Friday, May 22, 2015

Rereading Siddhartha post up at Escape Into Life

I posted a few impressions after reading Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha after an interval of many years at Escape Into Life this morning. You can find it all HERE.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Of books, blogs and bookstores

I'm back. Had a great time in Washington DC, which I had never visited, and was so intrigued with it that I of course started accumulating books about it, as I am the kind of person whose imagination about a place is only really sparked once I've been there. Thanks to my sister's previous knowledge of the area around Dupont Circle, I visited Kramerbooks & afterwords-A cafe a couple of times, and I thought I'd say a couple of things about that. I don't know if it's because of my longstanding former job at a bookstore or just because I'm a reader, but I get a pretty good feel for a bookstore right away. Some bookstores have the "it" factor and some don't, and you can sense the energy of a place that has this right away. Even having worked in one, I don't really know how it's done, but some places, the books practically leap into your hands. If I hadn't had to travel across country with already stuffed luggage, I would have done a lot more damage there than my finances really allow.

Kramerbooks & afterwords- A Cafe-- has taken the idea of the coffee shop attached to a bookstore to a new level, in that it also has a bar, and a quite impressive bar at that. I was left to my own devices the last night I was in the city but had espied the casual nature of the bar on my previous visit, so had no problem walking in and as asking for a good IPA. "I know just what you want," the very able bartender said, and indeed he did. It turned out to be Evolution Craft Brewery Lot No. 3, and perhaps I had a bit too much of it, but it was the last night of my trip, and YOLO, a term that was expounded upon at my nephew's graduation ceremony, although the student speaker was using it to say that you only live once so you might as well serve others, not drink a lot of beer.

There was a book signing going on in the room next door, though I never did quite figure out of what, but a lot of very happy people drifted into the bar and drifted out again, and I felt perfectly comfortable reading my book--I think it was Drama City by George Pelecanos, one I was very happy to be reading in the city it is set in--in a space that seemed to accommodate both the social and the solitary in an easy way.

Let's just say that a bookstore with a cafe is great, but a bookstore with a bar is genius. I probably wouldn't have made the impulse buy of This Town, a great Washington tell all by Mark Liebovich if not slightly under the influence, but it turned out to be a good choice and a good time to read about Washington as a kind of Versailleslike court, which frankly, I never got near enough to feel the emanations from . And it kept me happy for many hours as I winged my way back across the country. It's a bit ironic that only last night, after watching a Daily Show which featured an interview with George Stephanopoulos, in better times, you might say, even though it was only a couple of weeks ago, and then saw a Daily Beast piece about how he had fallen afoul of some of the rules of Washington in contributing to some Clinton project. After reading this book, you only wonder that it doesn't happen more often, as the way people move into and out of the public sector and the private sector, and observe some lines drawn while ignoring others makes it a very complicated dance indeed.

As I purchased my book, I said, under the influence of beer, but also my happiness to be there, "I used to work at a bookstore on the West Coast and this is a great bookstore." The clerk seemed a bit taken aback by my statement and replied, "Really?" I said "Yes."

Unfortunately my pronouncement, though accurate, probably counts for very little in such rarified waters as these.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Lots of fun at Finnegans Wake!

I'm headed out on a trip for a week or so, but it occurred to me that I could give you something to do while I am gone. And apparently, it  will only take about 31 hours. A few of you may know that I meet with friends every couple of weeks and read Finnegans Wake with them. It's not something I really feel like afflicting anyone who isn't a willing participant with, so I keep a separate blog for this as it's a fairly self selected crowd that would be interested. But it's the anniversary of the publication of the Wake, which happened May 4th, 1939, and there is a pretty big celebration going on at Waywords and Meansigns. Here's the email they sent me a day or two ago:

"The moment has finally arrived.

31 hours, 8 minutes, 11 seconds. Finnegans Wake set to music, unabridged.
All audio is freely distributed via our website.
What an incredible journey. We've been embraced by international music communities as well as Joyce communities. We even were mentioned in the Guardian last week!
Dozens of people worked very hard to make this happen. Thanks to each and every one of you.
If anyone is interested in writing a review, please be in touch.
A second edition -- the Wake set to music again, by 17 new musicians -- will premiere next fall/winter. Featuring Mike Watt, David Kahne, Mary Lorson, Brian Hall, Simon Underwood, Neil Campbell, and more. If you want to be involved, get in touch.
Now here it goes.
Spread the word.

My friend and roving correspondent Peter Quadrino answered the call and actually has done a three hour stint in this mammoth tongue twister. As you know, Finnegans Wake doesn't really have a beginning middle or end, so maybe you'd like to start with part 15, where he does the Yawn chapter.

Here's a bit more from his friend Peter Chrisp on the project.

Just think, with a little momentum, you could have the whole book done by the time I come back.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Free Comic Book Day, 2015

Well, I'm sorry I'm only telling you in the aftermath, but I can't resist helping publicize this great newish tradition, which is one the best things I've added to my yearly calender. One of my cool young coworkers told me about it a couple of years ago, and though I am not attuned to the comics world in the way that she was, I did shyly go and look at the free comic books our two comic bookstores downtown had on offer, and after that, I was hooked. Except I accidentally missed it last year, so I really did take note this year. It's always the first Saturday in May, so if your mind works like that, it's not hard to remember.

I'm getting over an obnoxious cold, so if I hadn't missed last year I might not have been able to will myself downtown, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't. Between the two stores, I got eleven free comic books, which is quite the haul. I rather indiscriminately love them, just from a sheer design point of view. This year I even picked up one that comes in a manga form, starting from the back and reading right to left on the page. Well, not completely, but close enough.

My mom wasn't too big on comic books, so it was kind of a special treat when we got one. I can still remember picking out a Casper the Friendly Ghost or a Little Audrey. The funny thing is that I actually think the illustrated classics comics at our babysitter's house was what first taught me to read. The Bremen Town Musicians, I think it was. It was one of those one syllable words in a bubble, like Pop! or Bop! that showed me the way. So how could I look down on comic books? They get kids--and adults-- to think visually and verbally at the same time. How cool is that?

I did also buy a graphic novel this year, which I think I will make a part of the tradition. March, Book 2. As I told the guys in comic book store number 2, I already know I'm going to like it. After all, I did read Book 1.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Way We Live Now--the television series

Last year at around this time, I was reading Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now for a group read, which I eventually wrote up for Escape Into Life. I enjoyed the book, but not perhaps as much as my friends did, or as even I had enjoyed Trollope in the past. There was something maybe a little outsized about his great villain Augustus Melmotte that did not entirely appeal to me. I mean, he isn't supposed to be appealing, but he seemed to be a bit of a cartoon. And actually this was true of several of the other characters to a lesser degree.

It's very rarely that I find a film rendition of a book actually adds anything to the experience, although I may enjoy reliving it if I liked it enough in written form. But the BBC version of this book was something of a revelation to me, especially in the characters of Augustus Melmotte, as played by David Suchet, his daughter Marie, played by Shirley Henderson, and Sir Felix Carbury as played by Matthew Mcfayden. The rest of the cast was excellent as well, but these three were dealing with some fairly one dimensional characters and all three actors gave them life and fleshed them out considerably, without straying from Trollope's vision of them.

Or perhaps a different way to say it is that they lent them their charisma. Sir Felix is a big, highly indulged baby throughout the book, but McFayden reminds us that there are and always have been such men and gives us some hint of how their charms work. Shirley Henderson is a life force in a tiny package and her scenes with Suchet as her father are marvelous to watch. And Suchet is incredible. As with Sir Felix, we are reminded that such self-made monsters do and perhaps have always existed, and Melmotte's philosophy of life and business remind us very much of the way we live now. One of the amazing things about his range is that he has come out with a whole different register for his voice, which if you know him only with Poirot's light and airy voice, will shock you in its near Kissingerlike depths.

The 200th anniversary of Trollope's birth was last Friday. It would be a good time to read a little Trollope in tribute. But I think you will honor him just as much if you watch and enjoy this series. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Moonshine War

If you're a fan of Justified, as I am, and have already made it through the series finale, you may be jonesing already for a bit more of Harlan County, Kentucky, and if you are, The Moonshine War will likely fit the bill. A book written very early in Elmore Leonard's career--1969 according to my copy--it is nevertheless strikingly connected to his late stories about Raylan Givens, which were the basis for the TV series. It may be 1931 and moonshine rather than meth that everyone's craving, but the feel is very much the same, and certain plot elements seem to have been lifted from this book, though not in a bad way--I expect more in homage. I've read a fair number of Elmore Leonard novels over the years, but none have had this particular feel, and it's striking to me that the end of his career and the beginning should be linked in this way.

There's a slower pace to this novel than some of later ones, which from what I've read, seem to be much more dialogue driven. So it's interesting to me how adept Leonard was at a more descriptive form, which perhaps may discourage some Leonard wannabes, who perhaps take his famous Ten Rules for Writers a little too fanatically.

I happened to take this book up purely by chance and had no idea it would not only dovetail so well with the television series, but also, in a strange life imitates art moment, be a foreshadowing of a Kentucky whiskey heist just days ago. Prohibition may be over and pot gaining a purchase, but whiskey is still worth some scheming, apparently. Pappy Van Winkle, which is one of the particularly prized brands stolen, makes an appearance or two on Jusitified as well.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Being Dead by Jim Crace at Escape Into Life

My review of Jim Crace's Being Dead is up at Escape Into Life today, after having read and discussed it with my book group this week. The group is developing a predeliction for Crace after enjoying Harvest last fall. I was not as fond of that one as other members were, but I think this one is stunning. And discomfiting. It is, after all, about being dead. I have titled that post Mondazy's Fish, and what I'll reveal here that I didn't reveal there is that this creature, like much else in Crace's work, is purely his invention.