks.  I found the discussion of parsed & annotated lines, citing examples from William Carlos Williams & Marianne Moore, particularly engaging.

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett.  In case you didn't know, I've played the title role in my community theater presentation of Beckett's masterpiece for the past Godot knows how many years. Tray bong.  Tray tray tray bong.

Want more reviews?  Click here & here.

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