Love Story – 2/5
What do you say about a 50 year novel that feels dead on arrival? This is the novel that became the movie that is often referenced, and seldom watched. The novel is fine. It’s depressingly fine. Our narrator goes to Harvard, meets a girl, they get married, he goes to law school, she gets sick, and she dies. In the middle he loves her father, because he hates his father. His parents mildly but not so mildly disown him (lucky), and he has to sort out his feelings.
It’s overtly and overly sentimental and has not a whole lot to say other than to tell a story, ok.
It really makes you appreciate how good “Goodbye Columbus” is.
In Bluebeard’s Castle: 4/5
This most reminds me of reading Giorgio Agamben as someone who is neither trained in or particularly well-read in Europeans history or philosophy. There’s a lot of interesting and compelling sentences that almost certainly form some kind of whole, but the effect is a little lost on me without a more full rendering or more explicit arguing.
Instead: here are some quotes:
t is not the literal past that rules us, save, possibly, in a biological sense. It is images of the past. These are often as highly structured and selective as myths. Images and symbolic constructs of the past are imprinted, almost in the manner of genetic information, on our sensibility. Each new historical era mirrors itself in the picture and active mythology of its past.
“The Great Ennui”.
Monotheism at Sinai, primitive Christianity, messianic socialism: these are the three supreme moments in which Western culture is presented with what Ibsen termed “the claims of the ideal.” These are the three stages, profoundly interrelated, through which Western consciousness is forced to experience the blackmail of transcendence.
“A Season in Hell”.
When it turned on the Jew, Christianity and European civilization turned on the incarnation — albeit an incarnation often wayward and unaware — of its own best hopes.
“A Season in Hell”.
Nothing in the next-door world of Dachau impinged on the great winter cycle of Beethoven chamber music played in Munich. No canvases came off museum walls as the butchers strolled reverently past, guide-books in hand.
“In a Post-Culture”.
The immense majority of human biographies are a gray transit between domestic spasm and oblivion.
“In a Post-Culture”.
This novel comes at you fast in some bizarre ways. We begin with a young teacher who is interesting in entomology going off for a trip (a conference), when he arrives in a coastal town that is bizarrely overrun with sand pouring in through every crack and crevice. He eventually finds himself trapped in a house with a woman about his same age. It’s quickly explained that he will not be allowed to leave because he’s been conscripted in a kind of way to shovel the house out from the sand. He must do this several hours a day, reach a kind of milestone, and then pick back up for tomorrow. Each day he will be given food and cigarettes and water and some small set of other items he can ask for.
This book then takes this premise and plays around with how someone would handle such a setup. If it sounds fable-like, it is. If it sounds like a psychological experiment, it is. If it sounds far-fetched and bizarre, it is. I suppose I read it as a kind of allegory on modern life. Because he’s trapped with the woman, this acts as a kind of marriage where the two of them end up in a situation almost instantly and irrevocably, but then are stuck. The incoming sand is not only culminative, but also wears things out as it pours in. The job itself is both vital to the situation but not actually necessary in and of itself. And the various other elements are part of this extended metaphor. Even his interest in entomology, a passion of his must give way to this the new situation he finds himself in for the greater good. I normally wouldn’t take a novel in such a kind of way, but the strange setup sort of demands it in a way.
Seven Storey Mountain – 3/5
I have a strange relationship to writing about religion because on the one hand, I generally want to be respectful, especially as it concerns writing about one’s own faith. On the other hand, when it comes to Christian writing (well, Catholic, here) it’s hard to divorce an individual experience from institutional history and control. In addition to this, my own history of religion, which luckily generally avoided any specific traumas, is one where I walked away from a pretty awful church and have never looked back. I’ve also never had any crisis of faith, as I never had to me what felt like anything like faith in the first place.
So when I read conversion narratives like Thomas Merton’s, or CS Lewis’s or even something like Malcolm X’s, I spend a lot of time with the elements that are true and familiar to me, the sense of being a human alive in the world, and then the desires and impulses that lead specifically to religion. Thomas Merton is a good writer, writing compellingly so. But I am also limited in my ability to see this as a good story, or one that resonates with me much at all.
This is a 1971 novel from Ismail Kadare. To put this in some context, his 1963 novel The General of the Dead Army was the first book in Albanian (I think perhaps ever) to be translated into English. By 1971, this novel, like that one, also had to be first translated into French and then into English. Since then, many of his books have direct translations into English and other languages. This is important for me, because this novel has an air of an Old World or hidden kingdom to it, and the ways in which it was locked behind other languages, especially its original feeds into this mythos.
The novel, like his first novel, feels like a story we’re used to reading from the other side. We are in Albania during WWII, and the young protagonist is viewing the horrors of the Italian occupation from the viewpoint of youth, as well as from the viewpoint of significant violent transition. The AA guns are living beings; the planes are sometimes good, and sometimes bad, but never both. Families are both torn apart, but also fiercely divided. We are seeing an occupation as well as a partisan war against the occupation, and given how much warfare writing often simply feels like the war is elsewhere, we are quite literally in the middle of things in this novel.
Probably the most accessible novel of Delillo’s I’ve read, and about my midpoint overall through his catalog. Primarily the novel is about a low(ish)-rent magazine, probably somewhat based on Rolling Stone, and maybe a little of the 1990s (this novel is from the 1970s) passion for zines playing into its formulation. The magazine has gotten word of an underground film showing among other things as Hitler fucking. So needless to say, they want to get their hands on it. They begin to reckon not only on how this film would reflection on their journalistic process, but then further on what this does to our sense and image of Hitler, and journalism.
The novel, like I said, is much more accessible than a lot of his novels. The action is on the surface, and the thinking behind it is not super deep but also not super shallow. It occupies a kind of space between Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, which it never really reaches, and William Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy, which I think is more analogous. And yeah, I’d probably watch it.
I picked this book up when someone made a comment about “masscult” in a comment section, and I was glad I did. Peppery and sour Dwight Macdonald cannot hide his contempt for masscult, and especially cannot hide his attempt for midcult, which I agree, is way worse.
Masscult is mass entertainment culture. We have plenty of it. It’s often unpretentious and unrefined, but generally, while vulgar, relatively unimportant in terms of specific details. It’s definitely a medium is the message kind of thing. Midcult is masscult with pretentions. And not deserving pretentions either. Midcult is the MFA/market driven contemporary novel, the Oscar-bait film, the prestige (meaning not funny) TV show, and so on. You also know plenty of these too. The issue there is not that the exist and not that they want to be taken seriously, but that they demand to be taken seriously, but can’t honestly back it up. For me, the issue is less that midcult exists, is that I am told be consumers of midcult that I have to agree with them on the merits of the culture they like. It’s that additional insistence that is so awful.
The other essays collection are mostly good, with a great essay about the “Books of the Millennium” collection which is wonderful. I disagree with Macdonald though and think that Death in the Family is truly a great book. He’s think it’s just merely good.
Probably the best Bukowski I’ve read, which is only saying something, because I generally hated the others. I did actually like this one, which is rare, and it’s mostly because he sharpened what he’s great at and did not fall prey to his worst impulses, depicting a shocking rape scene to mix things up…
The novel acts as a youthful memoirs of Henry Chinaski from boyhood through early/young adulthood. And that ambitious scope (within a relatively short novel) is spent mostly through narrating vignettes and tied together scenes more so than a straight plot. It’s a bildungsroman and the tone is cutting, cynical, and dark, but also faithful in a lot of ways to a kind of disaffected pre/post war male spirit.
“There is a bitter irony for listeners here in the exhortations of the BBC to the Italian people to rid themselves of the Germans: so might one urge a sheep to rid itself of a wolf.”
Through Blood and Fire – 3/5 Stars
This small memoir piece is part of that puzzle for Chamberlain. He is most well-known for, as a colonel, holding the line against numerous Southern assaults of the wooded hill of a Round Top and Little Round Top during the middle of Gettysburg. This is in addition to folding in a band of renegade troops who were set for prison or execution and having them become part of his force. This is all melded together is presentable prose throughout.