Saturday, January 29, 2011

I love the American low-life

Biking to the campus post office Monday I crashed into a skateboarder. I was listening to Gang of Four on my headphones real loud and didn't know what hit me. I yowled, ejected myself and rolled across the path. He didn't lose his feet and was there to pick me up (but not dust me off). The next morning before my first day of work I opened the fridge and saw a gnat circling my Caesar salad kit and tried to backhand it. Punnet of blueberries exploded across the linoleum. To be safe, I spent the rest of the week listening to Destroyer's new album. My only complaint is that at fifty minutes it's too short! Watched The Asphalt Jungle last night for probably the fifth time. I love the American low-life. His stomach hemorrhaging, Sterling Hayden, pulls his iv out and stumbles from the small town doctor's house and into the night. As the car peals out, the doctor says, “He won't get very far that's for sure. He hasn't got enough blood left in him to keep a chicken alive!”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mix I made for the greats

(layout by the acclaimed luke fraser)

Been meaning to blog for awhile and determined to do it well. Carla, Jesse, two greats who inspire reasons to live — not that I needed one, but if I did, I would now have one and it's them — are getting married this weekend and I want to see them so bad! I hope the course of events in my life that follows allows this to happen sooner rather than later. If I counted up all the heart-stopping moments I've had with them (The Mother and the Whore, Malkmus, to name but two) then the beat of my heart would never stop, which is essentially the eternal idea.
Have you seen the Angela Carter-esque Black Swan? Well you should, why, because it's good. Barbara Hershey does a great Piper Laurie in Carrie and Natalie Portman does a great Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion. I liked True Grit too, heckuva film and I aspire towards Matt Damon's look.
I'm manning the front desk of Beaver Street Elementary School in case you walk in and see me there in my cranberry hoodie looking bewildered. It's the temporary home of the Liberal Arts Building, while they remove asbestos and install sprinkler heads in the actual building. I was asked to test the water pressure of the drinking fountains the other day and came back with an unnecessarily-descriptive full report.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Year in Reading

I read more than usual this year because I was out of work for most of it. Also, it occurs to me that the paucity of books by women probably has something to do with my inability in understanding them. I'd say the top 17 are among the finest books I've read and it's not until 34 that I start pulling my hair out. In school I read a shitload of Angela Carter, fell in love with her despite her many unnerving qualities. Julian Barnes I learned to despise. Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway is astonishing particularly when there's an expert telling you what you've just read. Carter's Shadowdance and The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman are brilliant. I would not hesitate recommending those to anyone, but I would have them brace themselves.

Number in brackets are in order of appreciation. Little blurb on each below.

A Fan's Notes by Fred Exley (8)
Palimpsest by Gore Vidal (23)
Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane (13)
Speak, Memory by Nabokov (24)
Pale Fire by Nabokov (aborted)
Bushwhacked Piano by McGuane
Anna Karenina by Tolstoy (aborted)
Airships by Barry Hannah (9)
Emerald Blue by Gerald Murnane (29)
Gringos by Charles Portis (10)
Robert Lowell by Ian Hamilton (27)
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (34)
The Feud by Thomas Berger (12)
Wise Blood by Flannery O Connor (11)
Eustace Chisholm and the Works by James Purdy (5)
Vital Parts by Thomas Berger (1)
Treasure Island by RL Stevenson (32)
Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O Connor (7)
Nobody's Angel by McGuane (31)
Seize the Day by Bellow (35)
A Separate Peace by John Knowles (26)
Nothing but Blue skies by McGuane (19)
Watchmen by Alan Moore (31)
Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow (2)
Americana by Don Delillo (37)
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (21)
Third Policeman by Flann O' Brien (25)
Life of Johnson by Boswell (33)
Glory by Nabokov (36)
Being Invisible by Berger (14)
Going Places by Leonard Michaels (6)
Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (15)
Bat out of Hell by Barry Hannah (20)
Who is afraid of Teddy Villanova by Thomas Berger (17)
Off to the side by Jim Harrison (24)
Mysteries by Knut Hamsum (13)
Tennis Handsome by Barry Hannah (2)
Best Friends by Berger (28)
Bushwhacked Piano by McGuane
Kangaroo by DH Lawrence (16)
Driving on the Rim by McGuane (18)
Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham (30)
Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark (22)

A Fan's Notes by Fred Exley
Not so much a shaggy dog story as a story about a shaggy dog, or a guy whose beard shares the same coloring as a sheepdog. Deserves a place alongside On the Road or whatever the establishment is calling the Great American Novel these days.

Palimpsest by Gore Vidal
Sublime memoir from someone who was in the moment in the 20th century. There's a reason Hollywood makes Forrest Gump instead of Palimpsest: no class.

Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane
McGuane does Chekhov; excellent story collection from a few years back.

Speak, Memory by Nabokov
I recall this memoir is great on memory, but I forget the specifics.

Pale Fire by Nabokov (aborted)
Second attempt and probably last at this irritating ridiculous spectacle.

Bushwhacked Piano by McGuane
I usually reach for the Bushwhacked Piano after a bad reading experience. It's my favorite novel and I read it once a year. This year I read it twice.

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy (aborted)
Only read half due to personal trauma.

Airships by Barry Hannah
I read Barry for the pure pleasures of his wild man prose, or as Thomas McGuane once put it, 'the inventions of his moon-landing English." Short stories. See also Tennis Handsome.

Emerald Blue by Gerald Murnane
Murnane's a bit cerebral and at the time, I was in a mental fog, so the circumstances weren't great, but much to admire here.

Gringos by Charles Portis
Aw, one of my heroes. Once the snow melts I'd like to get down and see True Grit. Mind boggles as to what kind of movie would be made of this. Archaeologist/ bounty hunter in Mexico, not far from the US border, but far enough to be in the jungle surrounded by a ragtag bunch of eccentric ragamuffins: hippies, UFO chasers and others, all likely wanted for something. Did I say it was hilarious?

Robert Lowell by Ian Hamilton
Grueling, but I got through it and well worth the gruel all things considered.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
Earlier this year, I wrote, “she writes well on grief, but there’s almost an overdose of Lorrie going on here. All the characters make Lorrie Moore jokes even the Arab. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld playing every character on Heroes or something.”

The Feud by Thomas Berger
Slapstick perfection.

Wise Blood by Flannery O Connor
There are scenes in this novel that are more realized in my mind than scenes from forties' noirs.

Eustace Chisholm and the Works by James Purdy
Sticky malevolent hustling in NYC slums, so poetic your heart stops. Really hard to believe Purdy will go there but he does. Angela Carter tries to go there and usually fails miserably. Will I read it a second time? I do not know if I will.

Vital Parts by Berger
Part three of Berger's brilliant Reinhart novels about a lovable/laughable overweight schlub, imagine a cross between Larry David and his friend Jeff. This time out he's embroiled in a cryogenics scheme with a playboy highschool buddy who was, by Reinhart's account, an overwhelming dildo in high school and Reinhart tells it straight, so you believe him. Reinhart needs a break in this life, but even that he might screw up. Cryogenics, really Reinhart? Loaned it to my sister-in-law Pam who enjoyed it for about five seconds.

Treasure Island by RL Stevenson
I liked it, but whatever, I was on an island at the time.

Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O' Connor
Sounds cliched, but without Flannery, American literature would not be what it is. Robert Lowell was convinced she was a saint. She died at my age. This came out posthumously and it's incredible.

Nobody's Angel by McGuane
Fascinates me for not being among his best. Written during a turbulent time in his life.

Seize the Day by Bellow
Disconcertingly stagey, I basically hated it.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
One tender book. Gore proclaimed it profound on adolescent boy-lust. Just nod your head, kid.

Nothing but Blue Skies by McGuane
Contains my favorite scene in a novel involving cajun spices. And who could forget the barn party?

Watchmen by Alan Moore
Certainly impressive, I suppose.

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
My two favorite novels of the year concern enormous fat guys.

Americana by Don Delillo
Don should have stopped this after fifty perfect pages. Turns into X Files conspiracy thriller about the secret patterns of the number of holes in things. A pile of horseshit.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
Crafted to within an inch of its life and tighter than a Jerry Lawler headlock. This one kind of got the best of me. There's really nothing quite like it however.

Third Policeman by Flann O' Brien
Beyond criticism really. I desperately want to have a porter at the bar with him, but I can't because he's dead (highest compliment).

Life of Johnson by Boswell
I was hoping to read Johnson's dictionary as well as Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis, but I only read the Boswell, which I was so immersed in it at the Rose Garden this summer waiting for Tim to pick me up, I made him wait fifteen minutes, which is horrible, I know. The book is good, but not something to dick your friends over for.

Glory by Nabokov
The eighth chapter I remember being good, the first chapter is a close second. Couldn't tell you what's in-between other than an amusing comment regarding toothpaste and a noirish altercation at drunken gunpoint. This novel is an arrogant disaster.

Being Invisible by Thomas Berger
Very funny. Only flaw really is an excessive use of the word chagrin.

Going Places by Leonard Michaels
I like H's description of Leonard sitting on your chest while you're reading it. That said, it's orgiastic stuff, which possibly makes it even weirder.

Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
What does one say about this Great L.A. Novel? You don't say anything. You shut your stinking trap.

Who is afraid of Teddy Villanova? by Thomas Berger
A neo-noir from 77 that will never be caught up with. In terms of going whole-hog with miraculous language, this is a tour de force. Angela Carter's Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman is also one and also a drug novel, which this may be too.

Off to the side by Jim Harrison
Wise memoir. Jim has a ranch on the Arizona/Mexican border, but he does not accept drop-ins. There's an essay on flunking grad school and his aversion to linguistics. I was signed up for linguistics at the time and promptly dropped it. Thanks Jim.

Mysteries by Knut Hamsun
Brilliant variation on the stranger in a small town theme. This fellow wears a yellow suit and exhibits fantastic eccentricities. Recalls original thinkers such as the nihilist in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, but way weirder.

Tennis Handsome by Barry Hannah
In my workshop we were asked to bring in a piece of fiction. This is what I brought and this is what I said: “What I love most about reading Hannah is you don't know where his next sentence will take you. He uses non sequiturs that have their own weird logic. His prose style is really musical and the compression in his sentences makes even a relatively short novel like this one, quite dense. We were first introduced to The Tennis Handsome in a short story called Return to Return that was included in 1978's Airships. French Edward is the Tennis Handsome, a golden ale locked manchild sculpturally blessed like Michelangelo's David whose immortal grace on the tennis court hypnotizes a nation into a bunch of droolers fixated on the TV. French is the toast, accidental pun, of Vicksburg, Mississippi and there haven't been many of those. We also get French's filthy manager Baby Levaster, Dr. Word, his horny old demented bi-curious coach and Vietnam vet Bobby Smith, but Bobby doesn't appear until later. The Tennis Handsome has a non-linear form, sixteen chapters flashing forward and back over a 40 year-period, taking in a couple of wars, but mainly documenting these bizarre characters orbiting around French Edward.” My teacher kindly informed me afterwards that Barry had once thrown a knife at her head.

Best Friends by Thomas Berger
A cataclysmic turn-of-events to keep you on the edge-of-your-seat and in an entertaining panic, just the way you like to sweat your literary aerobics.

Bushwhacked Piano by McGuane
Reread this for a personal essay I was writing in Lit Studies. As good as ever!

Kangaroo by DH Lawrence
I loved the story of RL Somers' self-administered exile to the obscure coast of New South Wales and his fear of sodomy that restricted him from being “mates” with the homoerotic ex-serviceman of the RSL.

Driving on the Rim by McGuane
"It's been a wonderful life. I wish I understood it." I really need to get in touch with him as his last two books have been about preparing to die and if this is his last novel, then a load-bearing wall I require for my strength will have tumbled. This one has a great scene about serving hot dogs in impromptu fashion.

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
Good, but did I miss something that compelled SJ Perelman to call it one of only two successful comic novels written in his era?

Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
This book was amazing. I can see the influence on Angela Carter, who's a similar tough-minded broad (pardon the slur ladies; it's my forties gumshoe parlance).