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 The Literature Thread 
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Rock wrote:
Yeah, first time, and it's pretty damn good so far. I might check out Red Dragon next, although I have a pretty big stockpile of books to get through already.
For some reason, I never read Red Dragon, but, despite the mixed responses I heard about it, I also happened to enjoy Hannibal a lot as well. Never saw the movie, but it sounds completely batshit, from everything I've heard about it; maybe I'll check it out someday when I'm bored, or something.

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Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:11 pm
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The Bridge on the Drina | Ivo Andrić | 1945 | 314 pages

This is a book of staggering scope, spanning four hundred years of history in Eastern Bosnia, from the building of the titular bridge in the 16th century to the outbreak of World War I. It chronicles the rhythms and changes that take place in the city of Višegrad and charts the lives of its successive generations and the precarious coexistence of their ethnically diverse community, all while the immutable bridge stands firmly at its center.

To do this, Andrić interweaves intricate strains of myth, history, folklore, geography, sociology, politics, and circumstance, treating every force with equal earnest and investigating how each shapes the fate of the town. He also corrals a vast sweep of events: on the one hand, he evokes a strong sense of daily life and devotes time to individual characters and the minutiae of their lives, while on the other, he is always acutely aware of the momentous forces at work in the world, beyond the reach or understanding of Višegrad and its inhabitants yet exerting a profound influence on the politics, laws, borders, religious attitudes, economic trends, and national sentiments that determine the course of their existence. Even as Andrić focuses on one lazy afternoon on the bridge, he never loses sight of the impact of these inexorable forces -- often originating in distant lands and taking place over the course of decades, if not centuries. This ongoing dichotomy -- between grand and modest, fleeting and eternal -- makes up the warp and weft of the story's fabric. One critic described it as "a dialectic of the enduring and the transient." Nearly every chapter ends by drawing attention to the bridge's solidity and permanence (and the real bridge is still there, a UNESCO heritage site: the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge).

This deft blend is reflected in his prose style, which pairs historically objective narration with poetic insights and intimate biographical details, a tactic that brings to mind A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kiš, another great Yugoslavian book (which I reviewed earlier in this thread). It also bears some resemblance to Gabriel Garcia Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which it must have influenced, although The Bridge on the Drina is more grounded, even broader in scope, and makes poetry out of pragmatism instead of resorting to magic. (Joe Sacco's Safe Area Goražde also owes a debt to the book. See below.)

The sheer scope of The Bridge on the Drina requires a huge cast of characters and lends itself to an episodic structure, perhaps influenced by Andrić's experiences writing short stories. "If we wish for simplicity," wrote one critic, "we can call The Bridge on the Drina a novel to distinguish it from Andrić's collections of short stories. But if we wish for precision, The Bridge on the Drina can best be classified as a collection of short stories of peasant life held together by a bridge." Except I would argue that this too fails to really describe the unique structure and accomplishment of the book, because there are entire chapters dedicated to tracking broader and slower changes, shifts in attitudes and policies, the falling away and rising up of empires; the short stories, while an enriching presence, are only one instrument in an orchestra of storytelling. Much of the book's power derives from its ability to reconcile passing incidents with the unalterable flow of time, making them one consummate, continuous experience, and the book ends with a prophetic resonance that presages the region's future troubles. However, a few individual stories really stand out, particularly an early scene about a gut-wrenching execution during the bridge's construction, and a sublime interlude about a drunkard named Ćorkan, who is the butt of everyone's jokes yet burns with an inner light, a searing sincerity that wants to burst free of his pitiful body.

I've gone on at length already, but it's hard to emphasize just how much the book impressed me: the unfaltering prowess of Andrić's prose, its distinctive ambitions, how even during what some might call the lulls in the story (when Andrić describes the tectonic social changes) the book is never short of fascinating. It's perhaps the best book I've read this year, easily on par with The Sound and the Fury which I read (and adored) about a month ago.

To finish, I'll share a quick excerpt from early in the book.

Ivo Andrić wrote:
While the feast lasted, and in general all those early days, the people crossed the bridge countless times from one bank to the other. The children rushed across while their elders walked slowly, deep in conversation or watching from every point the new views open to them from the bridge. The helpless, the lame and the sick were brought on litters, for no one wanted to be left out or renounce their share in this wonder. Even the least of the townsmen felt as if his powers were suddenly multiplied, as if some wonderful, superhuman exploit was brought within the measure of his powers and within the limits of everyday life, as if besides the well-known elements of earth, water and sky, one more were open to him, as if by some beneficent effort each one of them could suddenly realize one of his dearest desires, that ancient dream of man -- to go over the water and to be master of space.


Safe Area Goražde | Joe Sacco | 2000 | 227 pages

Just before reading The Bridge on the Drina, I read Safe Area Goražde, Joe Sacco's journalistic comic book documenting his time in Goražde, another city on the Drina, downriver from Višegrad, and a UN-designated safe area during the Bosnian Conflict in the 90s. It is a stellar book in its own way, pairing meticulously researched historical context, on the ground reporting of life in Goražde and the normalization of siege conditions, firsthand accounts by Bosnian Muslims about the atrocities they witnessed, Sacco's detailed art, and his striking but remarkably empathetic use of caricature. Both books have been on my shelf for a while, but reading the comic prompted me to start this one (Sacco mentions the book in passing; the comic's most harrowing scene is set on the very same bridge). They make a good pair, since Andrić's story traces the roots of the conflict depicted in Sacco's comic.

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Thu Dec 28, 2017 6:21 pm
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Also, this isn't from The Bridge on the Drina, but I came across it while reading about the book, and found one passage really striking. It's from a letter Andrić wrote in 1920 to a friend, explaining while he was leaving Bosnia (he worked as a diplomat in Berlin for many years). The letter explains that, while he loves Bosnia's landscapes and culture and people, underneath all of that is a deep and enduring hatred, and he cannot stand to live in the midst of all that unspoken antagonism. His explanation is harsh but insightful, and this passage, which discerns in an unassuming detail the subtle but unmistakable cultural divisions that pervade the nation, is as eloquent and stirring as anything in his book:

Ivo Andrić wrote:
Whoever lies awake at night in Sarajevo hears the voices of the Sarajevo night. The clock on the Catholic cathedral strikes the hour with weighty confidence: 2 AM. More than a minute passes (to be exact, seventy-five seconds - I counted) and only then with a rather weaker, but piercing sound does the Orthodox church announce the hour, and chime its own 2 AM. A moment after it the tower clock on the Beys' mosque strikes the hour in a hoarse, faraway voice, and that strikes 11, the ghostly Turkish hour, by the strange calculation of distant and alien parts of the world. The Jews have no clock to sound their hour, so God alone knows what time it is for them by the Sephardic reckoning or the Ashkenazy.

Thus at night, while everyone is sleeping, division keeps vigil in the counting of the late, small hours, and separates these sleeping people who, awake, rejoice and mourn, feast and fast by four different and antagonistic calendars, and send all their prayers and wishes to one heaven in four different ecclesiastical languages.

(Source)

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Thu Dec 28, 2017 6:52 pm
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Joss Whedon is developing a series of books based in the Firefly 'Verse

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Sat Feb 10, 2018 11:12 am
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All The Pieces Matter delivers a fascinating oral history of The Wire

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Tue Feb 13, 2018 4:14 am
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Zama | Antonio Di Benedetto | 1956 | 198 pages

I'm winging this because I'm not sure exactly what to say about this book, but it's definitely a book worth talking about. Another NYRB release.

Its primary theme is stagnation -- initially social and economic stagnation, but ultimately moral and existential stagnation -- and how a restless and ambitious mind copes with such a state. The titular character, Don Diego de Zama, struggles with this dilemma, expecting a transfer from his colonial backwater to a more respectable position in Buenos Aires but relying on external and intangible forces to make it happen. Meanwhile he stews in emotional uncertainty, veering between indifference and rage, hope and despair, pulled in opposing directions by feelings of noble compassion and violent lust.

But his narration is the most fascinating and elusive aspect of the novel, in the way that it embodies and rationalizes these contradictions. In Esther Allen's introduction to her translation of the book, "Zama is aware, dimly or fully, and more or less from the start, that he himself is the primary engenderer of his own difficulties and delusions. He might be described as a would-be magical realist who can’t quite extricate himself from reality [. . .] His haughty, often peremptory voice ranges between ranting and stillness, dejection and delirium, meandering circumlocution and curtly abrupt finality." He is painfully self-aware, but unable or unwilling to acknowledge his own lucidity for fear of curtailing his illusions. This denial sublimates into a bleak use of pathetic fallacy, with Zama seeing his circumstances manifested in a spider crawling on a man's face, in parasitic wasps, in a dead monkey floating in the water.

The book is divided into three parts: 1790, 1794, 1799 -- each a different year in a decade of Zama's life. The first two parts are a colonial farce, with Zama caught up in social forces he can't always make sense of and which only get increasingly disconcerting. It's played with instances of deadpan dark humor, and it's to Zama's credit that he's sometimes in on the joke. The last act takes that tone and sharpens it into something else entirely. Zama joins a group of soldiers pursuing a bandit in a last ditch effort to secure his transfer, but he's so far flung from himself and his original intentions that it unfolds with existential resignation against the backdrop of Paraguay's wide, empty landscapes. It reminded me, in ways, of Blood Meridian and other acid westerns; while not as grandiloquent or imposing as McCarthy's novel, it has a curt, relentless pace and a pervasive fatalism. The final act is the spike that nails down the book's earlier themes.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Lucretia Martel's adaptation of the book, which came out just last year. Based on films like La Ciénaga, she has a good chance of capturing the book's peculiar lassitude.

An excerpt:

Quote:
"Tora, who is the señora who sits next to the window every afternoon?"
"She's always done that."
"I didn't ask how long she's been doing it. I asked who she is."
"She's always been there looking out, since I was born."
"And your memory extends to when you were born?"
"To before that, su merced."
"Are you mocking me, Tora?"
"How could I, su merced?"
She bared her arm above the elbow to show an ancient, scarred depression in the flesh.
"I have others like it on my body. I was born with them. An angry white man tried to kill my mother with a chain. I was inside her. I hadn't been born."
"And you remember?"
", su merced, I remember."

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Fri Mar 09, 2018 5:43 pm
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I've officially made it halfway through the 1,001 Nights.

Also, does no one else on this forum read books anymore?

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Sun Apr 15, 2018 9:07 am
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Macrology wrote:
I've officially made it halfway through the 1,001 Nights.

Also, does no one else on this forum read books anymore?


I do. Finishing up Mao II at the moment. Slunk off to that one after Ulysses kicked my ass by page 200 and I bailed. I've been too shamed by that to talk about books ever since.


Sun Apr 15, 2018 9:14 am
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Macrology wrote:
Also, does no one else on this forum read books anymore?

I started Kundera's The Joke over Christmas. Things got in the way.


Sun Apr 15, 2018 9:21 am
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I read Up In The Air. The movie starring George Clooney was based on this book. It was a good fast read. Nothing great.

I'm about half way through with John Sanford's Rules of Prey. Crime fiction.

I'll probably be reading more crime fiction after that. It's my favorite genre. Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy are my favorites.


Sun Apr 15, 2018 9:58 am
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So that's why Lucretia Martel is taking her time making more movies. She should stick to making movies. I want to see her latest though. All her films are great and worth seeing.


Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:01 am
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Aw, I've missed this thread! I haven't been recording my reading over the past year, but here's what I can remember since I last posted:

The Complete Short Novels (Chekhov) Loved The Steppe and My Life.

If Beale Street Could Talk (Baldwin) Is Kurz still around here somewhere? He said it was devastating. I found the whole thing steeped in such anger and sadness I could hardly get through it. But I did. :(

A Gambler’s Anatomy (Lethem) I'm a Lethem fan, but I didn't like this one at all. It's memorable, but quite unpleasant.

The Adolescent (Dostoevsky) So underrated, sometimes people don't mention it at all! But it's well worth the read. As usual, Dostoevsky really nails the voice -- this time of a confused teenager coming into contact with characters of all types. It's gothic melodrama and bildungsroman, suffused with dramatic irony and disappointment. Ugh. I'm making it sound too ordinary, when it has a unique character/structure/story to tell. I guess you'll just have to read it.

Also:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Gaiman)
The Witch of Exmoor (Drabble)
Collected Stories (Gogol)
Hag-Seed (Atwood)
Black Girl/White Girl (Oates)
Stone Mattress (Atwood)

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs ▪ No Country for Old Men ▪ Sorry to Bother You ▪ The Hudsucker Proxy ▪ The Boy Friend ▪ The Fearless Vampire Killers ▪ Mahler ▪ Zama ▪ Delores Claiborne ▪ The Ladykillers

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Thu Apr 26, 2018 3:13 am
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Reading This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

2/3 through the former, just starting the latter.

Both are good.

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Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:00 am
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Oh, yeah. I forgot to include what I'm reading now:

Coin Locker Babies, by Ryu Murakami

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs ▪ No Country for Old Men ▪ Sorry to Bother You ▪ The Hudsucker Proxy ▪ The Boy Friend ▪ The Fearless Vampire Killers ▪ Mahler ▪ Zama ▪ Delores Claiborne ▪ The Ladykillers

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Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:05 am
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Macrology wrote:
He is painfully self-aware, but unable or unwilling to acknowledge his own lucidity for fear of curtailing his illusions. This denial sublimates into a bleak use of pathetic fallacy, with Zama seeing his circumstances manifested in a spider crawling on a man's face, in parasitic wasps, in a dead monkey floating in the water.
Even without the looming Martel I'd want to read this. I'll see if I can get it.

Colonel Kurz wrote:
5. Julio Cortázar – Queremos tanto a Glenda
Ah, so good! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Macrology wrote:
Some criticize [Carter's] voice for its detachment, but that did not register for me at all.
Yeah, I don't really understand that. I love her beautiful language and dark sense of humor. I guess I love her detachment, too! My favorite thing by her is The Magic Toyshop, by the way.

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Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:14 pm
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Just dove into Annihilation, expect to go through the rest of the Southern Reach trilogy in the not-too-distant future (next Sunday A.D., even).

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Thu Apr 26, 2018 12:41 pm
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George R. R. Martin announces release date for new Song Of Ice & Fire book that's not The Winds Of Winter

:(

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Thu Apr 26, 2018 1:30 pm
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Shieldmaiden wrote:

If Beale Street Could Talk (Baldwin) Is Kurz still around here somewhere? He said it was devastating. I found the whole thing steeped in such anger and sadness I could hardly get through it. But I did. :(

I was summoned to respond. Yes, that's quite the novel. Baldwin is the best.
Shieldmaiden wrote:
Ah, so good! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
:) so is Cortazar, for entirely different reasons.

Currently reading José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon, fascinating and funny. Not about the actual historical siege of Lisbon, but about a proofreader correcting a book about about the siege, who decides to add one word to the book, making it historically inaccurate, mostly changing his own life and thoughts in the course.

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Thu Apr 26, 2018 2:57 pm
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Colonel Kurz wrote:
I was summoned to respond.
Yay, I feel powerful! Jedi? Bear?

Quote:
Yes, that's quite the novel. Baldwin is the best.
Did you ever get a chance to read Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone? It's his most hopeful book, I think.

Quote:
Currently reading José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon, fascinating and funny. Not about the actual historical siege of Lisbon, but about a proofreader correcting a book about about the siege, who decides to add one word to the book, making it historically inaccurate, mostly changing his own life and thoughts in the course.
Added to my list! I've never read him, but I remember talk of him when Blindness (the movie) came out -- which I liked but a lot of people didn't, if I recall.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs ▪ No Country for Old Men ▪ Sorry to Bother You ▪ The Hudsucker Proxy ▪ The Boy Friend ▪ The Fearless Vampire Killers ▪ Mahler ▪ Zama ▪ Delores Claiborne ▪ The Ladykillers

Voyage | Female Gaze | MACBETH | Sokurov | Fassbinder | Greenaway | Denis | Sono | my bookshelf


Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:46 am
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
The Complete Short Novels (Chekhov) Loved The Steppe and My Life.


I've also been reading a collection of Chekhov's short novels! It included My Life. Did yours include A Woman's Kingdom and The Duel? Those both floored me.

You should definitely read Zama. Very odd book, but it seems up your alley.

I read The Magic Toyshop recently! I didn't enjoy it as much as her short stories, but it was a solid read.

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Fri Apr 27, 2018 3:03 am
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
Yay, I feel powerful! Jedi? Bear?
Image

:oops:

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Fri Apr 27, 2018 3:12 am
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In other news, my roommate (who is as well read/watched as any of us) is leaving town and giving away a bunch of stuff, so I somehow ended up with 55 of his books.

Here's my cat Toulouse exploring and conquering them:

Image

Image

Image

Edit: The books (because I'd like to have it written down somewhere anyway):

The Misanthrope and Tartuffe (Molière)
Anagrams (Moore)
In the Skin of a Lion (Ondaatje)
All the King's Men (Warren)
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters + Seymour (Salinger)
Mindswap (Sheckley)
A Scanner Darkly (Dick)
The Judge and His Hangman + The Quarry (Dürrenmatt)
Sunnyside (Gold)
Apollo's Song (Tezuka)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (Fowles)
Estonian Short Stories (ed. Pruul & Reddaway)
Dos Passos novels (Library of Congress edition)
An Introduction to American Literature (Borges)
Ficciones (Borges -- which I already own, but this is the first edition English translation)
Doctor Faustus (Mann)
The Recognitions (Gaddis)
The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov)
Orlando (Woolf)
The Book of Daniel (Doctorow)
True Grit (Portis)
Seven Gothic Tales (Dinesen)
Last Tales (Dinesen)
The Book of Disquiet (Pessoa)
The Tin Drum (Grass)
Journey into Fear (Ambler)
Invitation to a Beheading (Nabokov)
The Plot Against America (Roth)
The Great American Novel (Roth)
The Lady in the Car with the Glasses and the Gun (Japrisot)
Too Loud a Solitude (Hrabal)
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Sterne)
50 Stories by Kay Boyle
Prize Plays of Television and Radio 1956
The Complete Novels of Flann O'Brien
A Third Face (Fuller)
The Wide Sargasso Sea (Rhys)
White Noise (DeLillo)
Cronopios and Famas (Cortázar)
Blow-Up and Other Stories (Cortázar)
62: A Model Kit (Cortázar)
Asleep in the Sun (Casares)
The Laughing Policeman (Sjöwall & Wahlöö)
Chimera (Barth)
Rakkox the Billionaire + The Great Race (Scheerbart)
Tropisms (Sarraute)
The Literary Conference (Aira)
Reflections in a Golden Eye (McCullers)
Hygiene and the Assassin (Nothomb)
The Killer Inside Me (Thompson)
The Widow (Simenon)
Betrayed by Rita Hayworth (Puig)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Mishima)
Spring Snow (Mishima)
The Outfit (Stark)

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Fri Apr 27, 2018 3:27 am
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I read Tobias Wolff's novella The Barracks Thief yesterday. It's my first time reading him since college, where I read two of his short stories (Bullet in the Brain and Hunters in the Snow, both of which have stayed with me in a serious way). His prose is terse and aloof, but his voice has this resounding patience, this willingness to see things through without judgment or hurry, with surpassing understanding, and I don't know of any writer who can capture the mysteries and contradictions of masculinity better than Wolff.

Hell, this is the opening paragraph:

Quote:
When his boys were young, Guy Bishop formed the habit of stopping in their room each night on his way to bed. He would look down at them where they slept, and then he would sit in the rocking chair and listen to them breathe. He was a man who had always gone from one thing to another, place to place, job to job, and, even since his marriage, woman to woman. But when he sat in the dark between his two sleeping sons he felt no wish to move.


I mean goddamn.

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Sun Apr 29, 2018 10:51 am
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Sorry, I completely missed this the other day!

Macrology wrote:
I've also been reading a collection of Chekhov's short novels! It included My Life. Did yours include A Woman's Kingdom and The Duel? Those both floored me.
Hmm, I didn't have A Woman's Kingdom. So much for "The Complete..." in the title, haha. Yes, I liked The Duel, as well. Have you seen the 2010 movie?

I'd be really interested to hear what you thought of My Life (if you've read it yet). I thought it a remarkably clear-eyed imagining of social rebellion, avoiding both sentiment and satire. Maybe it's partly because the main character reminds me of someone I know, but it rings true!

Quote:
I read The Magic Toyshop recently! I didn't enjoy it as much as her short stories, but it was a solid read.
Her prose is magic. :)

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs ▪ No Country for Old Men ▪ Sorry to Bother You ▪ The Hudsucker Proxy ▪ The Boy Friend ▪ The Fearless Vampire Killers ▪ Mahler ▪ Zama ▪ Delores Claiborne ▪ The Ladykillers

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Sat May 05, 2018 12:34 pm
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
Did you ever get a chance to read Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone? It's his most hopeful book, I think.
Not yet! Still sitting on the shelf, which if I remember correctly your recommendation had something to do with.

Shieldmaiden wrote:
Added to my list! I've never read him, but I remember talk of him when Blindness (the movie) came out -- which I liked but a lot of people didn't, if I recall.
Before that I'd read Skylight by him, about the denizens of a Lisbon apartment building and their unspoken and spoken ambitions, fears, desires and whatnot. Lovely stuff. Apparently, the second book he ever wrote, that got so harshly rejected by a publisher that he hid the manuscript and it only got published by his wife after his death, because she believed it would make the perfect intro to his oeuvre for new readers. Well, count me in amongst those!

Currently, I'm also reading the always wonderful Cesar Aira, his second book, How I Became A Nun. Best opening chapter about eating ice cream ever?

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Wed May 09, 2018 3:59 pm
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Colonel Kurz wrote:
Not yet! Still sitting on the shelf, which if I remember correctly your recommendation had something to do with.
I didn't recommend you leave it on the shelf, though!

Quote:
Before that I'd read Skylight by him, about the denizens of a Lisbon apartment building and their unspoken and spoken ambitions, fears, desires and whatnot. Lovely stuff. Apparently, the second book he ever wrote, that got so harshly rejected by a publisher that he hid the manuscript and it only got published by his wife after his death, because she believed it would make the perfect intro to his oeuvre for new readers. Well, count me in amongst those!
Ooh, thanks. I'll start reading him soon!

Quote:
Best opening chapter about eating ice cream ever?
Noted. :D

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Wed May 09, 2018 10:59 pm
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
Sorry, I completely missed this the other day!

Hmm, I didn't have A Woman's Kingdom. So much for "The Complete..." in the title, haha. Yes, I liked The Duel, as well. Have you seen the 2010 movie?

I'd be really interested to hear what you thought of My Life (if you've read it yet). I thought it a remarkably clear-eyed imagining of social rebellion, avoiding both sentiment and satire. Maybe it's partly because the main character reminds me of someone I know, but it rings true!


A Woman's Kingdom is well worth seeking out. My Life was definitely one of the best in the bunch. It's also the only story Chekhov ever wrote from 1st person perspective, if I recall correctly.

Speaking of Chekhov, my friend recently sent me this letter Chekhov wrote to his brother Nikolai, an alcoholic who ended up dying a few years later, despite Chekhov's advice. He's very frank with his brother, but honest and compassionate, and it's excellent advice for anyone. I think it offers some great insight into his worldview and the way it manifests in his fiction as well. And he wrote this at 26!

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Fri May 11, 2018 9:15 am
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Has anyone read any good books about the Mafia's influence on Las Vegas? I know about Pileggi's Casino book on which Scorsese's movie is based, which i'd like to read but i was wondering if there are any other good ones.

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Fri May 18, 2018 7:51 am
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Torgo wrote:
Has anyone read any good books about the Mafia's influence on Las Vegas? I know about Pileggi's Casino book on which Scorsese's movie is based, which i'd like to redf, but i was wondering if there are any other good ones.
The Green Felt Jungle by Ovid Demaris and Ed Reid, which was something of an exposé on the subject when it was published back in 1963.

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Sat May 19, 2018 2:41 am
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BL wrote:
The Green Felt Jungle by Ovid Demaris and Ed Reid, which was something of an exposé on the subject when it was published back in 1963.
Thanks. I went there in February, and while I enjoyed myself a lot, it was an odd experience that I haven't quite wrapped my head around. Maybe reading will help me come to terms with it.

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Sat May 19, 2018 4:07 am
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Child of God | Cormac McCarthy | 1973 | 197 pages

This is my fourth McCarthy (after Outer Dark, Suttree, and Blood Meridian), and it's the strangest and most grotesque of the bunch, and possibly my favorite. Blood Meridian is considered his masterpiece, and it's easy to see why. I admire that book immensely. But Child of God is a very different beast: smaller in scale, more intimately focused, less bombastic and allegorical. Structurally, it's broken into short, disparate chapters, some no longer than vignettes. They're glimpses into the hard, lonely life of Lester Ballard, and they give the book a staggered, meandering pace.

Events never reach a fever pitch or grand climax. Even as Ballard's behavior grows increasingly outlandish, McCarthy keeps a cool, steady tone. There's a calm to his telling, and a simplicity. The most striking details are mentioned only in passing and remain all the more distinct for how fleeting they are. But these impressions subtly culminate into something of a revelation: one of McCarthy's most loathsome and irredeemable characters becomes his most humane. He does not try to excuse or rehabilitate Ballard, but in his most repugnant creation, in the most obscure of places, he manages to excavate some common thread of human dignity.

These excerpts describe the accomplishment better than I can (includes details about the ending):

Quote:
He wanders underground for five days seeking a way out and imagining his death. When at last he emerges, he has a moment of epiphany, recognizing himself in the face of a young boy in the window of a church bus that passes him. He returns to the hospital, affirming, “I’m supposed to be here” (192), finally achieving an ironic mode of inclusion within the community that had compounded his parents’ abandonment. He becomes a ward and possession of the community’s institutions, incarcerated in an asylum until he dies, when his body is dissected by medical students. The novel’s end juxtaposes the bagging and disposal of Lester Ballard’s mortal flesh with that of his victims, raised from their cave to be interred by the state.

(Source)
Quote:
Although Ballard eludes police attempts to capture him, he finally chooses to return to the asylum of his own free will. Although this moment is understated in the text, it is one of the most important choices made by any character in any of McCarthy’s books: Ballard has chosen humanity, and he is accepted into human society (that is, a padded cell). Society’s admission of Ballard’s humanity is cemented upon his death: once he dies a natural death, Ballard’s body is offered to science for medical study—not as a curiosity but rather as just another cadaver that medical students will learn from. In the end, the fact of Ballard’s radically atypical mind is deemphasized, and the one thing that most intimately unites him with his fellow humans—his body—registers his humanity.

(Source)


It's also a fascinating meditation on death, a memento mori Americana. No other book describes the physical facts of death with such stark and stirring beauty.

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Mon May 21, 2018 8:10 am
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Macrology wrote:
This is my fourth McCarthy (after Outer Dark, Suttree, and Blood Meridian)...
The Road is really good, Mac. I see that I need to read some more by him, though. (I've only read that and Suttree.)

Thanks for the link to that Chekhov letter above, by the way. I like his voice!

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Tue May 22, 2018 5:50 am
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Regarding McCarthy, I remember enjoying The Road (though I don't remember too much about it, as it's been so long), but as for No Country For Old Men, while I'm eternally grateful to it for providing the basis for one of my favorite movies, I found his extremely sparse sort of prose left it lacking the kind of vivid, haunting atmosphere that The Coens brought to the film with their style, which just goes to show you how even extremely faithful adaptations can still end up feeling wildly different from the originals due to the process of page-to-screen translations.

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Thu May 24, 2018 4:25 am
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Stu wrote:
Regarding McCarthy, I remember enjoying The Road (though I don't remember too much about it, as it's been so long), but as for No Country For Old Men, while I'm eternally grateful to it for providing the basis for one of my favorite movies, I found his extremely sparse sort of prose left it lacking the kind of vivid, haunting atmosphere that The Coens brought to the film with their style, which just goes to show you how even extremely faithful adaptations can still end up feeling wildly different from the originals due to the process of page-to-screen translations.


I only kind of half assed read The Road years ago because I had it lying around the house, finished it in an afternoon, didn't mind it, but honestly didn't really give it much thought afterwards. The only other I've read of his is Blood Meridian, which is likely one of the most astonishing things I've read from the last 40 years. It nearly makes me feel I should re-read The Road, or better yet, read everything else he has ever done. DeLillo and DFW are the only others that have written books I would even consider as being on that level (contemporary wise) and not even. Not at all.


Thu May 24, 2018 11:25 am
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crumbsroom wrote:
The only other I've read of his is Blood Meridian, which is likely one of the most astonishing things I've read from the last 40 years.
Ok, ok! You and Macrology convinced me. Just ordered this from the library.

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DeLillo and DFW are the only others that have written books I would even consider as being on that level (contemporary wise) and not even. Not at all.
Not a Pynchon fan?

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Thu May 24, 2018 11:37 am
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Blood Meridian is the work of an insane mind. It's astounding.

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Thu May 24, 2018 1:01 pm
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
Ok, ok! You and Macrology convinced me. Just ordered this from the library.

Not a Pynchon fan?


I was mostly only considering books from the 80's and up, and from that period, the only Pynchon I have read is Infinite Jest, which I was honestly fairly lukewarm on. I was a really big fan of the movie though, and Anderson was the man to perfectly tease out everything I liked from the book for the screen.

The only other Pynchon I've read is Gravity's Rainbow. Of the 2/3's of that book I felt I had a handle on, I thought it was brilliant. The juggling act between so many competing ideas and styles, often simultaneously inside of the same sentence, is exactly what I want post modern fiction to strive for. As for the 1/3 I felt went either partially (and sometimes completely) over my head, while at times frustrating, I still found myself enjoying the challenge of getting clobbered over the head with all of those knotted sentences. There were occasional headaches, but that was okay and I found it easy to forgive Pynchon in retrospect. They were worth it.


Fri May 25, 2018 7:36 am
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Psst, David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest.

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Fri May 25, 2018 7:49 am
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Macrology wrote:
Psst, David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest.


If only this was the first time I've mixed up the titles between Infinite Jest and Inherent Vice.


Fri May 25, 2018 7:58 am
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Macrology wrote:
Blood Meridian is the work of an insane mind. It's astounding.

I've been looking for this in the thrift stores for years. I know I can just buy it, but books are better when you catch them in the wild, so to speak.

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Fri May 25, 2018 8:01 am
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crumbsroom wrote:

If only this was the first time I've mixed up the titles between Infinite Jest and Inherent Vice.


You did mention a movie, which should have made me realize you'd confused titles and not authors.

Quite-Gone Genie wrote:
I've been looking for this in the thrift stores for years. I know I can just buy it, but books are better when you catch them in the wild, so to speak.


God, aren't they? I buy used books almost exclusively, unless it's something really specialized I'm not likely to find elsewhere.

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Fri May 25, 2018 9:10 am
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crumbsroom wrote:
If only this was the first time I've mixed up the titles between Infinite Jest and Inherent Vice.
Heh. I do stuff like that all the time.

I struggled to love Gravity's Rainbow, too. But his best books are Mason & Dixon and Against the Day, and they fit right into your time frame (which is why I asked). I've read them both in the last couple years, so I'm still in proselytizing mode, but seriously, they are amazing.

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Fri May 25, 2018 12:23 pm
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Stu wrote:
Regarding McCarthy, I remember enjoying The Road (though I don't remember too much about it, as it's been so long), but as for No Country For Old Men, while I'm eternally grateful to it for providing the basis for one of my favorite movies, I found his extremely sparse sort of prose left it lacking the kind of vivid, haunting atmosphere that The Coens brought to the film with their style, which just goes to show you how even extremely faithful adaptations can still end up feeling wildly different from the originals due to the process of page-to-screen translations.
It's known that McCarthy had a few teleplays for TV movies rejected in the early '80s, and I'm almost certain that No Country for Old Men is the result of him lightly expanding on one of those rejected teleplays. It's pretty dire as a novel, but as a blueprint for a screenplay, it's brilliant.

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Mon May 28, 2018 10:31 am
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Quite-Gone Genie wrote:
I've been looking for this in the thrift stores for years. I know I can just buy it, but books are better when you catch them in the wild, so to speak.
I have a few marked-up copies I might be willing to part with if you're interested and don't mind notes on the margins.

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Mon May 28, 2018 10:42 am
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BL wrote:
I have a few marked-up copies I might be willing to part with if you're interested and don't mind notes on the margins.

I'm interested. I generally go for the beat-up books if I can get them.

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Mon May 28, 2018 1:15 pm
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Quite-Gone Genie wrote:
I'm interested. I generally go for the beat-up books if I can get them.


Bloody and to a pulp?


Mon May 28, 2018 1:25 pm
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And, since I promoted Pynchon above, I have to put in a good word for another obsession, Roberto Bolaño. I wrote a little bit about my favorite novel of his, The Savage Detectives, here. But, really, the best thing I can do is leave a small taste in this post, like bait. Read it, and you may find that you need more!
Quote:
And then I saw my old ’74 Impala go by looking worse for the wear, its paint peeling and with dents on the fender and doors, moving very slowly, at a crawl, as if it were looking for me along the night streets of Mexico City, and it had such an effect on me that then I did start to shake, grabbing the rails of the gate so I wouldn’t fall, and sure enough, I didn’t fall, but my glasses fell off, my glasses slipped off my nose and dropped onto a shrub or a plant or a rosebush, I don’t know, I just heard the noise and I knew they hadn’t broken, and then I thought that if I bent down to get them, by the time I got up the Impala would be gone, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to see who was driving that ghost car, the car I’d lost in the final hours of 1975, the early hours of 1976. And if I couldn’t see who was driving it, what good would it do to have seen it? And then something even more surprising occurred to me. I thought: my glasses have fallen off. I thought: until a moment ago I didn’t know I wore glasses. I thought: now I can perceive change. And knowing that now I knew I needed glasses to see, I was afraid, and I bent down and found my glasses (what a difference between having them on and not having them on!) and I stood up and the Impala was still there, which makes me think that I must have moved as fast as only certain madmen can, and I saw the Impala, and with my glasses, the glasses that until just then I hadn’t known I possessed, I peered into the darkness, searching for the driver’s face, half eager and half afraid, because I thought that I would see Cesarea Tinajero, the lost poet, at the wheel of my lost Impala, I thought that Cesarea Tinajero was emerging from the past to bring me back the car I’d loved most in my life, the car that had meant the most to me and that I’d had the least time to enjoy. But it wasn’t Cesarea who was driving it. In fact, no one was driving my ghost Impala! Or so I thought. But then I realized that cars don’t drive themselves and that some poor, short, severely depressed little man was probably driving that beat-up Impala, and I returned to the party bowed down by an enormous weight.


Descrtiptions and quotes from more of his books can be found here.

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Fri Jun 01, 2018 6:00 am
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
And, since I promoted Pynchon above, I have to put in a good word for another obsession, Roberto Bolaño. I wrote a little bit about my favorite novel of his, The Savage Detectives, here. But, really, the best thing I can do is leave a small taste in this post, like bait. Read it, and you may find that you need more!
Descrtiptions and quotes from more of his books can be found here.
2666 is also incredible, particularly for being an incomplete work. The section of The Part about the Crimes where he just dispassionately details the circumstances of all those murders is chilling, and I think it's echoed somewhat in the incomplete posthumous novel of another writer who died too young; the section of The Pale King where David Foster Wallace details every mundane physical action of the office staff ("Ed Shackleford turns a page. Elpidia Carter turns a page. Ken Wax attaches a Memo 20 to a file. Anand Singh turns a page...") creates a similar sense of overwhelming dread through the accumulation of detail, even though on the surface what Wallace describes is much more innocent.

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Fri Jun 01, 2018 6:19 am
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Oh, yeah, it's horrifying. Soul-deadening, but with a cumulative emotional effect.

That's interesting about the DFW. I haven't read The Pale King yet. What did you think overall?

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Fri Jun 01, 2018 6:31 am
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
Oh, yeah, it's horrifying. Soul-deadening, but with a cumulative emotional effect.

That's interesting about the DFW. I haven't read The Pale King yet. What did you think overall?
It's much more apparent that it's an incomplete work than 2666 is. While the latter had all its pieces in place and lacked only a few revisions from the author, there's obviously material missing in The Pale King, which is a shame because it was probably Wallace's most ambitious undertaking since Infinite Jest and it shows flashes of brilliance every few pages. It's just that there are a whole bunch of threads that never get tied together the way they were in Infinite Jest.

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Fri Jun 01, 2018 6:41 am
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