Taking Back Our Country

15 Feb
“There were two Americas in Chicago, but there always are.”
Arthur Miller / 1969

 

 

Youth International Party  (Yippie) logo

 

 

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Abbie Hoffman, radical activist,  provocateur

 

This August will mark five decades (50 years) since the Democratic National Convention convened in Chicago and was the scene of massive anti war protests and the rioting of the Chicago Police Department. And culminating in the nomination of Hubert Humphrey for the presidency
Chicago’x Mayor Richard J Daley (Democratic king maker)
As a  college junior who was already becoming radicalized by a growing consciousness of the oppression of blacks and latinos and indigenous peoples and an ill conceived war (that was consistent with an imperialist foreign policy) I took to streets and the parks that week and witnessed events  have stayed with me the past 50 years. The chanting of “The streets belong to people” —by demonstrators  who were assaulted by the Chicago Police Department in Grant Park and chased into the streets, ending up at the  Conrad Hilton Hotel, is yet an uplifting memory

 Another great moment that I recall vividly was dark horse presidential candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy crossing the street from the Conrad Hilton to the park to address the crowd as the US government in exile…
Sparked by the memory of that event and acknowledging the dark time that has overtaken the United States, I would like to join anyone who is willing to create a celebration/rally two months before the crucial 2018 mid term elections with the goal of energizing a movement to throwing the bums out and  taking back the country.

 

 

Aug. 28, 1968: During the Democratic National Convention, Chicago police charge into crowd of antiwar demonstrators in Grant Park. This photo was published in the Aug. 29, 1968 Los Angeles Times.

 

 

 

Norman Mailer at Grant Park Band Shell (Copyright 2018 Robert Birnbaum)

 

 C. Natale Peditto opines:

Reading… Norman Mailer’s Miami and the Siege of Chicago, we recognize a writer at the peak of his literary and journalistic talents. This was a period in Mailer’s career that included the remarkably wrought Armies of the Night, which earned both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; both books remain to this day preeminent, although unorthodox, examples of the New Journalism style. What Mailer accomplished in these titles was to put himself, the author, in direct relationship to the events he was reporting—a third-person observer and simultaneous participant dedicated to revealing the public psyche while unraveling his own tangled motivations and ideology. In Armies of the Night, as the novelist and historian, he writes in measured prose with acuity and strength; in Miami and the Siege of Chicago, as “the reporter,” he is caught up in the pathos of the event…

The penultimate chapter of Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Mailer’s gossiping with the journalists at the bar as they pronounce their cynical assessments about the future of American politics, is a last call for the author to self-reflect among the petty Mafia in the cocktail lounge, regarding organized crime as the alternative to the military-industrial corporations (“if one had to choose between the Maf running America and the military-industrial complex, where was one to choose?”) and expressions of bad faith when faced with the writer’s bitter task of completing his assignment. These are the final notes of Chicago’s brutal night song, a confrontation with the local police that almost puts Mailer in their clutches for a beating or arrest, or both. Mailer’s parting shot, “we will be fighting for forty years,” is prescient enough and ample reason to take him at his word

 

  This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

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Let’s Play Two: Reading About Baseball

12 Feb

-4

Baseball’s off season, also known as the hot stove league, featured  unusual dormancy, leaving a number of significant free agents unsigned (Yu Darvish[until today], JD Martinez, Jake Arrieta ,  sparking claims of owner collusion and hints of  the coming of labor strife. Serious baseball fans and fantasy baseball geeks care about this stuff —which is understandable as there are no other sports in which to immerse oneself (football being a whole other thing [and may not exist in a decade])

Well, spring training starts this week with pitchers and catchers reporting to camps beginning the long 162 + game campaign for the joy of playing October baseball .By the way, if you are hungry for real baseball, the Caribbean regional tournament (“world series”) where there is spirited competition (which Cuba no longer dominates) and high quality play.

A few times during a MLB season* I take the opportunity to pay attention to new baseball books — so I am going to kick off 2018 with   a handful of publications, historical, analytic and imaginary that illuminate the joys and traditions of America’s once and future pastime

 

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Baseball Beyond Our Borders: An International Pastime  Edited and with an introduction by George Gmelch and Daniel A. Nathan

 

Publisher’s notes:

Baseball Beyond Our Borders celebrates the globalization of the game while highlighting the different histories and cultures of the nations in which the sport is played.

This collection of essays tells the story of America’s national pastime as it has spread across the world and undergone instructive, entertaining, and sometimes quirky changes in the process. Covering nineteen countries and a U.S. territory, the contributors show how each country imported baseball, how baseball took hold and developed, how it is organized, played, and followed, and what local and regional traits tell us about the sport’s place in each culture.

But what lies in store as baseball’s passport fills up with far-flung stamps? Will the international migration of players homogenize baseball? What role will the World Baseball Classic play? These are just a few of the questions the authors pose.

Editor’s note : The next (5th) World Baseball Classic is scheduled for 2021. Maybe by that time this international tournament will be recognized as the true world series…

 
The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age  by Sridhar Pappu
Publisher’s notes:
In 1968, two remarkable pitchers would dominate the game as well as the broadsheets. One was black, the other white. Bob Gibson, together with the St. Louis Cardinals, embodied an entire generation’s hope for integration at a heated moment in American history. Denny McLain, his adversary, was a crass self-promoter who eschewed the team charter and his Detroit Tigers teammates to zip cross-country in his own plane. For one season, the nation watched as these two men and their teams swept their respective league championships to meet at the World Series. Gibson set a major league record that year with a 1.12 ERA. McLain won more than 30 games in 1968, a feat not achieved since 1934 and untouched since. Together, the two have come to stand as iconic symbols, giving the fans “The Year of the Pitcher” and changing the game. Evoking a nostalgic season and its incredible characters, this is the story of one of the great rivalries in sports and an indelible portrait of the national pastime during a turbulent year—and the two men who electrified fans from all walks of life.

Legends Never Die: Athletes and their Afterlives in Modern America (Sports and Entertainment)  by Richard Ian Kimball

Publisher’s notes:

With every touchdown, home run, and three-pointer, star athletes represent an American dream that only an elite group blessed with natural talent can achieve. However, Kimball concentrates on what happens once these modern warriors meet their untimely demise. As athletes die, legends rise in their place.

The premature deaths of celebrated players not only capture and immortalize their physical superiority, but also jolt their fans with an unanticipated intensity. These athletes escape the inevitability of aging and decline of skill, with only the prime of their youth left to be remembered. But early mortality alone does not transform athletes into immortals. The living ultimately gain the power to construct the legacies of their fallen heroes. In Legends Never Die, Kimball explores the public myths and representations that surround a wide range of athletes, from Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio to Dale Earnhardt and Bonnie McCarroll. Kimball delves deeper than just the cultural significance of sports and its players; he examines how each athlete’s narrative is shaped by gender relations, religion, and politics in contemporary America. In looking at how Americans react to the tragic deaths of sports heroes, Kimball illuminates the important role sports play in US society and helps to explain why star athletes possess such cultural power.

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The Draw Of Sport   by Murray Olderman

Publisher’s notes:

The Draw of Sports compiles, in art and text, more than 150 of nationally syndicated columnist Olderman’s favorite personalities (of an estimated 6,000 potential subjects) from the sporting world. Each full-page illustration is accompanied by Olderman’s own personal reminiscences of those illustrious stars. Amongst the many names readers will recognize: Abdul-Jabbar, Ali, Berra, Chamberlain, Dempsey, Elway, Koufax, Lombardi, Mantle, Robinson, and Wooden. As a nationally syndicated columnist, Olderman met ― and in many cases, got to know ― most of the greatest sports personalities of the 20th century, going back as far as Jesse Owens and Babe Ruth, up to present-day superstars like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant. Black & white illustrations throughout.

Big League Dream by Roy Berger

 

Cindy Adams- New York Post- May 16, 2017:

 Big League Dream.” Its author, Roy Berger, is not your usual non-famous, unheard-of, starving-in-NY, fresh-out-of-college baseball writer.He’s president/CEO of MedjetAssist, the global air medical transport tied in with AARP, which, in an emergency, flies you home fast — aboard one of 200 private ambulances or aircraft with medical attendants — from anywhere on Earth to the US hospital of your choice.OK — so why do a “play ball” book?

Berger: “I’m 65. Grew up in Long Island dreaming of the Major Leagues. My whole life I’ve wanted to play baseball. I played high-school first base … poorly. In 2008 — for 5 grand — I went to one of those baseball camps, which was like a lone fantasy week.“Living everybody’s dream, coached by a former Major Leaguer, I was in heaven. And for my age, I was pretty good. I could … almost … run. Then I met Bucky Dent, who lives in Florida and in ’73, at a party, Fritz Peterson. I’m like a hotshot these 20 years, but what I always wanted was to be a shortstop for the Yankees.”

Who’s Fritz Peterson?After hearing about Peterson of the Yankees and Bucky writing this book’s forward … why this book, which sells on Amazon and Apple’s iTunes?

“‘Big League Dream’ is like sitting with Bucky, Ron Swoboda, John Mayberry, Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant and those who were kids’ idols and hearing stories from the talented few who earned the shot to play while the rest of us could only watch from the stands.”

Right. Great idea. So who’s Jim “Mudcat” Grant?

 

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The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic  by Richard Sandomir

Publisher’s notes:

On July 4, 1939, baseball great Lou Gehrig delivered what has been called “baseball’s Gettysburg Address” at Yankee Stadium and gave a speech that included the phrase that would become legendary. He died two years later and his fiery widow, Eleanor, wanted nothing more than to keep his memory alive. With her forceful will, she and the irascible producer Samuel Goldwyn quickly agreed to make a film based on Gehrig’s life, The Pride of the Yankees. Goldwyn didn’t understand–or care about–baseball. For him this film was the emotional story of a quiet, modest hero who married a spirited woman who was the love of his life, and, after a storied career, gave a short speech that transformed his legacy. With the world at war and soldiers dying on foreign soil, it was the kind of movie America needed.

Using original scrips, letters, memos, and other rare documents, Richard Sandomir tells the behind-the-scenes story of how a classic was born. There was the so-called Scarlett O’Hara-like search to find the actor to play Gehrig; the stunning revelations Elanor made to the scriptwriter Paul Gallico about her life with Lou; the intensive training Cooper underwent to learn how to catch, throw, and hit a baseball for the first time; and the story of two now-legendary Hollywood actors in Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright whose nuanced performances endowed the Gehrigs with upstanding dignity and cemented the baseball icon’s legend.

Sandomir writes with great insight and aplomb, painting a fascinating portrait of a bygone Hollywood era, a mourning widow with a dream, and the shadow a legend cast on one of the greatest sports films of all time.

Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception by Terry McDermott

 

Publisher’s notes:

In August 2012, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in what Terry McDermott calls “one of the greatest exhibitions of off-speed pitches ever put on.” For McDermott, a lifelong fan and student of baseball, the extraordinary events of that afternoon inspired this incisive meditation on the art of pitching.

Within the framework of Hernandez’s historic achievement, Off Speed provides a vibrant narrative of the history and evolution of pitching, combining baseball’s rich tradition of folklore with the wealth of new metrics from a growing legion of statisticians who are transforming the way we think about the game. Off Speed is also the personal story of a fan’s steadfast devotion, first kindled in McDermott by his father at the local diamond in small-town Iowa and now carried forward with the same passion by his own daughters.

Approaching his subject with the love every fan brings to the park and the expertise of a probing journalist, McDermott explores with irrepressible curiosity the science and the romance of baseball

Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters by  Mark Kingwell

Publisher’s notes:

Taking seriously the idea that baseball is a study in failure—a very successful batter manages a base hit in just three of every ten attempts—Mark Kingwell argues that there is no better tutor of human failure’s enduring significance than this strange, crooked game of base, where geometry becomes poetry.
Weaving elements of memoir, philosophical reflection, sports writing, and humour, Fail Better is an intellectual love letter to baseball by one of North America’s most engaging philosophers. Kingwell illustrates complex concepts like theoretically infinite game-space, “time out of time,” and the rules of civility with accessible examples drawn from the game, its history, and his own halting efforts to hit ‘em where they ain’t. Beyond a “Beckett meets baseball” study in failure, Kingwell crafts a thoughtful appreciation of why sports matter, and how they change our vision of the world

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Kill the Ámpaya! The Best Latin American Baseball Fiction by Dick Cluster (Translator),‎ Eduardo del Llano

Publisher’s notes:

A rich variety of baseball fiction exists south of the Florida Straits and the Rio Grande, but almost none available in English. This collection translates for the first time stories ranging from the highly literary to the vernacular. These inventive and entertaining stories reveal the place of baseball in Latin America. Mixing fan and fandom, baseball and politics, rural and urban life, sexism and poverty, Kill the Ampaya! reveals how baseball shapes the social fabric of everyday Latin American life.
The collection includes well known writers such as Leonardo Padura from Cuba (The Man Who Loved Dogs), Sergio Ramírez from Nicaragua (Divine Punishment, A Thousand Deaths Plus One). Others are well known writers in their home countries such as Arturo Arango and Eduardo del Llano in Cuba, Alexis Gómez Rosa and José Bobadilla in the Dominican Republic, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro in Puerto Rico, Vicente Leñero in Mexico as well as emerging literary figures such as Salvador Fleján and Rodrigo Blanco Calderón in Venezuela, Sandra Tavarez and Daniel Reyes Germán in the D.R., Carmen Hernández Peña in Cuba.

Cuban born Chicagoan Achy Obejas (The Tower of Antilles and Other Stories) “If baseball is really a metaphor for life, then Kill the Ámpaya — Dick Cluster’s wonderful collection of Latin American baseball stories — is an astonishing record of its beauty and coarseness, redemption and tragedy. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate these stories, each one hinged on baseball directly or indirectly, and delight in this reading.”—Achy Obejas, author of The Tower of Antilles and Other Stories

 

Editor’s  note: It should come as no surprise ro people who areaware of  my predilections that this tome is my favorite

The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball’s Most Historic Record  by John Eisenberg

Publisher’s notes:

When Cal Ripken Jr. began his career with the Baltimore Orioles at age twenty-one, he had no idea he would someday beat the historic record of playing 2,130 games in a row, a record set forty-two years before by the fabled “Iron Horse” of the New York Yankees, Lou Gehrig. Ripken went on to surpass that record by 502 games, and the baseball world was floored. Few feats in sports history have generated more acclaim. But the record spawns an array of questions. When did someone first think it was a good idea to play in so many games without taking a day off? Who owned the record before Gehrig? Whose streak—Gehrig’s or Ripken’s—was the more difficult achievement?
Through probing research, meticulous analysis, and colorful parallel storytelling, The Streak delves into this impressive but controversial milestone, unraveling Gehrig’s at-times unwitting pursuit of that goal (Babe Ruth used to think Gehrig crazy for wanting to play every game), and Ripken’s fierce determination to stay in the lineup and continue to contribute whatever he could even as his skills diminished with age.

The question looms: How do these streaks compare? There were so many factors: the length of seasons, the number of teams in the major leagues, the inclusion of nonwhite players, travel, technology, medical advances, and even media are all part of the equation. This is a book that captures the deeply American appreciation—as seen in the sport itself—for a workaday mentality and that desire to be there for the game every time it called.

 

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From 2013  https://ourmaninboston.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/baseball-by-the-book/

From 2017 https://ourmaninboston.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/baseball-by-the-book-or-lets-play-two/

Surviving Old Age Part I: Too Many Moving Parts

7 Feb

Selfie (also known as self portrait) of Robert Birnbaum

 

“I ain’t dead yet, my bell still rings…” Early Roman Kings-Bob Dylan

 

 

One begins to suspect one has gained entrance to anew universe when health providers and insurers begin examinations inquiring whether you have fallen recently. Followed at some point with instruction to remember  three words which you would be asked to recall in a few minutes.Excepting, of course ,serious illness injury, to which everyone is susceptible, the great malady to which one is eventually exposed is old age(no matter your chronological age). Symptoms of this affliction—hearing the sobriquet ‘old geezer more frequently, running the gauntlet of the so-called health insurance, a world that in the name of efficiency makes it difficult to speak with a real person when one has to deal with the quotidian infelicities of life.
The self help industry and it’s adjunct self help publishing are prepared to offer all manner of resolutions. To which, if you are susceptible you may be entering a vexing labyrinth (meaning you are fucked). Personally, among the  books I have found helpful in trying to resolve some of life’s problems are ones that came from different cultures like the texts of  Lakota Black Elk or the practice of Yogi B.K.S. Iyengar.
There is an issue that one may confront  earlier in life but almost always presents with seniors. That is, the inordinate amount of stuff that accumulates  as we wend our way through life, hitting a critical mass 0f unsustainability.
 Chris Lehmann* opines
There is, it seems, a raging crisis of careless acquisition and chaotic storage afoot in the land, even eight years into the austerity-addled “recovery” from the economic calamity of 2008 and in the wake of a generation’s worth of wage stagnation and steadily worsening inequalities of wealth and income. More precisely, there’s a movement afoot to orient us more serenely and mindfully (as the present mass-therapeutic term of art would have it) amid our storehouses of stuff—to coax forth a Platonic balance between the things we love and the streamlined, clean, and open domestic spaces we crave. They call it decluttering, and true to its unassuming-yet-officious name, it has quietly set up shop everywhere.
And so came,

 

As a reportedly international  best seller, you can read about this book and its campaign for DECLUTTERING everywhere. As this is an issue that I am struggling with after a lifetime of curating and acquisition and thoughtless consumption and despite my lack of regard for self help books  (especially ones that offered life changing magic)I dipped into this small tome. Which I quickly put down as 1) “cheerfully ruthless”  Marie Kondo Conde’s tone was not one that I found I could take advice or  instruction from and 2) the first step recommended was to do this declutter all at once…well, good luck with that…

 

The most recent entry to dealing with the storage/clutter problem comes from Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson, who describes herself as being between 80 and 100. That’s a nice age…

 

 Publisher’s note (annoatated)

In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, artist Margareta Magnusson, with Scandinavian humor and wisdom, instructs readers to embrace minimalism. Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming.

Magnusson writes.

“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you,  Not all things from you.”

“Save your favorite dildo — but throw away the other 15! There’s no sense in saving things that will shock or upset your family after you are gone.”

Margareta suggests which possessions you can easily get rid of (unworn clothes, unwanted presents, more plates than you’d ever use) and which you might want to keep (photographs, love letters, a few of your children’s art projects). Digging into her late husband’s tool shed, and her own secret drawer of vices, Margareta introduces an element of fun to a potentially daunting task. Along the way readers get a glimpse into her life in Sweden, and also become more comfortable with the idea of letting go.

Dwight Garner **observes

 I jettison advice books after I’ve flipped through them. This one I will keep. I’m a sucker for a good title. Though I’m not old enough to begin my own death cleaning, I am glad to have the phrase. I plan to let my children know they’re in for a big day of cleaning the apartment when I summon them for a (cue the reverb) “death clean.”

Well, there’s one kind-a favor I’ll ask of you
Well, there’s one kind-a favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one kind favor I’ll ask of you
You can see that my grave is kept clean

And there’s two white horses following me
And there’s two white horses following me
I got two white horses following me
Waiting on my burying ground

Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Did you ever hear that coughin’ sound?
Means another poor boy is underground

Did you ever hear them church bells tone?
Have you ever hear that church bells tone?
Did you ever hear them church bells tone?
Means another poor boy is dead and gone

And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
Now I believe what the Bible told

There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
And there’s one last favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean

Next Pt II of Surviving Old Age : Death Be not Proud

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*https://thebaffler.com/salvos/small-worlds-chris-lehmann

** ttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/25/books/review-gentle-art-swedish-death-cleaning-southern-sympathy-cookbook.html

Literature as Song, Song as Literature

28 Jan

The brouhaha surrounding Bob Dylan’s 2016 Nobel award for literature reinforced my belief that songs were as much about story-telling as any novel or poem (will films ever be considered?) So I amused myself this afternoon by picking some of my favorites…

 

KEEP IT SIMPLE – KEB MO

Nobody is better than this guy for framing contemporary life in a  blues form…

 

Two cars, three kids, six phones
A whole lot of confusion up here in my home
Five-hundred stations on the TV screen
Five-hundred versions of the same ol’ thing

Y’all know it’s crazy
And it’s drivin’ me insane
Well, I don’t wanna be a superman
I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands
And keep it simple
Oh real simple

You know I called my doctor on the telephone
The lines were open, but there was nobody home
Press one, press two, press pound, press three
Why can’t somebody just pick up the phone and talk to me?

Y’all know it’s crazy
You know it’s driving me insane
I don’t wanna be a superman
I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands
And keep it simple
(Yes I do)
Real simple

(Play the blues)

Well I went down to the local coffee store
The menu went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor
Decaf, cappuccino, or latte said the cashier
I said gimme a small cup of coffee and let me get the hell up outta here

Y’all know it’s crazy
Oh it’s driving me insane
Well, I don’t wanna be a superman
I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands
And keep it simple
Oh lord, real simple

Well now I don’t wanna be a superman
I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands
And keep it simple
Real simple
Real simple

Warren Zevon – My Shits Fucked Up

Zevon bad a penchant for the perverse  ,  Werewolves of London, Life will Kill You , Gorilla |You re A Desperado…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbhYqV17CoQ 

.

Well, I went to the doctor
I said, “i’m feeling kind of rough…”
“Let me break it to you son,
you’re shit’s fucked up!”
I said, “My shit’s fucked up?!
Well, I don’t see how!”
He said, “The shit that used to work,
won’t work now!”
I had a dream; aw shucks, oh well
Now its all fucked up, its shot out to hell
yea-eah, my shit’s fucked up
It has to happen to the best of us
The rich folk suffer like the rest of us
It’ll happen to you.

 

 

Warren Zevon Excitable Boy

 

Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best
Excitable boy, they all said
And he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest
Excitable boy, they all said

He took in the four a.m. show at the Clark
Excitable boy, they all said
And he bit the usherette’s leg in the dark
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom
Excitable boy, they all said
And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy
After ten long years they let him out of the home
Excitable boy, they all said
And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

But I Was Cool -Oscar Brown Jr

Chicago’s Brown was uber talented, A great voice , impeccable phrasing and , well ;listen to this …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88FdqYkxe1A

I’ve always lived by this golden rule
Whatever happens “don’t blow your cool”
You’ve got to have nerves of steel
Never show folks what you honestly feel
I’ve lived my whole life this way
For example, take yesterday

I breezed home happy
Bringing her my pay
Her note read “so long sappy
I have ran away.”
I threw myself down across our empty bed
And this is what I said

(shrieks, screams, hoots)

But I Was Cool

So I one-for-the-road it
At an all night bar
Wound up so loaded
I tore up my car
The judge threw the book at me
And when I read his sentence there I said

(shrieks, screams, hoots)

But I Was Cool

So I said she’s the only one I have to thank
So I found her and pulled my gun and fired point blank
The shot whistled straight passed that woman’s head
And killed my hound dog dead

(shrieks, screams, hoots)

But I Was Cool

As they carried me away
I was overhead to say
Be cool, stay cool, keep cool
Play it cool
C-o-o-o-o-o-l

I Don’t Worry About a Thing –Mose Allison

Easy going , smooth tenor, great sense of humor ( Your Mind is on Vacation)

 

If this life is driving
You to drink
You sit around and wondering
Just what to think
Well I got some consoloation
I’ll give it to you
If I might
Well I don’t worry bout a thing
‘Cause I know nothing’s gonna be alright
You know this world is just one big
Trouble spot because
Some have plenty and
Some have not
You know I used to be trouble but I finally
Saw the light
Now I don’t worry ’bout a thing
‘Cause I know nothing’s gonna be alright
Don’t waste you time trying to
Be a go getter
Things will get worse before they
Get any better
You know there’s always somebody playing with
Dynamite
But I don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause I know nothing’s gonna be all right

 

“Now I don’t worry ’bout a thing ‘Cause I know nothing’s gonna be alright”

The Waterboys – Strange Boat

This Scottish ensemble led by Mike Scott produced this gem…

We’re sailing on a strange boat
Heading for a strange shore
We’re sailing on a strange boat
Heading for a strange shore
Carrying the strangest cargo
That was ever hauled aboard
We’re sailing on a strange sea
Blown by a strange wind
We’re sailing on a strange sea
Blown by a strange wind
Carrying the strangest crew
That ever sinned
We’re riding in a strange car
We’re followin’ a strange star
We’re climbing…
We’re living in a strange time
Working for a strange goal
We’re living in a strange time
Working for a strange goal
We’re turning flesh and body
Into soul

 

GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY Bob Dylan

In a long career Dylan has written more than a handful of great  songs …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CwHby-YTNo

You may be an ambassador
To England or France
You might like to gamble
You might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight
Champion of the world
You might be a socialite
With a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Might be a Rock-n-roll addict
Prancing on the stage
Money, Drugs at your command
Women in a cage
You may be a businessman
Or some high degree thief
They may call you doctor
Or they may call you chief
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes you are, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might be a Rock-n-roll addict

Prancing on the stage
Money, Drugs at your command
Women in a cage
You may be a businessman
Or some high degree thief
They may call you doctor
Or they may call you chief
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes you are, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
*
*
You might be a young Turk
You may be the head
Of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor
You may be blind or lame
Maybe livin’ in another Country
Under another name
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes you are, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Maybe a construction worker
Workin’ on a home
Might be livin’ in a Mansion
You might live in a dome
You may own guns
And you may even own tanks
You may be someone’s landlord
You may even own banks
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You may be a Preacher
Preaching Spiritual Pride
Maybe a City Councilman
Takin’ bribes on the side
Maybe working in a Barbershop
You may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress
Maybe somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Might like to wear cotton
Might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey
Might like to drink milk
Might like to eat caviar
You might like to eat bread
Maybe sleeping on the floor
Sleepin’ in a king-size bed
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You may call me Terry
You may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby
Or you may call me Zimmy
You may call me RJ
You may call me Ray
You may call me anything
No matter what you say
You’re still gonna have to serve somebody
Yes, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
And it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Ohh Yeah
Serve Somebody

Early Roman Kings Bob Dylan

All the early Roman kings
In their sharkskin suits
Bow ties and buttons
High top boots
Drivin’ the spikes in
Blazin’ the rails
Nailed in their coffins
In top hats and tails
Fly away, little bird
Fly away, flap your wings
Fly by night
Like the early Roman kings

All the early roman kings
In the early early morn
Coming down the mountain
Distributing the corn
Speeding through the forest
Racing down the track
You try to get away
They drag you back
Tomorrow is Friday
We’ll see what it brings
Everybody’s talking
Bout the early roman kings

They’re peddlers and they’re meddlers
They buy and they sell
They destroyed your city
They’ll destroy you as well
They’re lecherous and treacherous
Hell-bent for leather
Each of ’em bigger
Than all them put together
Sluggers and muggers
Wearing fancy gold rings
All the women goin’ crazy
For the early Roman kings

I can dress up your wounds
With a blood-clotted rag
I ain’t afraid to make love
To a bitch or a hag
If you see me comin’
And you’re standing there
Wave your handkerchief
In the air
I ain’t dead yet
Ma Bell still rings
I keep my fingers crossed
Like them early roman kings

I can strip you of life
Strip you of breath
Ship you down
To the house of death
One day
You will ask for me
There’ll be no one else
That you’ll wanna see
Bring down my fiddle
Tune up my strings
I’m gonna break it wide open
Like the early roman kings

I was up on black mountain
The day Detroit fell
They killed ’em all off
And they sent ’em to hell
Ding dong daddy
You’re coming up short
Gonna put you on trial
In a Sicilian court
I’ve had my fun
I’ve had my flings
Gonna shake em all down
Like the early roman kings

“I ain’t dead yet… my Bell still rings”

Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

Camille Paglia included the 60’s anthem, Woodstock in  Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World’s Best Poems   which moved me to reconsider the song and Mitchell… “But you know life is for learning”

By the way, John Legend has a new version of Woodstock which is spellbinding…

 


I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm *
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who I am
But you know life is for learning

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the garden

“God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)” Randy Newman

Probably best  known for his Toy Story score and theme song, Newman has a mordant sense of humor, as the following tune exhibits…

Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:

Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
‘Cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be
That’s why I love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That’s why I love mankind

The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, “Lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won’t take care of us
Won’t you please, please let us be?”
And the Lord said
And the Lord said

I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That’s why I love mankind
You really need me
That’s why I love mankind

Anthem Leonard Cohen

There is a crack in everything,  that’s how the light gets in …”

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Kazuo Ishiguro My, Twentieth Century Evening – and Other Small Breakthroughs

26 Jan

Sadly, missing from the contemporary array of amusements and entertainment is the loss art of oratory and declamation. Probably one of the more attractive aspects of Barack Obama’s persona—if there are even a handful of people who can speak eloquently in public, I haven’t been able to identify them. Nonetheless, book publishers occasionally (for reasons that escape me, only occasionally) see fit to offer speeches in attractively designed chapbooks (see below for a partial list). Now comes My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: The Nobel Lecture  (the only other Nobel lecture I have come across in this form is  JM Coetzee’s 2003 oration)

 

 

Kazuo Ishiguro – Nobel Lecture

7 December, 2017
My Twentieth Century Evening – and Other Small Breakthroughs

 

From Random House

 

The Nobel Lecture in Literature, delivered by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans,The Buriecd Giant) at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 7, 2017, in an elegant, clothbound edition.

In their announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy recognized the emotional force of Kazuo Ishiguro’s fiction and his mastery at uncovering our illusory sense of connection with the world. In the eloquent and candid lecture he delivered upon accepting the award, Ishiguro reflects on the way he was shaped by his upbringing, and on the turning points in his career—“small scruffy moments . . . quiet, private sparks of revelation”—that made him the writer he is today.
With the same generous humanity that has graced his novels, Ishiguro here looks beyond himself, to the world that new generations of writers are taking on, and what it will mean—what it will demand of us—to make certain that literature remains not just alive, but essential.
An enduring work on writing and becoming a writer, by one of the most accomplished novelists of our generation.

 

Sampling the speech

 

So here I am, a man in my sixties, rubbing my eyes and trying to discern the outlines, out there in the mist, to this world I didn’t suspect even existed until yesterday. Can I, a tired author, from an intellectually tired generation, now find the energy to look at this unfamiliar place? Do I have something left that might help to provide perspective, to bring emotional layers to the arguments, fights and wars that will come as societies struggle to adjust to huge changes?

I’ll have to carry on and do the best I can. Because I still believe that literature is important, and will be particularly so as we cross this difficult terrain. But I’ll be looking to the writers from the younger generations to inspire and lead us. This is their era, and they will have the knowledge and instinct about it that I will lack. In the worlds of books, cinema, TV and theatre I see today adventurous, exciting talents: women and men in their forties, thirties and twenties. So I am optimistic. Why shouldn’t I be?

Now as you will note below, through the wonders of the digital world, Ishiguro’s valedictory is available at the Nobel Prize site (as are all the previous Nobel orations). There are, I think, many good reasons that the orations of Nobel laureates should be iterated in the way that Ishiguro’s is—if you  are enthralled by books, then it is self evident that some things belong in books…

My Twentieth Century Evening – and Other Small Breakthroughs

 

If you’d come across me in the autumn of 1979, you might have had some difficulty placing me, socially or even racially. I was then 24 years old. My features would have looked Japanese, but unlike most Japanese men seen in Britain in those days, I had hair down to my shoulders, and a drooping bandit-style moustache. The only accent discernible in my speech was that of someone brought up in the southern counties of England, inflected at times by the languid, already dated vernacular of the Hippie era. If we’d got talking, we might have discussed the Total Footballers of Holland, or Bob Dylan’s latest album, or perhaps the year I’d just spent working with homeless people in London. Had you mentioned Japan, asked me about its culture, you might even have detected a trace of impatience enter my manner as I declared my ignorance on the grounds that I hadn’t set foot in that country – not even for a holiday – since leaving it at the age of five.
That autumn I’d arrived with a rucksack, a guitar and a portable typewriter in Buxton, Norfolk – a small English village with an old water mill and flat farm fields all around it. I’d come to this place because I’d been accepted on a one-year postgraduate Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia. The university was ten miles away, in the cathedral town of Norwich, but I had no car and my only way of getting there was by means of a bus service that operated just once in the morning, once at lunch-time and once in the evening. But this, I was soon to discover, was no great hardship: I was rarely required at the university more than twice a week. I’d rented a room in a small house owned by a man in his thirties whose wife had just left him. No doubt, for him, the house was filled with the ghosts of his wrecked dreams – or perhaps he just wanted to avoid me; in any case, I didn’t set eyes on him for days on end. In other words, after the frenetic life I’d been leading in London, here I was, faced with an unusual amount of quiet and solitude in which to transform myself into a writer.

In fact, my little room was not unlike the classic writer’s garret. The ceilings sloped claustrophobically – though if I stood on tip-toes I had a view, from my one window, of ploughed fields stretching away into the distance. There was a small table, the surface of which my typewriter and a desk lamp took up almost entirely. On the floor, instead of a bed, there was a large rectangular piece of industrial foam that would cause me to sweat in my sleep, even during the bitterly cold Norfolk nights.
It was in this room that I carefully examined the two short stories I’d written over the summer, wondering if they were good enough to submit to my new classmates. (We were, I knew, a class of six, meeting once every two weeks.) At that point in my life I’d written little else of note in the way of prose fiction, having earned my place on the course with a radio play rejected by the BBC. In fact, having previously made firm plans to become a rock star by the time I was twenty, my literary ambitions had only recently made themselves known to me. The two stories I was now scrutinising had been written in something of a panic, in response to the news that I’d been accepted on the university course. One was about a macabre suicide pact, the other about street fights in Scotland, where I’d spent some time as a community worker. They were not so good. I started another story, about an adolescent who poisons his cat, set like the others in present day Britain. Then one night, during my third or fourth week in that little room, I found myself writing, with a new and urgent intensity, about Japan – about Nagasaki, the city of my birth, during the last days of the Second World War.

This, I should point out, came as something of a surprise to me. Today, the prevailing atmosphere is such that it’s virtually an instinct for an aspiring young writer with a mixed cultural heritage to explore his ‘roots’ in his work. But that was far from the case then. We were still a few years away from the explosion of ‘multicultural’ literature in Britain. Salman Rushdie was an unknown with one out-of-print novel to his name. Asked to name the leading young British novelist of the day, people might have mentioned Margaret Drabble; of older writers, Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis, William Golding, Anthony Burgess, John Fowles. Foreigners like Gabriel García Márquez, Milan Kundera or Borges were read only in tiny numbers, their names meaningless even to keen readers.
Such was the literary climate of the day that when I finished that first Japanese story, for all my sense of having discovered an important new direction, I began immediately to wonder if this departure shouldn’t be viewed as a self-indulgence; if I shouldn’t quickly return to more ‘normal’ subject matter. It was only after considerable hesitation I began to show the story around, and I remain to this day profoundly grateful to my fellow students, to my tutors, Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter, and to the novelist Paul Bailey – that year the university’s writer-in-residence – for their determinedly encouraging response. Had they been less positive, I would probably never again have written about Japan. As it was, I returned to my room and wrote and wrote. Throughout the winter of 1979-80, and well into the spring, I spoke to virtually no-one aside from the other five students in my class, the village grocer from whom I bought the breakfast cereals and lamb kidneys on which I existed, and my girlfriend, Lorna, (today my wife) who’d come to visit me every second weekend. It wasn’t a balanced life, but in those four or five months I managed to complete one half of my first novel, A Pale View of Hills – set also in Nagasaki, in the years of recovery after the dropping of the atomic bomb. I can remember occasionally during this period tinkering with some ideas for short stories not set in Japan, only to find my interest waning rapidly.

Those months were crucial for me, in so far as without them I’d probably never have become a writer. Since then, I’ve often looked back and asked: what was going on with me? What was all this peculiar energy? My conclusion has been that just at that point in my life, I’d become engaged in an urgent act of preservation. To explain this, I’ll need to go back a little.
*
I had come to England, aged five, with my parents and sister in April 1960, to the town of Guildford, Surrey, in the affluent ‘stockbroker belt’ thirty miles south of London. My father was a research scientist, an oceanographer who’d come to work for the British government. The machine he went on to invent, incidentally, is today part of the permanent collection at the Science Museum in London.

The photographs taken shortly after our arrival show an England from a vanished era. Men wear woollen V-neck pullovers with ties, cars still have running boards and a spare wheel on the back. The Beatles, the sexual revolution, student protests, ‘multiculturalism’ were all round the corner, but it’s hard to believe the England our family first encountered even suspected it. To meet a foreigner from France or Italy was remarkable enough – never mind one from Japan.

Our family lived in a cul-de-sac of twelve houses just where the paved roads ended and the countryside began. It was less than a five minute stroll to the local farm and the lane down which rows of cows trudged back and forth between fields. Milk was delivered by horse and cart. A common sight I remember vividly from my first days in England was that of hedgehogs – the cute, spiky, nocturnal creatures then numerous in that country – squashed by car wheels during the night, left in the morning dew, tucked neatly by the roadside, awaiting collection by the refuse men.

All our neighbours went to church, and when I went to play with their children, I noticed they said a small prayer before eating.

I attended Sunday school, and before long was singing in the church choir, becoming, aged ten, the first Japanese Head Chorister seen in Guildford. I went to the local primary school – where I was the only non-English child, quite possibly in the entire history of that school – and from when I was eleven, I travelled by train to my grammar school in a neighbouring town, sharing the carriage each morning with ranks of men in pinstripe suits and bowler hats, on their way to their offices in London.

By this stage, I’d become thoroughly trained in the manners expected of English middle-class boys in those days. When visiting a friend’s house, I knew I should stand to attention the instant an adult wandered into the room; I learned that during a meal I had to ask permission before getting down from the table. As the only foreign boy in the neighbourhood, a kind of local fame followed me around. Other children knew who I was before I met them. Adults who were total strangers to me sometimes addressed me by name in the street or in the local store.

When I look back to this period, and remember it was less than twenty years from the end of a world war in which the Japanese had been their bitter enemies, I’m amazed by the openness and instinctive generosity with which our family was accepted by this ordinary English community. The affection, respect and curiosity I retain to this day for that generation of Britons who came through the Second World War, and built a remarkable new welfare state in its aftermath, derive significantly from my personal experiences from those years.

But all this time, I was leading another life at home with my Japanese parents. At home there were different rules, different expectations, a different language. My parents’ original intention had been that we return to Japan after a year, perhaps two. In fact, for our first eleven years in England, we were in a perpetual state of going back ‘next year’. As a result, my parents’ outlook remained that of visitors, not of immigrants. They’d often exchange observations about the curious customs of the natives without feeling any onus to adopt them. And for a long time the assumption remained that I would return to live my adult life in Japan, and efforts were made to keep up the Japanese side of my education. Each month a parcel arrived from Japan, containing the previous month’s comics, magazines and educational digests, all of which I devoured eagerly. These parcels stopped arriving some time in my teens – perhaps after my grandfather’s death – but my parents’ talk of old friends, relatives, episodes from their lives in Japan all kept up a steady supply of images and impressions. And then I always had my own store of memories – surprisingly vast and clear: of my grandparents, of favourite toys I’d left behind, the traditional Japanese house we’d lived in (which I can even today reconstruct in my mind room by room), my kindergarten, the local tram stop, the fierce dog that lived by the bridge, the chair in the barber’s shop specially adapted for small boys with a car steering wheel fixed in front of the big mirror.

What this all amounted to was that as I was growing up, long before I’d ever thought to create fictional worlds in prose, I was busily constructing in my mind a richly detailed place called ‘Japan’ – a place to which I in some way belonged, and from which I drew a certain sense of my identity and my confidence. The fact that I’d never physically returned to Japan during that time only served to make my own vision of the country more vivid and personal.

Hence the need for preservation. For by the time I reached my mid-twenties – though I never clearly articulated this at the time – I was coming to realise certain key things. I was starting to accept that ‘my’ Japan perhaps didn’t much correspond to any place I could go to on a plane; that the way of life of which my parents talked, that I remembered from my early childhood, had largely vanished during the 1960s and 1970s; that in any case, the Japan that existed in my head might always have been an emotional construct put together by a child out of memory, imagination and speculation. And perhaps most significantly, I’d come to realise that with each year I grew older, this Japan of mine – this precious place I’d grown up with – was getting fainter and fainter.

I’m now sure that it was this feeling, that ‘my’ Japan was unique and at the same time terribly fragile – something not open to verification from outside – that drove me on to work in that small room in Norfolk. What I was doing was getting down on paper that world’s special colours, mores, etiquettes, its dignity, its shortcomings, everything I’d ever thought about the place, before they faded forever from my mind. It was my wish to re-build my Japan in fiction, to make it safe, so that I could thereafter point to a book and say: ‘Yes, there’s my Japan, inside there.’
*
Spring 1983, three and a half years later. Lorna and I were now in London, lodging in two rooms at the top of a tall narrow house, which itself stood on a hill at one of the highest points of the city. There was a television mast nearby and when we tried to listen to records on our turntable, ghostly broadcasting voices would intermittently invade our speakers. Our living room had no sofa or armchair, but two mattresses on the floor covered with cushions. There was also a large table on which I wrote during the day, and where we had dinner at night. It wasn’t luxurious, but we liked living there. I’d published my first novel the year before, and I’d also written a screenplay for a short film soon to be broadcast on British television.

I’d been for a time reasonably proud of my first novel, but by that spring, a niggling sense of dissatisfaction had set in. Here was the problem. My first novel and my first TV screenplay were too similar. Not in subject matter, but in method and style. The more I looked at it, the more my novel resembled a screenplay – dialogue plus directions. This was okay up to a point, but my wish now was to write fiction that could work properly only on the page. Why write a novel if it was going to offer more or less the same experience someone could get by turning on a television? How could written fiction hope to survive against the might of cinema and television if it didn’t offer something unique, something the other forms couldn’t do?

Around this time, I came down with a virus and spent a few days in bed. When I came out of the worst of it, and I didn’t feel like sleeping all the time, I discovered that the heavy object, whose presence amidst my bedclothes had been annoying me for some time, was in fact a copy of the first volume of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (as the title was then translated). There it was, so I started to read it. My still fevered condition was perhaps a factor, but I became completely riveted by the Overture and Combray sections. I read them over and over. Quite aside from the sheer beauty of these passages, I became thrilled by the means by which Proust got one episode to lead into the next. The ordering of events and scenes didn’t follow the usual demands of chronology, nor those of a linear plot. Instead, tangential thought associations, or the vagaries of memory seemed to move the writing from one episode to the next. Sometimes I found myself wondering: why had these two seemingly unrelated moments been placed side by side in the narrator’s mind? I could suddenly see an exciting, freer way of composing my second novel; one that could produce richness on the page and offer inner movements impossible to capture on any screen. If I could go from one passage to the next according to the narrator’s thought associations and drifting memories, I could compose in something like the way an abstract painter might choose to place shapes and colours around a canvas. I could place a scene from two days ago right beside one from twenty years earlier, and ask the reader to ponder the relationship between the two. In such a way, I began to think, I might suggest the many layers of self-deception and denial that shrouded any person’s view of their own self and of their past.

*
March 1988. I was 33 years old. We now had a sofa and I was lying across it, listening to a Tom Waits album. The previous year, Lorna and I had bought our own house in an unfashionable but pleasant part of South London, and in this house, for the first time, I had my own study. It was small, and didn’t have a door, but I was thrilled to spread my papers around and not have to clear them away at the end of each day. And in that study – or so I believed – I’d just finished my third novel. It was my first not to have a Japanese setting – my personal Japan having been made less fragile by the writing of my previous novels. In fact my new book, to be called The Remains of the Day, seemed English in the extreme – though not, I hoped, in the manner of many British authors of the older generation. I’d been careful not to assume, as I felt many of them did, that my readers were all English, with native familiarity of English nuances and preoccupations. By then, writers like Salman Rushdie and V.S. Naipaul had forged the way for a more international, outward-looking British literature, one that didn’t claim any centrality or automatic importance for Britain. Their writing was post-colonial in the widest sense. I wanted, like them, to write ‘international’ fiction that could easily cross cultural and linguistic boundaries, even while writing a story set in what seemed a peculiarly English world. My version of England would be a kind of mythical one, whose outlines, I believed, were already present in the imaginations of many people around the world, including those who had never visited the country.

The story I’d just finished was about an English butler who realises, too late in his life, that he has lived his life by the wrong values; and that he’s given his best years to serving a Nazi sympa-thizer; that by failing to take moral and political responsibility for his life, he has in some profound sense wasted that life. And more: that in his bid to become the perfect servant, he has forbidden himself to love, or be loved by, the one woman he cares for.
I’d read through my manuscript several times, and I’d been reasonably satisfied. Still, there was a niggling feeling that something was missing.

Then, as I say, there I was, in our house one evening, on our sofa, listening to Tom Waits. And Tom Waits began to sing a song called ‘Ruby’s Arms’. Perhaps some of you know it. (I even thought about singing it to you at this point, but I’ve changed my mind.) It’s a ballad about a man, possibly a soldier, leaving his lover asleep in bed. It’s the early morning, he goes down the road, gets on a train. Nothing unusual in that. But the song is delivered in the voice of a gruff American hobo utterly unaccustomed to revealing his deeper emotions. And there comes a moment, midway through the song, when the singer tells us that his heart is breaking. The moment is almost unbearably moving because of the tension between the sentiment itself and the huge resistance that’s obviously been overcome to declare it. Tom Waits sings the line with cathartic magnificence, and you feel a lifetime of tough-guy stoicism crumbling in the face of overwhelming sadness.

As I listened to Tom Waits, I realised what I’d still left to do. I’d unthinkingly made the decision, somewhere way back, that my English butler would maintain his emotional defences, that he’d manage to hide behind them, from himself and his reader, to the very end. Now I saw I had to reverse that decision. Just for one moment, towards the end of my story, a moment I’d have to choose carefully, I had to make his armour crack. I had to allow a vast and tragic yearning to be glimpsed underneath.

I should say here that I have, on a number of other occasions, learned crucial lessons from the voices of singers. I refer here less to the lyrics being sung, and more to the actual singing. As we know, a human voice in song is capable of expressing an unfathomably complex blend of feelings. Over the years, specific aspects of my writing have been influenced by, among others, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch and my friend and collaborator Stacey Kent. Catching something in their voices, I’ve said to myself: ‘Ah yes, that’s it. That’s what I need to capture in that scene. Something very close to that.’ Often it’s an emotion I can’t quite put into words, but there it is, in the singer’s voice, and now I’ve been given something to aim for.
*
In October 1999 I was invited by the German poet Christoph Heubner on behalf of the International Auschwitz Committee to spend a few days visiting the former concentration camp. My accommodation was at the Auschwitz Youth Meeting Centre on the road between the first Auschwitz camp and the Birkenau death camp two miles away. I was shown around these sites and met, informally, three survivors. I felt I’d come close, geographically at least, to the heart of the dark force under whose shadow my generation had grown up. At Birkenau, on a wet afternoon, I stood before the rubbled remains of the gas chambers – now strangely neglected and unattended – left much as the Germans had left them after blowing them up and fleeing the Red Army. They were now just damp, broken slabs, exposed to the harsh Polish climate, deteriorating year by year. My hosts talked about their dilemma. Should these remains be protected? Should perspex domes be built to cover them over, to preserve them for the eyes of succeeding generations? Or should they be allowed, slowly and naturally, to rot away to nothing? It seemed to me a powerful metaphor for a larger dilemma. How were such memories to be preserved? Would the glass domes transform these relics of evil and suffering into tame museum exhibits? What should we choose to remember? When is it better to forget and move on?

I was 44 years old. Until then I’d considered the Second World War, its horrors and its triumphs, as belonging to my parents’ generation. But now it occurred to me that before too long, many who had witnessed those huge events at first hand would not be alive. And what then? Did the burden of remembering fall to my own generation? We hadn’t experienced the war years, but we’d at least been brought up by parents whose lives had been indelibly shaped by them. Did I, now, as a public teller of stories, have a duty I’d hitherto been unaware of? A duty to pass on, as best I could, these memories and lessons from our parents’ generation to the one after our own?

A little while later, I was speaking before an audience in Tokyo, and a questioner from the floor asked, as is common, what I might work on next. More specifically, the questioner pointed out that my books had often concerned individuals who’d lived through times of great social and political upheaval, and who then looked back over their lives and struggled to come to terms with their darker, more shameful memories. Would my future books, she asked, continue to cover a similar territory?

I found myself giving a quite unprepared answer. Yes, I said, I’d often written about such individuals struggling between forgetting and remembering. But in the future, what I really wished to do was to write a story about how a nation or a community faced these same questions. Does a nation remember and forget in much the same way as an individual does? Or are there important differences? What exactly are the memories of a nation? Where are they kept? How are they shaped and controlled? Are there times when forgetting is the only way to stop cycles of violence, or to stop a society disintegrating into chaos or war? On the other hand, can stable, free nations really be built on foundations of wilful amnesia and frustrated justice? I heard myself telling the questioner that I wanted to find a way to write about these things, but that for the moment, unfortunately, I couldn’t think how I’d do it.

*
One evening in early 2001, in the darkened front room of our house in North London (where we were by then living), Lorna and I began to watch, on a reasonable quality VHS tape, a 1934 Howard Hawks film called Twentieth Century. The film’s title, we soon discovered, referred not to the century we’d then just left behind, but to a famous luxury train of the era connecting New York and Chicago. As some of you will know, the film is a fast-paced comedy, set largely on the train, concerning a Broadway producer who, with increasing desperation, tries to prevent his leading actress going to Hollywood to become a movie star. The film is built around a huge comic performance by John Barrymore, one of the great actors of his day. His facial expressions, his gestures, almost every line he utters come layered with ironies, contradictions, the grotesqueries of a man drowning in egocentricity and self-dramatisation. It is in many ways a brilliant performance. Yet, as the film continued to unfold, I found myself curiously uninvolved. This puzzled me at first. I usually liked Barrymore, and was a big enthusiast for Howard Hawks’s other films from this period – such as His Girl Friday and Only Angels Have Wings. Then, around the film’s one hour mark, a simple, striking idea came into my head. The reason why so many vivid, undeniably convincing characters in novels, films and plays so often failed to touch me was because these characters didn’t connect to any of the other characters in an interesting human relationship. And immediately, this next thought came regarding my own work: What if I stopped worrying about my characters and worried instead about my relationships?

As the train rattled farther west and John Barrymore became ever more hysterical, I thought about E.M. Forster’s famous distinction between three-dimensional and two-dimensional characters. A character in a story became three-dimensional, he’d said, by virtue of the fact that they ‘surprised us convincingly’. It was in so doing they became ’rounded’. But what, I now wondered, if a character was three-dimensional, while all his or her relationships were not? Elsewhere in that same lecture series, Forster had used a humorous image, of extracting the storyline out of a novel with a pair of forceps and holding it up, like a wriggling worm, for examination under the light. Couldn’t I perform a similar exercise and hold up to the light the various relationships that criss-cross any story? Could I do this with my own work – to stories I’d completed and ones I was planning? I could look at, say, this mentor-pupil relationship. Does it say something insightful and fresh? Or now that I was staring at it, does it become obvious it’s a tired stereotype, identical to those found in hundreds of mediocre stories? Or this relationship between two competitive friends: is it dynamic? Does it have emotional resonance? Does it evolve? Does it surprise convincingly? Is it three-dimensional? I suddenly felt I understood better why in the past various aspects of my work had failed, despite my applying desperate remedies. The thought came to me – as I continued to stare at John Barrymore – that all good stories, never mind how radical or traditional their mode of telling, had to contain relationships that are important to us; that move us, amuse us, anger us, surprise us. Perhaps in future, if I attended more to my relationships, my characters would take care of themselves.
It occurs to me as I say this that I might be making a point here that has always been plainly obvious to you. But all I can say is that it was an idea that came to me surprisingly late in my writing life, and I see it now as a turning point, comparable with the others I’ve been describing to you today. From then on, I began to build my stories in a different way. When writing my novel Never Let Me Go, for instance, I set off from the start by thinking about its central relationships triangle, and then the other relationships that fanned out from it.
*
Important turning points in a writer’s career – perhaps in many kinds of career – are like these. Often, they are small, scruffy moments. They are quiet, private sparks of revelation. They don’t come often, and when they do, they may well come without fanfare, unendorsed by mentors or colleagues. They must often compete for attention with louder, seemingly more urgent demands. Sometimes what they reveal may go against the grain of prevailing wisdom. But when they come, it’s important to be able to recognise them for what they are. Or they’ll slip through your hands.

I’ve been emphasising here the small and the private, because essentially that’s what my work is about. One person writing in a quiet room, trying to connect with another person, reading in another quiet – or maybe not so quiet – room. Stories can entertain, sometimes teach or argue a point. But for me the essential thing is that they communicate feelings. That they appeal to what we share as human beings across our borders and divides. There are large glamorous industries around stories; the book industry, the movie industry, the television industry, the theatre industry. But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it also feel this way to you?
*
So we come to the present. I woke up recently to the realisation I’d been living for some years in a bubble. That I’d failed to notice the frustration and anxieties of many people around me. I realised that my world – a civilised, stimulating place filled with ironic, liberal-minded people – was in fact much smaller than I’d ever imagined. 2016, a year of surprising – and for me depressing – political events in Europe and in America, and of sickening acts of terrorism all around the globe, forced me to acknowledge that the unstoppable advance of liberal-humanist values I’d taken for granted since childhood may have been an illusion.

I’m part of a generation inclined to optimism, and why not? We watched our elders successfully transform Europe from a place of totalitarian regimes, genocide and historically unprecedented carnage to a much-envied region of liberal democracies living in near-borderless friendship. We watched the old colonial empires crumble around the world together with the reprehensible assumptions that underpinned them. We saw significant progress in feminism, gay rights and the battles on several fronts against racism. We grew up against a backdrop of the great clash – ideological and military – between capitalism and communism, and witnessed what many of us believed to be a happy conclusion.

But now, looking back, the era since the fall of the Berlin Wall seems like one of complacency, of opportunities lost. Enormous inequalities – of wealth and opportunity – have been allowed to grow, between nations and within nations. In particular, the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the long years of austerity policies imposed on ordinary people following the scandalous economic crash of 2008, have brought us to a present in which Far Right ideologies and tribal nationalisms proliferate. Racism, in its traditional forms and in its modernised, better-marketed versions, is once again on the rise, stirring beneath our civilised streets like a buried monster awakening. For the moment we seem to lack any progressive cause to unite us. Instead, even in the wealthy democracies of the West, we’re fracturing into rival camps from which to compete bitterly for resources or power.

And around the corner – or have we already turned this corner? – lie the challenges posed by stunning breakthroughs in science, technology and medicine. New genetic technologies – such as the gene-editing technique CRISPR – and advances in Artificial Intelligence and robotics will bring us amazing, life-saving benefits, but may also create savage meritocracies that resemble apartheid, and massive unemployment, including to those in the current professional elites.

So here I am, a man in my sixties, rubbing my eyes and trying to discern the outlines, out there in the mist, to this world I didn’t suspect even existed until yesterday. Can I, a tired author, from an intellectually tired generation, now find the energy to look at this unfamiliar place? Do I have something left that might help to provide perspective, to bring emotional layers to the arguments, fights and wars that will come as societies struggle to adjust to huge changes?

I’ll have to carry on and do the best I can. Because I still believe that literature is important, and will be particularly so as we cross this difficult terrain. But I’ll be looking to the writers from the younger generations to inspire and lead us. This is their era, and they will have the knowledge and instinct about it that I will lack. In the worlds of books, cinema, TV and theatre I see today adventurous, exciting talents: women and men in their forties, thirties and twenties. So I am optimistic. Why shouldn’t I be?

But let me finish by making an appeal – if you like, my Nobel appeal! It’s hard to put the whole world to rights, but let us at least think about how we can prepare our own small corner of it, this corner of ‘literature’, where we read, write, publish, recommend, denounce and give awards to books. If we are to play an important role in this uncertain future, if we are to get the best from the writers of today and tomorrow, I believe we must become more diverse. I mean this in two particular senses.

Firstly, we must widen our common literary world to include many more voices from beyond our comfort zones of the elite first world cultures. We must search more energetically to discover the gems from what remain today unknown literary cultures, whether the writers live in far away countries or within our own communities. Second: we must take great care not to set too narrowly or conservatively our definitions of what constitutes good literature. The next generation will come with all sorts of new, sometimes bewildering ways to tell important and wonderful stories. We must keep our minds open to them, especially regarding genre and form, so that we can nurture and celebrate the best of them. In a time of dangerously increasing division, we must listen. Good writing and good reading will break down barriers. We may even find a new idea, a great humane vision, around which to rally.

To the Swedish Academy, the Nobel Foundation, and to the people of Sweden who down the years have made the Nobel Prize a shining symbol for the good we human beings strive for – I give my thanks.

 

 

In case you are not familiar with Kazuo Ishiguro…

 

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List of speeches in books. This is the Water, David Foster Wallace, Literature is Freedom Susan Sontag,

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness  by George Saunders, You Are Not Special: … And Other Encouragements
by David McCullough JR  (originally a speech, expanded into larger book)

https://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/?id=2731&view=2  The announcment is made in five languages, kind of impressive

https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2017/ishiguro-lecture_en.html speech text

Kazuo Ishiguro (Lannan Literary Video Series) VHS VIDEO  Kazuo Ishiguro  , Pico Iyer  , Dan Griggsc(1990 video)

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Its Not Only Rock and Roll…And I Like It

24 Jan

 

 

 

 

Music has been an important part of my life from an early age—first Afro Cuban music (Dizzy Gillespie), then Chicago soul (Curtis Mayfield) and then the ecstatic boundary busting psychedelic era which opened my tastes to include everything except European polka music (except for the Schmengy brothers). Nonetheless, I have never been much interested in reading about music or musicians, even the ones that became part of my musical diet. Partly that was due to what I viewed as the less than stellar biographical offerings. That changed with writers such as Nick Tosches, Peter Guralinick *and David Hadju.**

 

 

 

Hadju’s bio Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn  (profiled closest Duke Ellington’s collaborator. Among Strayhorn’s credits is  the non-pareil ballad ,Lush Life,  which he wrote at the age of 19)

 

 

and Peter Guralnick’s Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick

 

 

were both vivid accounts of very original musicians and to some degree (more so with Guralnick) ethnographic studies that made sense of the cultural terrain that spawned their talented subjects.

 

Back when notes of patchouli and cannabis wafted through the hip universe and tye-die t shirts and bell bottom jeans were the uniform of the day and a regnant slogan was “ Don’t trust anyone over 30” and music was available on 8 track cassettes (the worst format ever), thought s od the future were relegated to speculative fiction . Since then the Walkman, the iPod , Spotify have delivered a future that is a music lovers paradise.

 

Three recent biographies of  musicians—Stephen Stills, Joni Mitchell and Lou Reed, unpack careers that spanned the years from the roiling 60’s to our fin de siecle era (Reed died in 2013). Had they just been remembered  for the iconic For What its Worth (Stills), Woodstock, (Mitchell)  and Walk on the Wild Side (Reed) they would still belong in the pantheon of great songwriters . But of course these American (and Canadian) originals contributed so much more as these profile…

 

Stephen Stills Change Partners: The Definitive Biography by David Roberts

 

Stephen Stills is one of the last remaining music legends from the rock era without a biography. During his six-decade career, he has played with all the greats. His career sky-rocketed when Crosby, Stills & Nash played only their second gig together at Woodstock in 1969. With the addition of Neil Young, the band would go on to play the first rock stadium tour in 1974. From Lorrie Moore’s piece on Stills:

…Stills is one of the last remaining rock-and-roll geniuses from a time when rock music was the soundtrack to an antiwar movement—“For What It’s Worth,” “Woodstock,” “Ohio” (about the 1970 Kent State shootings)—back when the global counterculture was on the left rather than the right. Roberts’s book makes this inexactly clear. Stills has been on the scene from the start, forming Buffalo Springfield when Jimi Hendrix was being booked as the opening act for the Monkees on tour. He has seemingly played with everyone—from Bill Withers to George Harrison. He was the first person to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice in one night, for his work in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash. “What a wonderfully strange and beautiful cast of characters life has handed to me,” he said in his acceptance speech.

 

 

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe

 

 

 

 

From the Publisher

Joni Mitchell may be the most influential female recording artist and composer of the late twentieth century. In Reckless Daughter, the music critic David Yaffe tells the remarkable, heart-wrenching story of how the blond girl with the guitar became a superstar of folk music in the 1960s, a key figure in the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 1970s, and the songwriter who spoke resonantly to, and for, audiences across the country.
A Canadian prairie girl, a free-spirited artist, Mitchell never wanted to be a pop star. She was nothing more than “a painter derailed by circumstances,” she would explain. And yet, she went on to become a talented self-taught musician and a brilliant bandleader, releasing album after album, each distinctly experimental, challenging, and revealing. Her lyrics captivated listeners with their perceptive language and naked emotion, born out of Mitchell’s life, loves, complaints, and prophecies. As an artist whose work deftly balances narrative and musical complexity, she has been admired by such legendary lyricists as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and beloved by such groundbreaking jazz musicians as Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock. Her hits―from “Big Yellow Taxi” to “Both Sides, Now” to “A Case of You”―endure as timeless favorites, and her influence on the generations of singer-songwriters who would follow her, from her devoted fan Prince to Björk, is undeniable.
In this intimate biography, drawing on dozens of unprecedented in-person interviews with Mitchell, her childhood friends, and a cast of famous characters, Yaffe reveals the backstory behind the famous songs―from Mitchell’s youth in Canada, her bout with polio at age nine, and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption, through the love affairs that inspired masterpieces, and up to the present―and shows us why Mitchell has so enthralled her listeners, her lovers, and her friends. Reckless Daughter is the story of an artist and an era that have left an indelible mark on American music.

In what Francine Prose calls a “protective biography , she opines

 

Uncritical admiration can make “Reckless Daughter” seem like a 400-page fan letter, though one certainly prefers Yaffe’s approach to that of biographers who despise their subjects. Championing Mitchell, right or wrong, and trying to stay on her good side is not exactly the same as taking her seriously as a composer and performer. Ultimately, it hardly matters. The person who wrote and sang “Blue,” “Court and Spark” and “Hejira” doesn’t need protection from readers who, decades after those albums appeared, remember Mitchell’s songs. Anthems not only of restlessness and heartbreak but also of intelligence, insight and courage, they are tributes to the power of music to imprint itself indelibly on the consciousness of its listeners.

 

Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis

 

 

From the publisher

As lead singer and songwriter for the Velvet Underground and a renowned solo artist, Lou Reed invented alternative rock. His music, at once a source of transcendent beauty and coruscating noise, violated all definitions of genre while speaking to millions of fans and inspiring generations of musicians.

But while his iconic status may be fixed, the man himself was anything but. Lou Reed’s life was a transformer’s odyssey. Eternally restless and endlessly hungry for new experiences, Reed reinvented his persona, his sound, even his sexuality time and again. A man of contradictions and extremes, he was fiercely independent yet afraid of being alone, artistically fearless yet deeply paranoid, eager for commercial success yet disdainful of his own triumphs. Channeling his jagged energy and literary sensibility into classic songs – like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Sweet Jane” – and radically experimental albums alike, Reed remained desperately true to his artistic vision, wherever it led him.

Now, just a few years after Reed’s death, Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis, who knew Close Reed and interviewed him extensively, tells the provocative story of his complex and chameleonic life. With unparalleled access to dozens of Reed’s friends, family, and collaborators, DeCurtis tracks Reed’s five-decade career through the accounts of those who knew him and through Reed’s most revealing testimony, his music. We travel deep into his defiantly subterranean world, enter the studio as the Velvet Underground record their groundbreaking work, and revel in Reed’s relationships with such legendary figures as Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and Laurie Anderson. Gritty, intimate, and unflinching, Lou Reed is an illuminating tribute to one of the most incendiary artists of our time.

 

David Yaffe spotlights what he describers as Reed’s “cantankerous” nature

The songs of Lou Reed are a manual of sorts for how to keep living after you have let yourself and everyone else down, or after the world has done that for you. Reed doesn’t judge anyone for shooting heroin or defying societal norms, or for making sweet, gentle love to someone right before they OD. His songs are not sentimental about death, and they never, ever try to make you like the person who is singing them. He was more lacking in guile than most in rock and roll and he was notoriously cantankerous. When he had a liver transplant a few months before his death, The Onion ran a satirical piece

“It’s really hard to get along with Lou—one minute he’s your best friend and the next he’s outright abusive,” said the vital organ, describing its ongoing collaboration with the former Velvet Underground frontman as “strained at best.” “He just has this way of making you feel completely inadequate. I can tell he doesn’t respect me at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s already thinking about replacing me.” The joke worked because it was so true: anyone who got close to Lou—bandmates, lovers, archivists—invariably had such an experience after a while.

Along with with access to all the world’s music  digitalization has fractured the categories of music and has reduced artistic name recognition to near anonymity. Whether 50 years hence we will celebrate musical giants like Mitchell, Stills and Reed, of course remanis to be seen…

 

 

Mavis at 70 plus years is still  performing. Warren Zevon passed a few years ago and his wife put together a very original collection of testiments by people who knew Warren . Mingus was/is a giant who should occupy  the Amerian musical pantheon with Duke Ellington George Gershwin. Charlie “Bird ” Parker ‘s life is the template for tragic lives of the creative originals The books below are excellent examples of the shift from hagiography to ethnography.

 

 

 

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The Last and Best List of “Best” Books for 2017

15 Jan

 

In 2009 ,when Umberto Eco was in residence at the French Louvre he chose to study the  theme  of “the vertigo of lists.” His reflections  on an enormous trove of human achievements and his investigation of the phenomenon of cataloging and collecting resulted in The Infinity of Lists: An  Illustrated History.* Paul Zimmer says his  poem  Zimmer Goes To Heaven is a list So  far those are the only examples of  lists that are useful in the cultural world

 

 Attaching superlatives to  creative endeavors has been a pet peeve of mine ever since so called  best lists came to  cultural preeminence. Finally, someone (Thomas Morris ) has articulated better than (and more kindly), I ever have the issues I have with these  Books of the Year.

 

…that these lists would benefit from getting rid of the ‘best’ tag. It’s not that I don’t believe some books are better than others; it’s just that I don’t believe we adequately express our love when we invoke criterions of betterness; and that such claims are frankly absurd when each individual is drawing from such a small, subjective pool.

**Books of the Year lists are a key factor in the spread of blurbese: a language written in a register completely separate from actual spoken word-of-mouth recommendations. In 2015, when I was first asked to write a few lines about my Books of the Year, I found myself typing words like “haunting”, “lyrical”, “exquisite”, “innovative”, “poignant” “handsome” and the kind of phrases that I would usually strike out of a work of fiction: “bowled over”; “blown away”; “left dazzled by”. I heard the Song of Praise, and I duly danced the steps. 

I am not naive enough to think that the writing industry can exist outside of the machinations of capitalism, but I do think these kind of lists are in a ragged service to a skewed, misguided market-logic whereby literary “product” values are something measurable and commensurable—and inherently related to newness. And it is disappointing to me that we all—in trying to recommend good books that we genuinely like—do so by participating in a narrative that most of us surely don’t really go along with. …

However, since my railing against these and other aesthetic misdemeanors has gone unheeded let me offer my own selections for your perusal and consideration** :

 

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News of the World by Paulette Jiles

 

It is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forging a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself. Exquisitely rendered and morally complex, News of the World is a brilliant work of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

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Heretics: A Novel by Leonardo Padura,‎ Anna Kushner  Translator

Padura follows his magnificent The Man Who Loved Dogs a sweeping novel of art theft, anti-Semitism, contemporary Cuba, and crime ping ponging from the 17th century to 1939 to the present. You can watch his Havana  Noir Quartet on Netflix, Four Seasons In Havana

In 1939, the Saint Louis sails from Hamburg into Havana’s port with hundreds of Jewish refugees seeking asylum from the Nazi regime. From the docks, nine-year-old Daniel Kaminsky watches as the passengers, including his mother, father, and sister, become embroiled in a fiasco of Cuban corruption. But the Kaminskys have a treasure that they hope will save them: a small Rembrandt portrait of Christ. Yet six days later the vessel is forced to leave the harbor with the family, bound for the horrors of Europe. The Kaminskys, along with their priceless heirloom, disappear.

Nearly seven decades later, the Rembrandt reappears in an auction house in London, prompting Daniel’s son to travel to Cuba to track down the story of his family’s lost masterpiece. He hires the down-on-his-luck private detective Mario Conde, and together they navigate a web of deception and violence in the morally complex city of Havana.

In Heretics, Leonardo Padura takes us from the tenements and beaches of Cuba to Rembrandt’s gloomy studio in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, telling the story of people forced to choose between the tenets of their faith and the realities of the world, between their personal desires and the demands of their times. A grand detective story and a moving historical drama, Padura’s novel is as compelling, mysterious, and enduring as the painting at its center

 

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Augustown: A Novel by Kei Miller 

 

I found this more acessible than the highly celebrated Marlan James story. Miller’s poetic language packs a big story in this slender tome

11 April 1982: a smell is coming down John Golding Road right alongside the boy-child, something attached to him, like a spirit but not quite. Ma Taffy is growing worried. She knows that something is going to happen. Something terrible is going to pour out into the world. But if she can hold it off for just a little bit longer, she will. So she asks a question that surprises herself even as she asks it, “Kaia, I ever tell you bout the flying preacherman?”

Set in the backlands of Jamaica, Augustown is a magical and haunting novel of one woman’s struggle to rise above the brutal vicissitudes of history, race, class, collective memory, violence, and myth. Containing twelve new stories and nine classics from previous collections, Signals is Tim Gautreaux at his best. Effortlessly conjuring the heat and humidity of the author’s beloved South, these stories of men and women grappling with faith, small town life, and blue-collar work are alternately ridiculous and sublime. For both longtime fans and readers lucky enough to encounter him for the very first time, Signals cements Gautreaux’s place as an American master.

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Signals: New and Selected Stories   by Tim Gautreaux

Signals is Tim Gautreaux at his best. Effortlessly conjuring the heat and humidity of the author’s beloved South, these stories of men and women grappling with faith, small town life, and blue-collar work are alternately ridiculous and sublime. For both longtime fans and readers lucky enough to encounter him for the very first time, Signals cements Gautreaux’s place as an American master.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Gautreaux (to be found in Conversations with Tim Gautreaux). Here’s sample

 

RB: Let’s talk about the subject at hand, The Clearing. Is it a Southern novel or a Louisiana novel or a bayou novel? Or none of the above.

TG: I hope none of the above. Because of I am very wary of the label “Southern writer.” Of course, I live in Louisiana and I was raised in south central Louisiana, born and raised there. I was raised in every cliché known to man about the Deep South. Once you allow yourself to be labeled, you begin to believe the label and then when you compose you feel duty bound to include as many of the usual cliches as you possibly can about your region. That’s a terrible thing to happen to a writer, and I hope that it doesn’t happen to me too much. When people interview me they ask if I consider myself a Southern writer. This seems like an honest question. Well, it is an honest question. But it’s a hard one to answer. I prefer to put a little different spin on it— I consider myself a writer first who happens to live in the South. If I had been born in North Dakota I would still be a writer. I would probably have had a similar life. But my people and my settings, my moods, my skies, my waterways would be from North Dakota or South Canada. I would still be writing something.

 

 

 

 

The Feud is the ironic (and sad) tale of how two literary giants destroyed their friendship in a fit of mutual pique and egomania. Having conversated with Alex Beam a number of times , he impresses with his acute sense of a good story (Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital, American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, and A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books) frequently told with Beam’s sly sense of humor.

In 1940, Edmund Wilson was the undisputed big dog of American letters. Vladimir Nabokov was a near-penniless Russian exile seeking asylum in the States. Wilson became a mentor to Nabokov, introducing him to every editor of note, assigning him book reviews for The New Republic, engineering a Guggenheim Fellowship. Their intimate friendship blossomed over a shared interest in all things Russian, ruffled a bit by political disagreements. But then came the worldwide best-selling novel Lolita,and the tables were turned. Suddenly Nabokov was the big (and very rich) dog. The feud finally erupted in full when Nabokov published his hugely footnoted and virtually unreadable literal translation of Pushkin’s famously untranslatable verse novel, Eugene Onegin. Wilson attacked his friend’s translation with hammer and tongs in The New York Review of Books. Nabokov counterattacked. Back and forth the increasingly aggressive letters flew, until the narcissism of small differences reduced their friendship to ashes.

Alex Beam has fashioned this clash of literary titans into a delightful and irresistible book—a comic contretemps of a very high order and a poignant demonstration of the fragility of even the deepest of friendships.

 

 

 

 

A Boy in Winter: A Novel by Rachel Seiffert  

 

Having some personal experience with the stories of Holocaust, I occasionally  consider whether the  stories and history’s that rise from that horror are an  exhaustible and can continue to bring new light to bear. This harrowing novel by Seiffert expands the sense of  barbarity of a well troden subject.

Early on a grey November morning in 1941, only weeks after the German invasion, a small Ukrainian town is overrun by the SS. This new novel from the award-winning author of the Booker Prize short-listed The Dark Room tells of the three days that follow and the lives that are overturned in the processPenned in with his fellow Jews, under threat of deportation, Ephraim anxiously awaits word of his two sons, missing since daybreak.Come in search of her lover, to fetch him home again, away from the invaders, Yasia must confront new and harsh truths about those closest to her.Here to avoid a war he considers criminal, German engineer Otto Pohl is faced with an even greater crime unfolding behind the lines, and no one but himself to turn to.And in the midst of it all is Yankel, a boy determined to survive this. But to do so, he must throw in his lot with strangers.As their stories mesh, each of Rachel Seiffert’s characters comes to know the compromises demanded by survival, the oppressive power of fear, and the possibility of courage in the face of terror.

A Boy in Winter is a story of hope when all is lost and of mercy when the times have none.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Savage: A Novel by Frank Bill

I came to Frank Bill through his literary debut, The Crimes of Southern Indiana a bracing story collection tracking the mayhem and appalling lives of life in the so called flyover zone. The Savage is his second novel.

The dollar has failed; the grid is wiped out. Walmarts are looted and homes are abandoned as common folk flee and bloodthirsty militias fight for power. In a twenty-first century America gone haywire, Darwinian struggle for survival is the law of the land.

Van Dorn, eighteen and running solo, was raised by his father in the old ways: to value survival, self-reliance, and righteousness. Determined to seek justice, he fights through a litany of horrors to save those captured by Cotto, a savage, drug-crazed warlord who has risen among the roving gangs, gaining territory while enslaving women and children. As destinies collide and survival becomes an increasingly distant fantasy, battling ideals of right and wrong come to an explosive head.

Chock-full of the razor-sharp prose and bloodlust that made Donnybrook[his first novel] impossible to put down, The Savage nonetheless finds Frank Bill raising the stakes. Here, one of America’s most iconoclastic young storytellers presents an unnerving vision of a fractured America gone terribly wrong, and a study of what happens when the last systems of morality and society collapse.

 

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Who Killed Piet Barol? by Richard Mason

Set in early twentieth-century colonial South Africa, and a forest full of witch doctors, stingless bees, and hungry leopards., this novel continues the story of Piet Barol begun in History of a Pleasure Seeker and despite the title a story Mason intends to continue in a third novel.

It is 1914. Germany has just declared war on France. Piet Barol was a tutor before he came to South Africa, his wife, Stacey, an opera singer. In Cape Town they are living the high life, impersonating French aristocrats—but their lies are catching up with them.The Barols’ furniture business is on the verge of collapse. They need top-quality wood, and they need it cheap. Piet enlists two Xhosa [pron. KO-sa] men to lead him into a vast forest, in search of a fabled tree.The Natives Land Act has just abolished property rights for the majority of black South Africans, and whole families have been ripped apart. Piet’s guides have their own reasons to lead him through the trees, and to keep him alive while he’s useful to them.Far from the comforting certainties of his privileged existence, Piet finds the prospect of riches beyond measure—and the chance to make great art. He is sure he’ll be able to buy what he needs for a few glass trinkets. But he’s underestimating the Xhosa, who believe the spirits of their ancestors live in this sacred forest. Battle lines are drawn. When Piet’s powers of persuasion fail him, he resorts to darker, more dangerous talents to get what he is determined to have. As the story moves to its devastating conclusion, every character becomes a suspect, and Piet’s arrogance and guile put him on a collision course with forces he cannot understand and that threaten his seemingly enchanted existence.

 

 

 

There Your Heart Lies   by Mary Gordon

 

The Spanish Civil War, which you will recall preceded the the Second Great War, glorified by Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, continues to be a source of fascination by novelists,filmmakers and historians alike. Leonardo Padura’s The Man who Loved Dogs takes us from  Republican Spain to the assassination of Leon Trotsky,  Antonio Chavarrías’s 2016 film The Chosen, which focuses on the Stalinist takeover of the Republican resistance as a pathway to the Trotsky murder. And there is Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, (1936-1939) by Adam Hochshild telling the story of the   band of idealists known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Now comes There Your Heart Lies  a  novel about an American woman’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War, the lessons she learned, and how her story will shape her granddaughter’s path Marian cut herself off from her wealthy, conservative Irish Catholic family when she volunteered during the Spanish Civil War—an experience she has always kept to herself. Now in her nineties, she shares her Rhode Island cottage with her granddaughter Amelia, a young woman of good heart but only a vague notion of life’s purpose. Their daily existence is intertwined with Marian’s secret past: the blow to her youthful idealism when she witnessed the brutalities on both sides of Franco’s war and the romance that left her trapped in Spain in perilous circumstances for nearly a decade. When Marian is diagnosed with cancer, she finally speaks about what happened to her during those years—personal and ethical challenges nearly unthinkable to Amelia’s millennial generation, as well as the unexpected gifts of true love and true friendship.Marian’s story compels Amelia to make her own journey to Spain, to reconcile her grandmother’s past with her own uncertain future. With their exquisite female bond at its core, this novel, which explores how character is forged in a particular moment in history and passed down through the generations, is especially relevant in our own time. It is a call to arms—a call to speak honestly about evil when it is

 

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The Force by Don Winslow

Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog (the first of his projected trilogy and apparently slated to be come a film is a muscular, full-bodied masterpiece elucidating  the so-called war on drugs, convincingly includes all the institutions complicit in a nexus of criminality. Winslow rivals  John LeCarre in his expose of the corruption and hypocrisy in the established institutions of modern society. Now Winslow brings his skills and narrative talents to an uncompromising and vivid cop novel of the NYPD.  Before you even get into the text, there are two attention getting elements — an aphorism by Raymond Chandler, ” Cops are just people,  …they start out that way.”  And a  dedication to all the police personnel murdered while Winslow was writing this book which takes up two and a half page pages…

 

Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true . . .All Denny Malone wants is to be a good cop. He is “the King of Manhattan North,” a, highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of “Da Force.” Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given unrestricted authority to wage war on gangs, drugs and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

 

 

White Tears   by Hari Kunzru

 

 

 

British transplant Hari Kunzru caught my attention with his previous novel Gods Without Men, an ambitious narrative that ping pongs between high powered stock market speculators and native anthropology of  the first peoples of the American Southwest. I spoke with Kunzru about the book and about all manner of things. Here’s a morsel of that conversation

 

RB: I was interested in how you acquire information — how actively you  pursue  expanding your pool of general knowledge. The core of Gods Without Men is about a mixed marriage couple — a Punjabi Sikh and a Jewish American woman, and then a 17th century Spanish priest makes an appearance, and there is the Wall Street firm developing a program that searches for discontinuous connections that may be predictive. And then there are UFO/Alien visitation people. And hippy communes. And at the end you have a disclaimer that Fray Garcia’s report was never redacted, as it was in the novel — a fact whose reality I was never concerned about.

HK: That I felt was necessary because he is a historical character. He did make that journey across the Mohave, and the diary of his journey exists. So I inserted two missing weeks. I am holding my hands up to say that’s a clear determinate case of fabrication there. Novels always have a kind of oblique relationship to research material and sources of all kinds. There many other echoes of stuff that I found and used.

RB: The native people’s mythology — did you make those myths up?

HK: Again, yes and no. There was an extraordinary woman named Carobeth Laird who was an anthropologist, and in the years before the first World War married a much older anthropologist. She was a young college girl in San Diego. He was a kind of mean character, very cold, who wanted a research assistant and taught her how to do field work. He would dump her in Indian communities in the desert while he went off and did other research. And then eventually she fell in love with her informants. Fell in love with a Chemehuevi Indian guide called George Laird. And told her husband, this guy Harrington, that she was leaving him. And then disappeared off the map for many, many years. And then in the late sixties, when people were going through Harrington’s papers, he had left this huge mass of unpublished research. People realized that there were two sets of handwriting and thought to ask who she was, and whether she was still alive. And someone went and found her. She was in her nineties, and she had been working that whole time. She had produced the most extraordinary — it seems to be regarded as the best — ethnography of any Southwestern native people in existence. In the first little section of the novel, I used the way a Chemehuevi storyteller would work. Not necessarily naming a character directly to the audience, but to speak in a certain way and with a certain vocal tone and everyone would know who was speaking.

 

In White Tears, two twenty-something New Yorkers. Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the glamorous heir to one of America’s great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

 

 

 

 

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The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee    

A multigenerational family saga set in the  Nebraska Sand Hills in the years following the infsmoud massacre at Wounded Knee—this is an ambitious tale of history that fills in the large spaces left by the histories of the latter  half of the 19th century American West

Ten years after the Seventh Cavalry massacred more than two hundred Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, J.B. Bennett, a white rancher, and Star, a young Native American woman, are murdered in a remote meadow on J.B.’s land. The deaths bring together the scattered members of the Bennett family: J.B.’s cunning and hard father, Drum; his estranged wife, Dulcinea; and his teenage sons, Cullen and Hayward. As the mystery of these twin deaths unfolds, the history of the dysfunctional Bennetts and their damning secrets is revealed, exposing the conflicted heart of a nation caught between past and future. At the center of The Bones of Paradise are two remarkable women. Dulcinea, returned after bitter years of self-exile, yearns for redemption and the courage to mend her broken family and reclaim the land that is rightfully hers. Rose, scarred by the terrible slaughters that have decimated and dislocated her people, struggles to accept the death of her sister, Star, and refuses to rest until she is avenged….Jonis Agee’s novel is a panorama of America at the dawn of a new century. A beautiful evocation of this magnificent, blood-soaked land—its sweeping prairies, seas of golden grass, and sandy hills, all at the mercy of two unpredictable and terrifying forces, weather and lawlessness—and the durable men and women who dared to tame it.

 

 

  The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit has written about 20  books on an impressively diverse  array of subjects ranging from  feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. In A Paradise Built in Hell , Ms. Solnit unpacks five disasters in depth: the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco, the Halifax munitions cargo ship explosion of 1917, the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, the events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. She also writes about the London blitz, Chernobyl and many other upheavals and examines the growing field of disaster studies.

In “A Paradise Built in Hell” Ms. Solnit probes five disasters in depth: the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco, the Halifax munitions cargo ship explosion of 1917, the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, the events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. She also writes about the London blitz, Chernobyl and many other upheavals and examines the growing field of disaster studies. As different as these events  are there was a consistent altruism in evidence and Solnit observes the odd joy of living in their wake to existing in benign anarchies of the kind Thomas Paine described in “The Rights of Man.”

 In Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit offers indispensable commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more.She has received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). , she is also contributes the “Easy Chair “column at Harper’s and is a regular contributor to the Guardian.

 

 

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Milena, or The Most Beautiful Femur in the World  by Jorge Zepeda Patterson ,‎ Adrian Nathan West (Translator)


When Milena’s lover and protector, the chief of Mexico’s most important newspaper, dies in her arms, she knows it’s only a matter of time before the ruthless thugs behind the human-trafficking ring that kidnapped her from her Croatian village catch her and force her back into sex slavery.Soon, three comrades bound together by childhood friendships, romantic entanglements, and a restless desire for justice are after her as well—but for different reasons. The new chief of the newspaper, columnist Tomás Arizmendi, must retrieve Milena’s mysterious black book before the media empire he has inherited is torn asunder, while dubious intelligence expert Jaime Lemus wants to use the sensitive information the book contains about the crimes of the world’s power elite to further his political puppeteering. Lastly, the noblest of the trio, rising politician Amelia Navarro has made it her mission to protect women and children from the abuses of men in power.Told at a heartracing pace and full of the journalistic detail and sly humor  Milena, or The Most Beautiful Femur in the World is a romp across Europe and the Americas that traces the vast networks of capital, data, crime, and coerced labor that bind together today’s globalized world. Yet, in the beautiful and tenacious Milena, we are reminded that the survivors of the darker facets of modernity are not mere statistics, but living, breathing, individuals. What Don Winslow  did for the nexus of complicity in the so called War on Drugs , Zepeda has done for the nightmare depravity of human sex trafficking in exposing its ultimate beneficiaries…

 

 

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Sing, Unburied, Sing   by Jesmyn Ward

 

Ok I won’t hold it against this fine novel that  it gained Jesmyn Ward’s  second National Book Award. Its an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

 

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Texas: The Great Theft  by Carmen Boullosa,‎ Samantha Schnee (Translator)

 

Carmen Boullosa  is one of Mexico’s leading novelists, poets, and playwrights (“Mexico’s greatest woman writer.”—Roberto Bolaño.) She has authored seventeen novels, a handful of which have made their way into English translations  Boullosa is currently Distinguished Lecturer at City College of New York. An imaginative writer in the tradition of Juan Rulfo, Jorge Luis Borges, and Cesar Aira, Carmen Boullosa shows herself to be at the height of her powers with her latest novel. Loosely based on the little-known 1859 Mexican invasion of the United States, Texas is a richly imagined evocation of the volatile Tex-Mex borderland. Boullosa views border history through distinctly Mexican eyes, and her sympathetic portrayal of each of her wildly diverse characters—Mexican ranchers and Texas Rangers, Comanches and cowboys, German socialists and runaway slaves, Southern belles and dancehall girls—makes her storytelling tremendously powerful and absorbing. Shedding important historical light on current battles over the Mexican–American frontier while telling a gripping story with Boullosa’s singular prose and formal innovation, Texas marks the welcome return of a major writer who has previously captivated American audiences and is poised to do so again.

 

 

The Crossing  by Andrew Miller 

 

The lack of acknowledgment  that accompanies Andrew’ Miller’s the publication of his novels in the USA is a source of wonder  . I count at least three that  books that exhibit masterful story telling including his latest, The Crossing. Of all his Robert Stone’s novels, Outerbridge Reach was the one i found least acessible. Its a story of  global race of solo sailing. The Crossing manages to make the travails a of solo Trans Atlantic riveting

 

The Crossing  is a modern tale of a brave and uncompromising woman’s attempt to seize control of her life and fate.Who else has entered Tim’s life the way Maud did? This girl who fell past him, lay seemingly dead on the ground, then stood and walked. That was where it all began. He wants her—wants to rescue her, to reach her. Yet there is nothing to suggest Maud has any need of him, that she is not already complete. A woman with a talent for survival, who works long hours and loves to sail—preferably on her own.When Maud finds her unfulfilling marriage tested to the breaking point by unspeakbale tragedy, she attempts an escape from her husband and the hypocrisies of society. In her quest she will encounter the impossible and push her mind and body to their limit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atlas of the World  (24th edition) Oxford University Press

Having discovered this geographic compendium a few years ago, I now look forward to the yearly updates and find great pleasure in browsing through the updates that include  non pareil NASA Earth Observation Satellite, Landsat 8 images.On a regular basis, studies and essays make reference to the #1 nation in history containing a citizenry woefully ignorant in some area or  other. World  (Earth, the planet we are told by  pesky scientists) geography is no  doubt close to the top of any of list of ignorance. New Yorker illustrator Saul Steinberg was not kidding with his New York City Centric map of the East Coast.

The only world atlas updated annually,   Oxford’s Atlas of the World is the most authoritative atlas on the market. Full of crisp, clear cartography of urban areas and virtually uninhabited landscapes around the globe, the Atlas is filled with maps of cities and regions at carefully selected scales that give a striking view of the Earth’s surface. It opens with a fascinating look at world statistics, a six-page special on “Land and Maritime Boudaries,” and satellite images of earth, including 8-10 stunning new images sourced from NASA’s latest Earth Observation Satellite, Landsat 8, launched in 2013. The extraordinarily extensive front matter continues with a “Gazetteer of Nations” that has been comprehensively checked and updated to include recent economic and political changes, and a 48-page “Introduction to World Geography,” beautifully illustrated with tables and graphs on numerous topics of geographic significance, such as climate change, world religions, employment, industry, tourism, and travel. The hundreds of city and world maps that form the body of the Atlas have been thoroughly updated for this 24th edition.

 

One more thing from TH White/’s  The Once and Future King:

“The best thing for being sad…is to learn something.

That is the only thing that never fails.

You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, You may lie awake listening to the disorder in your veins,

you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds.

There is only one thing for it then—-to learn.

Learn why the world wags and what wags it.

That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust,

and never dream of regretting.”

 

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 *This book  is a philosophical and artistic sequel to Eco’s recent acclaimed books, History of Beauty and On Ugliness, books in which he delved into the psychology, philosophy, history, and art of human forms. Eco is a modern-day Diderot, and here he examines the Western mind’s predilection for list-making and the encyclopedic. His central thesis is that in Western culture a passion for accumulation is recurring: lists of saints, catalogues of plants, collections of art. This impulse has recurred through the ages from music to literature to art. Eco refers to this obsession itself as a “giddiness of lists” but shows how in the right hands it can be a “poetics of catalogues.” From medieval reliquaries to Andy Warhol’s compulsive collecting, Umberto Eco reflects in his inimitably inspiring way on how such catalogues mirror the spirit of their times.

** What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Books Of The Year

*** Book descriptions courtesy of publishers with some annotation…

****http://www.identitytheory.com/tim-gautreaux/

Tales from the Dark Side

4 Dec

A number of our 17 security agencies (aka as the secret police)  are enjoying a rare moment of approval as they actually support the conclusion that the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election. However, before you start to view the CIA and NSA as benign, warm and cuddly entities consider the overlooked report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (always a troubling word) released a few years ago on the popular subject, torture.

 

 

 


“Meticulously formatted, this is a highly readable edition of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Central Intelligence Agency interrogation and detention programs launched in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Based on over six million internal CIA documents, the report details secret prisons, prisoner deaths, interrogation practices, and cooperation with other foreign and domestic agencies. It also examines charges that the CIA deceived elected officials and governmental overseers about the extent and legality of its operations.

Over five years in the making, and withheld from public view since its declassification in April, 2014, this is the full summary report as finally released by the United States government on December 9th, 2014.”

 

 

 

Human Rights activist Larry Siems, (no doubt one of the 12 people who actually read this report) authored The Torture Report: What the Documents say about America’s Post 9/11 Torture Program and created a website which I suspect is only used by those few people dedicated to human rights offers  concludess,
Here’s what I learned from writing The most senior members of the Bush administration, up to and including the President, broke international and domestic laws banning torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Worse, they had subordinates in the military and in civilian intelligence services break these laws for them. . .
.
I am hardly the first to learn these things or reach these conclusions. Dozens of outstanding journalists, lawyers, human rights investigators, bloggers, and members of Congress have discovered and reported similar conclusions for years. But I have reached them for myself, doing what I believe every citizen of conscience ought to do at moments like these, reading the documents themselves.

I learned one more thing as well, something that anyone who reads the record will also discover.Over and over again, men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, in secret CIA black sites, in Langley, in the Pentagon, in Congress, and in the administration itself recognized the torture for what it was and objected, protested, and fought to prevent, and then to end, these illegal and ill-advised interrogations. While those who devised and oversaw the torture program insist their decisions were colored by the consciousness of impending danger, these men and women, who spent their days in far closer proximity to deadly threats, decried the cruel treatment as ineffective, shortsighted, and wrong. . . .This sense of betrayal permeates the documents—not just of abstract values and principles, but of the women and men we commissioned to represent these values and principles to the world.

The Dark Side: How The War on Terror Became a War on American Ideals”

 

 

Jane Mayer, who writes about counterterrorism for The New Yorker, offers , “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals,” reveals more details of about its secret detention program—iIncluding the intragovernmental debates on this efficacy of this program. After September 11, 2001 Vice President Dick Cheney (in an interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.” describes the  Bush regime’s rationale—on the continuing threat and US response,

  “We’ll have to work sort of the dark side if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies… if we are going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. And, uh, so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal basically, to achieve our objectives.”

 

 

 

“Since 2001  Jane Mayer has been investigating and reporting on what the dark side really means. For the first time, she pieces together the full story of how Cheney, and a handful of extraordinarily powerful, but almost unknown lawyers including his Chief of Staff David Addington, took command of the war on terrorism. They seized on the mood of national fear to institute a top secret, covert program that twisted or ignored 221 years of constitutional history. She chronicles the behind-the-scenes meetings in the White House, Justice Department and CIA, and shows how the decisions taken behind closed doors in Washington spiraled out around the world, often with unintended consequences, violated the Constitution…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Mayer introduces this iteration of the Torture Report

“The more who learn the truth the better off the country will be because there is no better safeguard against the revival of torture than a well-informed public.”

On December 9, 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report that strongly condemned the CIA for its secret and brutal use of torture in the treatment of prisoners captured in the “war on terror” during the George W. Bush administration. This deeply researched and fully documented investigation highlighted both how ineffective the program was as well as the lengths to which the CIA had gone to conceal it.

In The Torture Report, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón use their graphic-storytelling abilities to make the torture report accessible, Their adaptation adds to the original Senate report. There are brief chapters on how the CIA, Congress and the Justice Department responded to the committee’s report and how the media represented the program while it was classified. Explaining the significance and possible aftermath of the CIA program are an introduction by Jane Mayer and an afterword by Scott Horton.

 

Horton points out,

“The experience of Latin America is instructive. “Practices like those used by the CIA were hidden, covered with national security classifications, and amnestied in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, among other nations. It took a full generation — thirty years — before a formal process of accountability began to take hold and octogenarian intelligence officers were dragged before courts and sent to prison.”

 

 

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Relevant links

http://kpfa.org/events/index.php?#1873

http://www.thetorturereport.org

http://billmoyers.com/content/journalist-jane-mayer-on-torture/

 

Storm (und Drang)

26 Nov

 

 

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/07/17/it-never-happened-how-to-deny-genocide-in-the-face-of-science/

 

Through the advent of streaming platforms offering almost limitless access to the world’s film/video caches, my own dedication to reading has been somewhat curtailed. Or made me a bit more selective. On the plus sides, it must be said that the new technologies have made the limited amount of theatrical screens for filmmakers less of a hurdle to reach audiences.

War criminality has slipped out of any public conversation with the mayhem daily introduced by the present US regime. Not that North Americans are inclined to examine their country’s conduct of its foreign policy. Nor is there much interest in the International Criminal Court or the UN human rights inquiries in Africa. And yet sooner or later this country will have to reconcile its power politics with its professed human rights principles

One does wonder how the creators of Storm*, a dramatic film about the workings of International Criminal Court, specifically in the case of an accused Serbian war criminal went about raising the necessary cash to make this film. It certainly had to be pitched on the strength of a stellar (as in acting ability, not celebrity)cast. Kerry Fox’s Hannah Maynard as an unyielding prosecutor leads an outstanding cast(including one of my favorites Stephen Dillane)** in this riveting narrative which portrays the ethical dilemmas imposed by prosecuting events ten or 20 years past on present-day geopolitics.

 

 

 

Before she traded her niche in academia for a seat at the table of government apparatchiks (US Ambassador to the UN,) Samantha Power wrote a useful  (Pulitzer Prize-winning )book on the 20th-century origin of the concept of genocide, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.*** I spoke with Ms. Power contemporaneously with the publication of that book

 

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RB: What drew you to the war in Bosnia?

SP: It was nothing about the war—nothing about war as such. It was just that war, at that time. When I was in Washington, the person I worked for, Morton Abramowitz, was very concerned about what was going on there. As his assistant I had to learn the facts of the matter. The easy thing—which I have done for most of my life—is to block the facts out. Once you are in a position where you have to process the facts, you are stuck. It was so incredibly unjust, what was going on. And absurd, in my view—at the time, a very young view—that we were doing so little to stop the atrocities. The only skill I had was that of being able to write—just to go and be a reporter.

RB: At that time were you privy to any information that was not easily available to other people?

SP: In Washington? No.

RB: What I am trying to get at was that the information about Bosnia was available to anyone.

SP: Oh yes, yes, yes. It helped that I was tasked to process it. Before I went to work for Abramowitz the information was available to me and I ignored it. Knowledge is something you can possess on a continuum. I had in the abstract at one point and then it became very deeply personal to me, by virtue of working for him. But yes, it was all over the papers, the concentration camps, the murdering of civilians and so on.

 

 


Happy Holidays
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* http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0768239/

** Dillane appears in the 2 seasons of the BC’s The Tunnel and in the well-wrought thriller Spy Game.

***http://www.identitytheory.com/samantha-power/

https://theintercept.com/2016/05/29/samantha-power-to-receive-prize-from-henry-kissinger-whom-she-once-harshly-criticized/

 

 

Three Women

4 Nov

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Joan Didion (copyright  Robert Birnbaum,  circa 1995)

 

Joan Didion, who is an important figure in the small universe of literary culture became exponentially better known with her two memoirs of grief, one of which, The Year of Magical Thinking, won awards and apparently was a best seller.Having read most of her oeuvre to date, I was not impressed :

 

I am as near a Joan Didion fanboy as I can get (about anyone)— having read most of her books and had the singular pleasure of a chat with her around the time of the publication of her last novel The Last Thing He Wanted. But for some (I do shy away from stories fact or fiction, about parents losing their children) reasons I have had zero interest in reading her latest offering. I suppose if Ms. Joan were to offer her grocery list for publication, it would be more attractive to me.

Having said that, while it is no surprise to me that The Year of Magical Thinking won a National Book Award (actually, nothing about book awards is surprising), I am puzzled about what about this cultural moment has made this book a best seller. I am not aware that Didion’s acute political –cultural observations in the New York Review of Books (perhaps it’s the venue) have attracted the enthusiastic, near hysterical audience as for her more personal work, Where I was From and the newest book. Is it the fascination with the ineffability of death, grief and suffering that is the focus of Didion’s memoir? Or the harrowing experience of losing both one’s life partner and child? Or would it be a hunger for tramping around the private and personal matters of others? Does the numbing effect of a society working overtime, or in the current argot, 24/7, turning us into efficient consuming units make Didion’s hyper sorrowful meditation the ultimate cathartic antidote?

I suppose I should be able to answer these questions but at the moment I can not. Perhaps I’ll have to get around to reading Joan Didion’s book. But not now.

 

Reportedly having previously eschewed any interest in a documentary in which she was the main subject, she succumbed to her nephew. Griffin  Dunne’s request, the result being  Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold,  a title like her first essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968),  quotes the W.B. Yeats poem The Second Coming.  Glenn Kenny concludes his  take on Dunne’s film noting, “… reminded me of an observation by D.H. Lawrence: “Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.” Ms. Didion’s triumph, as a writer and a human being, has been to take the age for what it is, to pinpoint how she saw it, and to stick it out.”

 

There are many morsels of delight and wonder in this pastiche of questions and answers and contemporaneous images and clips and of course, the camera on Didion as she speaks and makes inscrutable gesticulations with her hands.One of my favorite clips is New York Review of Books editor Robert Silver being asked if he knew Didion could write a dispatch from El Salvador (which at the time was inflamed by a deadly civil war). To which he replied that he wanted to find out…A  small reminder of what a brilliant editor he was …

One more tangential digression, Martin Amis in reviewing Didon’s second collection of essays The White Album (1980) (some of you may remember that is also the title of the Beatles last album)  cannot conclude his notice without taking stage center in a piece putatively about someone else) with this pedagogical assertion:*

 

‘Slouching towards Bethlehem’ is, of course, a literary reference itself. As Miss Didion dramatically points out in her Preface: ‘This book is called Slouching towards Bethlehem because for several years now certain lines from the Yeats poem which appears two pages back have reverberated in my inner ear as if they were surgically implanted there.’ The whole of ‘The Second Coming’ is indeed printed a few pages back, along with a deflationary extract from the sayings of Miss Peggy Lee (‘I learned courage from Buddha, Jesus, Lincoln, Einstein, and Cary Grant’). The title essay duly begins: ‘The centre wasn’t holding.’ It doesn’t seem to have occurred to her with the necessary force that ‘The Second Coming’ was written half a century ago. The centre hasn’t been holding for some time now; actually the centre was never holding, and never will hold. Probably all writers are at some point briefly under the impression that they are among the first to live and work after things fell apart. The continuity such an impression ignores is a literary continuity. It routinely assimilates and domesticates more pressing burdens than Miss Didion’s particular share of vivid, ephemeral terrors.

 

 

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Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend  by Cristina De Stefano   Marina Harss (Translator)

 

Cristina de Stefano’s ( translated by Marina Harss) biography of  Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend  would not have received Fallaci’s cooperation had she been alive as reviewer James Marcus **points out. When she came to the United States after the Second World War, spending time in Hollywood and as Marcus writes

It exposed her to a wider world and taught her that celebrities were often hollow shells: Potemkin Village personalities. It also seemed to crystallize her peculiar mixture of vulnerability and high-decibel truculence. “She was fragile,” recalled one companion, “but she used aggressiveness as a shield. She attacked first. As a result, Americans were often terrified of her.”

Eventually, she turned her gaze to the wider world, traveling through much of Asia .She ended up in Vietnam,  staying until  the North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, observing presciently,“The Communists are splendid while they fight, and intolerable once they have won.”  Marcus points out some delightful career highlights:

While she continued to function as a war correspondent, Fallaci found another way to vent her rage at the abuse of power: the interview. There is a wonderful irony here. Having cut her teeth interrogating the merely famous, she upgraded to the high, the mighty, the Shakespearean movers-and-shakers. They were mostly men, and they were mostly intimidated by this wily, theatrical, fearless woman with a microphone. “To what degree does power fascinate you?” she asked Henry Kissinger. (The answer, predictably and unconvincingly, was not at all.) Talking with the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, she responded to a jeering comment about her respectability by ripping off her chador: “I’m going to take off this stupid, medieval rag right now. There. Done.” (Khomeini fled the room at once.)

He concludes

But her entire life was a war on the party line, the politically expedient, the prefabricated opinion, and she never stopped fighting, at least not on the page. Blame it on Uncle Bruno, perhaps, who drilled his main journalistic precept into Fallaci’s head as a child: “First of all, don’t bore the reader!” Early and late, she almost never did.

 

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The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick  by Elizabeth Hardwick  edited and intro Darryl Pinckney

 

The  other great cultural paragon affiliated with the New York Review of Books,  Elizabeth Hardwick, has been  brought current with  her Collected Essays (ably introduced and assembled by Darryl Pickney )   Even before she became one of the founders of one of the truly respectable and useful literary journals her essay The Decline of Book Reviewing  (1959) sparked much-needed self-evaluation by more serious critics. Here is the opening paragraph of that seminal  critique,***

The reviewer and critic are still thought of as persons of dangerous acerbity, fickle demons, cruel to youth and blind to new work, bent upon turning the literate public away from freshness and importance out of jealousy, mean conservatism, or whatever. Poor Keats were he living today might suffer a literary death, but it would not be from attack; instead he might choke on what Emerson called a “mush of concession.” In America, now, oblivion, literary failure, obscurity, neglect — all the great moments of artistic tragedy and misunderstanding — still occur, but the natural conditions for the occurrence are in a curious state of camouflage, like those decorating ideas in which wood is painted to look like paper and paper to look like wood. A genius may indeed go to his grave unread, but he will hardly have gone to it “The Communists are splendid while they fight, and intolerable once they have won.”. Sweet, bland commendations fall everywhere upon the scene; a universal, if somewhat lobotomized, accommodation reigns. A book is born into a puddle of treacle; the brine of hostile criticism is only a memory. Everyone is found to have “filled a need,” and is to be “thanked” for something and to be excused for “minor faults in an otherwise excellent work.” “A thoroughly mature artist” appears many times a week and often daily; many are the bringers of those “messages the Free World will ignore at its peril.”

 

Hardwick was no-sit-at-home armchair commentator as her piece on the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago exhibited (being a witness to some of the week’s festivities, I found her account to be judicious and insightful) In Dwight Garner’s piece on her craft, he opines:

It’s a mistake to boil a writer down to her best lines. No one is the sum of her entries in Bartlett’s or the Goodreads.com quotation vaults. But a critic who can’t mint an original phrase is rarely worth heeding.

To move one’s way through Hardwick’s essays is to bump into brightness on nearly every page. On hypocritical politicians: “Family men, pictured a million times with their first ladies, die in the arms of their second ladies.” Chicago Mayor Richard Daley fretting about underground newspapers during the 1968 Democratic convention is “like a dinosaur choking on bubble gum.” The blank and oversexed young women in a Marge Piercy novel are “like a jar of peanut butter waiting for a thumb.”

 

Exactly…

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*Apropos of nothing but amusing of you are enthralled by either Marin Amis or Joan Didion …One wonders if he could write about a woman writer in that tone today?

**http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-oriana-fallaci-20171020-story.html

***https://harpers.org/archive/1959/10/the-decline-of-book-reviewing/