Thursday, November 30, 2017

BiB 4

Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare.  The tragedy is that a simple solution--leaving Verona--could have solved the wooing lovers' woes.  Instead, they choose a more elaborate, melodramatic path.
Of course, the play depicts a different time with different customs.  While the state & church, even then, maintained their choke-hold on ruining lives, the depiction of the the two star-crossed lovers' utter stupidity obviously alludes to inbreeding among the nobles.  Call it The Aristocrats!

Love Poems of Ovid, trans. Horace Gregory.  While Peter Green's topnotch translation of The Art of Love is complete & if I understand--which is a big if, admittedly--more accurate, I've enjoyed Gregory's translation ever since I bought this slim volume for maybe half a buck at a used book store back in college. Incomplete, but its selections are enjoyable portions of all the love the law allows.

Candide, Voltaire.  If you can look past the racism, sexism, & anti-Semitism--a Herculean task given their frequency--it's quite a thoughty hoot.  What I find especially surprising is that Tony Orlando was able to translate it into a hit song, though you got to admit it's a catchy tune, the kind that gets stuck in your head like a railroad spike.

It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis.  Much has been made of this novel since the election of Trump, but the United States has been skating a fine line with fascism long before the current fuckwad took office, as evidenced by the 1935 publication date of Lewis's novel.  In fact, while the founding of the US obviously predates the formation of corporations & corpocracy (fascism), the seed of fascism is inherent in all capitalism.  I'm hardly breaking new ground by saying that this country was founded on racist, sexist, & classist principles to propagate the wealth of its new bourgeois ruling class.  Sometimes Lewis gets it right, as when he suggests that the US decrying Japan's invasion of China wasn't on moral grounds, but because Japan was infringing on American imperialism.  Yet at other times, he misses the mark by a wide margin, as when he seems to cite Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson, among the usual suspects, as model presidents.

Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler.  I like detectives hard-boiled, & few are harder or boiled-er than Marlowe with his gift for glibness, but the ethnic stereotypes & epithets that pepper the story--I guess it's supposed to make it gritty--rise to Trump-level offensive. To be fair, if Chandler's intent is to show the reader that in 1940, when the book was published, crooked cops serving corrupt politicians in a corrupt & crooked system don't care if a black guy is murdered--well, unfortunately, some things never change.

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett.  Once you've seen the movie, it's nigh impossible to read without hearing Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet & Astor delivering the lines, which is OK, since it's a classic flick & who doesn't like Bogey?  Spade's as hard-boiled as Marlowe, at least on the surface, for Hammett doesn't delve into inner monologues of any characters, which I applaud as a technique, but I enjoy Marlowe's voice--when it's not a sexist, racist rant--in Chandler's stories, so it's hard to say which style I like better for detective fiction.  Certainly, Hammett's third-person limited narration makes for easy adaptation to film, which accounts for the success of The Maltese Falcon & some of the less successful ventures in turning Chandler titles into flicks.

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut.   Although I'm quick to call Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut's greatest accomplishment, I'd not read it in probably 30 years, so maybe I was wrong?  No, it really is.

War Is a Racket, Gen. Smedley Butler.  A retired Marine general, Butler presents a plethora of evidence from War World I to support his impassioned claim that war isn't waged because of ideological differences or, as is often bandied about by today's leaders, humanitarian (ha!) concerns, but rather so private individuals can get rich--er, richer--at the expense of taxpayers & the lives of young soldiers & their families.  If you want to end war once & for all, Butler says, enact laws that prevent corporations from profiting from it.  However, he's not naive enough to believe it can be done with what we today call the military industrial complex ensconced in D.C.  Butler's pamphlet is particularly cogent today as America's duopoly pushes for more war & destruction in the name of Bucks Almighty.

Killing Hope, William Blum. This is a thoroughly researched, well-documented & richly detailed expose of how U.S. actions against perceived enemies (i.e., any person or nation not in alignment with American imperialistic goals) have killed & impoverished millions around the world.  Blum shows time & again that government's depictions of the so-called "communist menace," conveyed via an accommodating media only too happy to be a partner in the choreographed fear-mongering, were about as plausible as a bad James Bond plot.  It is difficult to recount the volume of atrocities committed in the name of American self-interests, i.e., corporate profits, without retelling this volume in its entirety.  For anyone interested in what created many of today's highly politicized concerns, such as terrorism & North Korea, this book provides answers that may shock & disturb the reader, especially those who drink the Kool-Aid that corporate media sells.

Rogue State, William Blum.  While the above focuses on the post-WW2 era through the Clinton 90s, this volume includes the Dubya years as well as a condensed discussion of many of the topics covered in Killing Hope.  Blum questions the tacit belief that many hold of America, despite myriad evidence otherwise, as a moral & ultimately good nation.  Regardless of how our leaders have lied, cheated, murdered, razed countries for their resources & committed war crimes, among a litany of other despicable & insidious acts, we are to believe their hearts were nevertheless in the right place.  Blum's list of UN resolutions that the United States alone opposed should cause any conscientious reader to question the good & wholesome USA brand marketed globally.

Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano.  Much like Blum, Galeano details the devastating effects of European & U.S. imperialism, focusing on Latin America.  Some may recall that Hugo Chavez presented a copy of this book to then-President Barack Obama, who, one may assume by his continuation of the imperialistic policies Galeano decries, didn't bother reading it.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino.  It's not so much a novel as an imaginative collection of prose poems about cities, real or unreal, as described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.  It's not the best book I've read this year, but it's not the worst either.  As with much Dickens, it's a far, far better thing to have read than to read.

Call of Cthulhu & Other Weird Stories, H.P. Lovecraft.  Ghastly supernatural beings & purple prose!  The horror!  The horror!

No Away, John Repp.  No, not Johnny Depp, but a "widely published poet, fiction writer, essayist, & book critic," as well as a past winner of the Devins Award in Poetry & the Lyre Prize, Repp has his moments, though in his stabs at minimalism, Repp seems to put forth "minimal" effort.  For instance, "Good" reads in its entirety: "The world is good / at eating us gone."  For my tastes, that's not a complete poem, but an opening line or lines.  I've not read his other work & perhaps this chappie's a poor representative, but, point is, it's not my wish to beat up on Repp.  I mean, it's not as if he's Johnny Depp making those crappy Tim Burton Mad Hatter flicks.

Howl's Moving Castle, Diane Wynne Jones.  While I'm a huge Miyazaki fan, I now understand why some critics were disappointed with his adaptation, which, outside of the basic plot premise & characters--actually, just the names of characters--shares few resemblances with the novel.  I'm not saying that movie's not worth watching, for Miyazaki is, after all, Miyazaki, but it's a completely different story.  I hate to say it, but the punchline to the old joke about two billy goats eating reels of film sums up my feelings: The movie's good, but the book was better.

Medicus, Ruth Downie.  I'm not sure what to make of a detective series set in Roman times.  It's hard to say how accurately Downie recreates Roman life--I'm hardly knowledgeable enough of Roman life to critique--but since she cautions readers in an afterword not to look to her fiction for authenticity, it's probably fair to conclude she takes poetic license.   Fair or foul, I can't help remembering shows like Mary Tyler Moore or Bob Newhart.  Both, outside of opening montages & scattered handfuls of generic references about Minneapolis or Chicago respectively, could have easily taken place in NYC or LA, where all sitcoms up til then took place.  That aside, Downie has a flair for the kind of dry wit associated with the detective genre, which helps make Medicus enjoyable.

A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle. Remember what I just said about dry wit in detective fiction?  You'll find little of that here. Outside of how foolish others look relative to Holmes, the primary amusement lies in Holmes unraveling a baffling mystery.  I've watched every episode of Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Holmes in the PBS series, for what that's worth, so Doyle's novel's pretty much what I expected, save for the abrupt plot shift to the western United States & Mormon country, which I'll admit I didn't see coming.

A Little History of Philosophy, Nigel Warburton.  In a way, Warburton's survey of Western philosophy is an updated  Reader's Digest edition of Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy, which is shit, & Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, which is not.  Warburton usually does a nice job of summarizing & making, like Russell, philosophical concepts accessible, presenting them, at times, in a fresh light.  However, like Durant, he can't stop himself from allowing his personal politics to color his depictions, but who am I to talk?

The World As Will & Idea, Vol 1, Arthur Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer begins by cautioning readers not to bother reading this volume if they haven't yet read his previous treatise.  Until then, they can decorate their bookshelves with it or give it to a lady friend to adorn her coffee table.  As if.  Briefly, since the world is comprised of many elements that we can't perceive, the mind constructs an idea of the world from what we can perceive, so the world as idea, or representation, is phenomena.  Our will is that basic impulse that gives us our will to live, & life is a reflection of the will.  Through will, we pursue things that make us, if not happy, then content.  Unfortunately, we can never truly be satisfied, which is especially true while reading Schopenhauer, whose primary impulse is toward self-aggrandizing self-promotion, as evidenced by the footnote whose sole purpose is to alert readers that Goethe has read the aforementioned treatise that I, you may infer, blew off.  Many of Schopenhauer's beliefs about human nature are supported by stereotypes & hasty generalizations, such as Spaniards are hot-blooded & the true genius, i.e., the artist, is bad at math.  Whatever.  Maybe Lenny Bruce can make that kind of shtick work, but Schopenhauer's not funny in the least. 

Paradise Lost, John Milton.  According to Milton, Eve lacks skills as a negotiator.  Why else would she trade Eden & all that implies to the serpent--which most biblical scholars nowadays believe to be a dinosaur (voiced by Phil Silvers)--for an apple?  A deliciously sweet & crunchy apple maybe, but even Jack of beanstalk fame struck a better deal, viz. a cow for magic beans.  After Adam, letting the little head do the thinking for the big one, bites the apple & all that implies, he & Eve fuck in every sundry position like the hairy beasts themselves, which are also fucking, making paradise look a bit like a prehistoric Woodstock until God tosses the lot of creation out.  This is why we suffer. 

Paradise Regained, John Milton.  Adam & Eve form an unholy alliance with Satan, who leads a successful military coup over the Kingdom of Heaven's troops occupying Eden.  Starring Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, & Lana Turner.

The Essential D.G. Jones, D.G. Jones.  An enjoyable, lyrical selection of the poet's work, it may possibly be my favorite of those poetry books I read this year.

More reviews are easy as  one, two, three.