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.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Underlining in books

Do you do it? I've had a couple of reasons to think about this lately and thought I'd throw it out there. Personally, I'm not much of an underliner, and while we're at it, let's throw in any kind of marking in books--maginalia, highlighting, whatever. I think there are a couple of reasons I didn't develop the habit. First, although it's not so true recently, most of my life I've gotten a lot of my books from the library, and it doesn't seem good form. Although now I think of it, I don't really mind underlining in books when it's fairly unobtrusive. And I've seen some interesting marginalia in my day. Once, I am fairly I came across the marginalia of a guy I liked in school, and that was fun, although it felt a bit like spying. And another time, I read a book by Reynolds Price out of the San Francisco Public Library and I have a feeling that the person who wrote in those books had some kind of kinky thing about one of Price's characters, although I am not sure that I ever really figured out what was going on there.

Another reason, though, is that my mind is  not all that organized. For similar reasons, I am not a good note taker. I seldom know exactly what it is I'm going to want for later. There was a period in my life when I wrote down long passages of books and articles in my notebook, and let's just say that aphorisms these were not. If I really liked something I tended to write down almost all of it. I would not be happy coming across a book if underlined in the way I copied.

We were down over the weekend going through my recently departed aunt's books. I used to work in a bookstore and my aunt and I shared a literary interest, so I gave her a lot of books over the years. Too many books, really, because unlike most people, she pretty much always took it upon herself to read them. I knew this from our discussions afterwards, but if I'd had any doubt, I would be sure now, as skimming through some of the titles I'd given her, I found them underlined right through.

My aunt was much more organized in her studies than I ever was, and you can tell it from her underlining. As in the Goldilocks story, there is not too much nor too little, it is just right. A sentence or two underlined here or there, with a star or maybe a word or two comment in the margin. If I ever do take to underlining, which I might, I would try to follow her method, as it is a good one.

I had another experience having to do with underlining et al. Every couple of weeks some friends and I get together in a pub and read Finnegans Wake together. And of course, given that there are seven or so of us, the group does include a fair number of underliners. A man from the bar, a tippler I would say, came over to our table and stared out the window by us, wobbling a little on his legs as he stood there. Eventually, he asked, as everyone does, what we were reading. One of our members obliged him. The man stood there for a moment and then said, "I hate people who write in books." My friend, a much kinder spirit than, say, I am said, without looking up, "I'm sorry to have made your bad list." The man, unappeased tottered off to the rest room.

Sometimes I take notes, sometimes I don't. It really doesn't matter, as I can't read my own handwriting half the time anyway. I am very much afraid that if we do Finnegan begin again, it will be as if for the first time, no matter how many incoherent notes I find written mysteriously in the margins.

Madolan Green's photo of her brother's copy of the Wake
 Here's a link I found to some famous writers and their scribbling in other people's books.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guest post by Sarah J. Sloat on The Waste Books at Escape Into Life

I've been away and then busy with taxes, so am a bit late mentioning that we have a guest review up at Escape Into Life by Sarah J. Sloat, in which she talks about a collection of aphorisms by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg collected under the title The Waste Books. New York Review Books has done a nice little edition of them, so please do check it all out HERE.

And my thanks to Kathleen Kirk for getting it online and adding a few nice links in my absence.