Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The 2 Greatest Words In The English Language: Book Reviews!

I read like most Americans eat—that is, a whole lot. And so here are some reviews of what I've been mentally chewing and digesting and pooping lately.

A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, by Eudora Welty

"She's always had anything in the world she wanted and then she'd throw it away. Papa-Daddy gave her this gorgeous Add-a-Pearl necklace when she was eight years old and she threw it away playing baseball when she was nine, with only two pearls."
—Eudora Welty, from "Why I Work at the P.O."

I had read that a favorite author of mine (David Foster Wallace) considered Welty's short story "Why I Work at the P.O." to be worth reading, and rather than sit down and read the entire story right there in the bookstore like a cheap bastard, I bought this collection. Review: I started with "The P.O." and found it compelling and charming and proceeded from the beginning and then stopped reading halfway through the book because other than "Why I Work at the P.O." I didn't give a shit about anything I read, and I can't believe no editors ever caught and tried to fix Eudora Welty's distracting overuse of similes and metaphors that don't even pack that much poetic punch, like a writer who uses too many similes and metaphors in her writings. 

The Brontes: Selected Poems, edited by Juliet Barker

"There should be no despair for you
While nightly stars are burning,
While the evening pours its silent dew
And sunshine gilds the morning.

There should be no despair, though tears
May flow down like a river:
Are not the best beloved of years
Around your heart forever?"
—Emily Bronte, from "Sympathy"

I borrowed this book from the woman I've been dating, because I enjoyed some poems by Emily Bronte that I read on a Poetry App I downloaded on my phone. The story of the Bronte siblings is truly tragic, and they were all quite capable writers, but my reader's heart felt the fairest and most recognizable poetic winds were blown from the Emily direction. That broad could really write.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" and Other Stories, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?"
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Speaking of broads who could write! The titular story in this collection is now one of my favorite short stories I've ever read—I who love a good mindfuck. The whole book has a wonderful and easy flow to the reading, with a sort of Ayn Randian aspect to the melodramatization of the antagonists, which I was fine with, even though, as a man, I was usually the antagonist. Which I think speaks to the quality and style of the writing itself. If there's an afterlife and I get to meet Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I'll probably be like, "Yellow Wallpaper—fuck yeah!"

The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran

"For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, so shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth."
—Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet

The third title in the triumvirate of books I've read so far that were given to me for Christmas by the woman I've been dating, I was quite impressed by this book. I celebrate literature that can transcend genres, and Gibran's The Prophet is at once a work of Theology, Philosophy, Prose, and Poetry. Additionally, it felt to me like a healthy thing to have let Gibran's unusual thought-waters crash into the dry continent of my own philosophy. Bonus points for the unintentional comedy of the way all the chapters are set up. "And then a woman holding a book said, 'Prophet, tell us about the next book...'" 

Detective Made Easy, by John Swartzwelder

"I know scientists theorize that all of the ideas in the universe, including both political opinions and all three movie ideas, were thought of in the first five seconds after the universe was created."
—John Swartzwelder, from Detective Made Easy

The most recent of comedy legend John Swartzwelder's ongoing, self-published sci-fi/humor series about blissfully inept detective Frank Burly (and Burly's metaphysical misadventures), Detective Made Easy was once again a work of comedic wizardry on Swartzwelder's part. To me, his books are so funny they are a combination of a joy to read and an abdominal workout.

Hawaii, by James Michener

"Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others. It was a mighty ocean, resting uneasily to the east of the largest continent, a restless ever-changing, gigantic body of water that would later be described as pacific."
—James Michener, from Hawaii

A fellow avid reader had previously recommended Michener's Alaska to me, which I then chewed through greedily, so I bought this book as a non-contiguous sister to Alaska and because I'd read somewhere that it was one of the best offerings from James Michener's enormously prolific oeuvre. And once again, I really enjoyed my trip through Michener's slick pages. The brightness of his idea of creating breathing biographies of geographical places is matched perfectly by the same author's own talents in pulling that idea off in a way that produces such fascinating literature. And bonus points for the fact that both Alaska and Hawaii feature scenes where grown men have sex with young teenage girls.

Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, by Hunter S. Thompson

"...fuck the tourists, dead-end the highway, zone the greedheads out of existence, and in general create a town where people could live like human beings, instead of slaves to some bogus sense of Progress that is driving us all mad."
—Hunter S. Thompson, from "The Battle of Aspen: Freak Power in the Rockies"

I love Hunter S. Thompson's nonfiction, and I had never read this collection, so bing-bang-boom, I've now read it. It turns out I had read many of the articles before (I suggest reading Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt instead of this book), but I also have to admit that I enjoyed the interstitial correspondence between Thompson and Rolling Stone editor Yawn Wenner.

The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer

"On the other hand, he sure didn't like it in Reform School. His dream when he came out, he wrote, was to be a mobster and push people around."
—Norman Mailer, from The Executioner's Song

I bought this book cheap at a used-books store because I'd enjoyed Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (besides what might be the worst ending in the history of the written word), so I bought this book because the cover said the manuscript had won the Pulitzer Prize, and because the back description made it sound like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which book I fuckin' loved, as well as the fact that I was intrigued by what exactly "the executioner's song" signified. Review: Although Mailer did a fine job of presenting the story of executed murderer Gary Gilmore's life, times, and crimes, this book fell short of the quality of In Cold Blood. And by the way, in another bewilderingly disappointing ending, it turns out the lyrics quoted in the book that might represent "the executioner's song" are from a screenplay Mailer wrote. A thousand pages to read some lyrics from one of his fuckin' screenplays.

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon

"Things did not delay in turning curious. If one object behind her discovery of what she was to label the Tristero System or often only The Tristero (as if it might be something's secret title) were to bring to an end her encapsulation in her tower, then that night's infidelity with Metzger would logically be the starting point for it; logically."
—Thomas Pynchon, from The Crying of Lot 49

This book is brilliantly written and all, and clearly Thomas Pynchon is a genius of sorts, but it seems to me like he should have used some of that blistering intelligence to get me to actually care about what was happening in this book. There were some laughs and some utterly beautiful and unique pulses of thought and language, but My God did I not give a fuck about anything that was happening.

(*Several people have voiced concern, so I wanted to clarify here at the end that when I refer to women as "broads" it is short for "a broad spectrum of qualities I admire.")

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life Is Music

Our bosomy Earth paints art in my heart . . .
Shocks a public flair into my pubic hair . . .
Infects me with a very pleasing disease.

Until this bosom and I should part,
when I no longer have a Here,
I shall see cathedrals when I see trees

And streams and plants and soil.
(The Earth is worth her weight in gold,
And we have already inherited it.)

I first burst forth when her surface ceased to boil,
And both of us are older than the word old:
I from the chain of life, she chained to an oval orbit.

We are both wizards in our prisons.
She, locked in the heavens, dances,
And locked within her grasp I learn her dancing magic.

On every level, visions and visions and visions:
Micro and macro in swinging-string trances.
I can't stop saying it: Life is music!