28 September 2007

Some Fall Books from the NY Review, and a Return to Summer via the Seattle Times

One of the stated purposes of this journal was to talk about things that I'm thinking about reading. I seldom remember to include this. Thanks to Dan for a copy of The New York Review of Books, September 27 2007, for the inspiration to make this list.

Inside the front cover is a two-page ad by the University of Chicago Press entitled "Fall Books." Among the books featured, I'm interested in these:
  • Marked. Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration. By Devah Pager.
  • Betrayals. The Unpredictability of Human Relations. By Gabriella Turnaturi, Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane.
  • The Middle Path. Avoiding Environmental Catastrophe. By Eric Lambin.
Dan handed me the magazine opened to an article entitled "Pandora's Click," by Janet Malcolm, a review of an interesting sounding book about email etiquette. This book is entitled Send: The Essential guide to Email for Office and Home. While it decries the gaffes and misunderstandings that can be and are generated all-too-often by the misuse and overuse of email, it ends on a hopeful note: perhaps email will bring back the popularity of written correspondence in the younger generation.

Another book advertised herein is Zuckerman Bound, a Library of America series edition which includes four novels (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson, and The Prague Orgy and an "unproduced television screenplay" (of Prague) by Philip Roth, a writer to whom I'm always meaning to return (return? I'm not sure I've been there. I just looked at his bibliography on Wikipedia and maybe I've never read anything by him. Ah, memory, thou betrayer.) Roth was recently interviewed on the NPR show Fresh Air, and he talked about his latest novel, Exit Ghost. Exit Ghost is not included in this collection, but the advertisement says "Here is the perfect companion to ... Roth's latest novel ... which brings Zuckerman's story to a denouement."

And here's an ad for a new book by Annie Dillard, called The Maytrees. She's a formidable writer. The book I remember her for is The Living, a novel about the early days of Whatcom County in Washington State. I'm sure I've bored many people with my raving about that book. Dillard can be very spiritual, even religious, but somehow it doesn't bother me.

And here's an interesting review: "Citizen Gore," by Michael Tomasky, of The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore. And I thought I was the only person who'd noticed that.

Assault on Reason sounds like a good book. Tomasky says that Gore discusses the demise of reason in American discourse, and assigns a large role to the rise of TV, which for the last fifty years has been our main form of communication. He then takes apart the actions of the Bush administration, analyzed in this light, noting that the modern Right has become a political movement disguised as a religious one. Tomasky wonders whether Gore could run for President in 2008, whether he could or would be elected, whether he'd even welcome the chance. Perhaps Al plays a better citizen than politician.

An interesting work of fiction is discussed in "Ice Capades," by Christian Caryl. This is review of Ice, by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell. This book, we are told, is part of a trilogy about a bizarre brotherhood of aliens who draw their power from an ice-like substance that fell from space to Earth in Siberia. Caryl sees it as a commentary on the totalitarian governments of modern history, from the Nazis, through Stalin, Kruschev, and Kim Il Sung. It sounds as though it might be enjoyable, I'm not sure, it could be a little ponderous. At least it's on my list.

I dove into an article about Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg was a lot of things, among them an icon of the last half of the twentieth century, of the post-World War II cultural revolution embodied in the Beat movement, the Hippies, the music, writing, and art that has developed in the last sixty years or so -- kind of a spiritual grandfather to all of us born in the fifties. "Howl," his (in)famous long poem of 1956 hit the American culture with a neo-Whitmanesque free verse sledgehammer:

...who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,

who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,

who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal steamwhistles...

Allen, we hardly knew ye.

News Flash: Seattle Times Starts Fire

It's getting colder and wetter here now, and we've had a few fires in the woodstove. I start my fires with newspaper; we save it in a basket. My father always had a problem when he tried to start a fire with newspaper: he'd stop crumpling the pages because he'd start reading them. I have the same problem. In the midst of some recent crumpling I noticed a page from the 29 June 2007 Seattle Times "Readings" feature, page 44H, with the headline "Terror thriller is frightening in its plausibility." This introduces a review by Nisi Shawl of a book entitled Quantico, by Greg Bear. This sounds like a great read, it's a techno-adventure set in the near future, which allows for a few yet-to-be-invented gadgets:
"Bear does the hard work of extrapolating from current engineering to shiny new tech-toys ... portable ... holograph projectors; sparrow-sized winged surveillance cameras; ID-activated handguns ..."

I'll probably read this book, it sounds like the kind of thing that I like: pure entertainment, lowbrow, no redeeming social value.

The reading of kindling is always a mixed pleasure. On the one hand, I am pleased to find interesting things to read in my old newspapers, but this is tempered by discomfort (I am usually kneeling on the floor, and the room is cold, else I wouldn't be doing this.), and a vague guilt-like emotion about not really reading newspapers. What is it about newspapers? Sometimes I read an entire article and have no idea what I just read, sort of like what happens if I try to read when the TV is on in the same room. It must be me; plenty of people read newspapers and get stuff out of them. This doesn't always happen, I often read columns, letters (I like letters to the Editor in any publication; I'll usually read them first if I pick up a strange magazine, as in a waiting room.), articles, etc. with normal retention.

But so many things elude me, and I find them later in the kindling basket.

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