Monthly Archives: July 2013

15% done with Brideshead Revisited

I’ve always been somewhat curious about this book and I’ve always been at least dimly aware of its subject matter (thanks to the TV series in the very early 80’s).

I decided to finally give this a go after having worked through Ulysses and having now just turned 40 because I needed something nostalgic, something that looks back and reassess life. I also wanted something very English since that’s always a comfort.

Ulysses: Read from July 07 to 30, 2013

Ulysses is a big long book with a lot of words and it hurts when you drop it on your toe. Mind you, Ulysses isn’t the first book I’ve dropped on my toe: A King James Bible, my family’s Masonic Bible (which is exactly like the King James version except the word God had been completely edited out), Gravity’s Rainbow (unironically), and The Unbearable Lightness of Being whose sharp corner wounded my little toe. However, aside from Pynchon, I’ve read every book that has fallen on my foot and so I have now moved on from being a person who has not read Ulysses to that rare breed of a bore who has. I now belong to a group that not even Joyce belonged to because, according to my edition’s afterword, once the novel was printed (aside from some very minor errata) he finally gave up and stopped editing (and thus reading) the text all together. I can now claim the company to that special soggy breed of individual who drags their significant other to a day walking tour of Bloom’s Dublin (minus the ocean-side masturbation) and who (aside from the people already from Ireland) are at least happy to be in Ireland.

Speaking of Bloom, he’s the main character and he’s as boring as the people who follow around in his imaginary footsteps and walk right past all the good drinking spots (because Bloom doesn’t drink). All the people in the book who are not boring are all the sort of people in the world who would not ever read Ulysses – Molly (Bloom’s wife), she gets around with every guy in town and doesn’t even wash the sheet stains after, Simon Deadalus, Stephen’s father, who is a real Irish piece of work and makes fun of Bloom every chance he gets, and there is a rat in the cemetery that gnaws away on the corpse of a dead main character, Dignam. To give you an idea of what sort of guy Bloom is, well if you ever find yourself in his company and look up at the sky and wonder aloud why is the sky blue, Bloom will give you the absolute correct scientific principle regarding the scattering of light and nitrogen and the rods and cones in our eyes and … he’ll take all the living fun out of the whole thing, regardless if the question was rhetorical.

But let’s talk about the guy who wrote the book, James Joyce. Joyce is, as we all know, the greatest comedic novelist of all time and Ulysses is his grand comedic masterpiece. See, what Joyce does is he tricks a lot of really pretentious people into thinking that he is actually a genius because he knows a lot of big words and that there seems to be an awful lot of literary, artistic, historical, even mathematical references imbued into every ink stain of a sentence on every page. Those of us who know, however, know better. You see, Joyce cast the widest net possible when framing this uproarious little ditty – he cast it all the way back to ancient Greece (the founding of all western society) and then wrote his book in a western language! Isn’t that hilarious? Oh, you don’t quite see what I’m getting at? Well, it is a touch obscure at first, but bear with me. Since Joyce wrote the book in a western language he was forced to have to use words and phrases and cultural references that, in effect, date back to ancient Greece and thus connect to all of western civilization. No matter what Joyce wrote, it would always have a connection to some other thing in history! Now the trick Joyce uses is that by titling the book ‘Ulysses’ (there is no Ulysses in the book, by the way) he tricks a certain type of person’s brain into thinking that every word he writes is a deliberate reference to some aspect of history, or art, or math, or philosophy, or some such over-education. For example, when he mentions a river (doesn’t matter which one), some egg-headed scholar will add a footnote to the back of the book (and they’ll do it as you’re reading it, which is very annoying and you have to keep shooing these annoying pests away with the promise of some grant money or a recent tenure possibility) saying that what Joyce REALLY means by the river is the stream of consciousness, or the river Styx, or the passage of time – they’ll relate it to anything EXCEPT whatever river Joyce mentions. Basically Joyce gets a lot of stupid-smart people to do all the work for him and all he had to do was give the book a famous Greek name, make the book really long, throw in some Latin, and there-you-have-it! And this has been going on for over 100 years now! Funniest damn thing in the history of literature. Hell, he even says in the book that the priests hold a lot of their power because the congregation doesn’t even speak the Latin the mass is said in! It’s like Joyce is daring us!!

His other great comedy routine is his stated desire to re-invent the novel (and even attempt to give the Irish their masterpiece) but then he just only goes about copying the styles of writing done by other people! In one chapter we get a bunch of newspaper headline, another is a really bad play that goes on for 200 pages and is about nothing at all, another is a series of Socratic questions … goes on and on. He literally does nothing new yet manages to trick a lot of well-meaning people into thinking that copying is actually inventing!

Anyway, you might be wondering if I even liked the book. Well, yes, I did. In fact I loved it, but in that way a mother loves a child that has grown up to be a serial rapist and murderer who is currently serving ten consecutive life sentences in San Quentin – you love them, but it’s not easy and you do it because you sort of can’t help it and because they need you to love them and because you feel like God is making sure you love them or else He’ll send you hell if you give up on them.

It’s also the most positive book about humanity ever written. Joyce connects every aspect of our humble, daily lives and shows us how epic and rich even one, simple life can be. The novel even ends with the most positive word in English “yes” because Joyce is saying that no life is too unimportant, too small, no person is too marginalized or morally bankrupt, or sleazy, or noble, to not not deserve respect. No other book does this – no other book connects our own ordinary lives to that of Homer, or 5000 years of history, art, culture, religion – all of it, we’re a part and product of everything that came before and life is brief and we should be grateful for it. That’s why it’s a 5-star book because it doesn’t just say life is precious – he proves it. It’s like nothing ever written. Yet it’s a tough book to love, it’s difficult, it’s obtuse, it’s obscure, it will make you want to throw it across the room out of frustration and confusion, it wont make any sense half the time, it will challenge every nerve ending in your brain – but that’s why it’s worth it. Life is difficult and this book is difficult. Life isn’t a Nicholas Sparks, life-affirming, tell us what we want to hear sort of thing – life is Ulysses. The book is for everyone, and it’s for nobody, too. I don’t know who I’d ever recommend the book too because you just gotta find your own way to and through it. I will say that it’s worth all the pain, like giving birth to an fitful child.

96% done with Ulysses

I like Molly. Not as a person, but as a character. If she was a real person I’d avoid her like the plague, but she’s possibly the best character in the book.

She’s a good match for Bloom, too. They couldn’t be any more different but they seem to have a comfort between them – even if it isn’t strictly ‘love’.

And she’s full of her self, and vain, and observant, and horny, and interesting, and fun.

Very fun

92% done with Ulysses

Molly sure gets around (as does Leo) but the reveal is not very artful. We learn it via this odd interrogation in Bloom’s mind. I’d rather learn it from Molly herself.

I like the pissing contest passage- that was cute.

‘The heaventree of the stars hung with the humid nightblue fruit’ (Pleiades, reminds me of) vs. ‘The apathy of the stars’. Heroes born under stars.

How come he never answers ‘I don’t know?’

87% done with Ulysses

It’s chapter 17 and we’re going through an interrogation, or maybe it’s a debriefing?

Throwing my own pretentious hat into the ring: there are two Blake allusions that the footnotes don’t pick up on: Bloom talks about Molly doing calligraphy and recalls the chemical corrosives used in the process, and a little later he alludes to the universe in a grain of sand.

Maybe Blake is the interrogator? He should be.

83% done with Ulysses

This was an odd chapter (but aren’t they all?) – there was an awkwardness to it, as if everything was over described and haltingly unsure of itself.

I liked this one because it mirrored Bloom’s uneasy relationship with Stephen. I love how Bloom has that mix of fatherly compassion and a desire to be an intellectual equal (but coming up short with his morose friend).

This is as far as Joyce should push the art.

80% done with Ulysses

I like how all of a sudden Bloom is sort of unsure of himself now that he’s in Stephen’s company at the bar. I also like that Stephen doesn’t seem to really like Bloom at all. It would have felt disingenuous had they become fast friends or something.

The sea stories with the old sailor were fun – almost like really being in that bar and seeing his tattoos and the knife.

Nice too that Joyce is back to form


76% done with Ulysses

Let’s just celebrate getting through that damn play and getting back to the book.

I’d like to imagine that Sam Sheppard on his quiet days off from being a hero has slowly been whittling down Joyce’s play to something more manageable. I can picture him with a pair of scissors and a glass of whiskey on the table as he cuts out the word ‘Stephen’, ‘punched’, and ‘drunken’, pastes them into his journal and drinks.

72% done with Ulysses

And this play is STILL going on and on and on.


I did like the bit Bello and discovering Bloom has been dressing up in women’s clothes a few times in his life. The little perv.

But 130 pages into a 200 page ‘play’ (in a 700 page book) is fucking ridiculous to learn one new thing about the main characters. Joyce needs to take the advice of ‘The Hoof’ and:

“Smell my hot goathide.”


67% done with Ulysses

Arg, this is some fucking murder, this fucking ‘play’, the fevered dream of nonsense. If I had been Joyce’s editor I would have crammed the whole book up his arse sideways.

Oh, I ‘get’ it, alright, we all ‘get’ it, but it’s uninteresting, over-long, and isn’t speaking to anyone – it’s a lot more words little different than the Latin he makes fun of in the church used to ‘dazzle’ the soft minded.

Train wreck

60% done with Ulysses

Where chapter 13 is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve ever experienced, chapter 14 is the most tedious and exasperating.

Kubrick, in 2001, used the music of Ligeti for multiple purposes: as an alien atmosphere, tense uncertainty, and also the birth and struggle of life. And thank god film was invented because what Joyce tries to do so ponderously in ch. 14 Kubrick pulls off 40 years later.

51% done with Ulysses

As chapter 12 wore on I started to get the impression that Joyce could be a bit of a shite-ass hipster. He goes on so long making a ‘literary mockery’ of the drunks and their gossiping of Bloom, that I began to wonder if Joyce felt that simple minded people were all idiots to be mocked.

I think he went a little too far in this chapter.

13 is off back to form, however. Man, can Joyce write!

The Death Ship: Read from July 05 to 18, 2013

There are quite a few things going in favor of this novel: it’s funny, it doesn’t romanticize the life of a high-seas sailor, it has a playfully Kafkaesque view of governments and bureaucracy, and it has touches of the bizarre-absurd that are entertaining.

What the novel lacks, however, is a character – at least a human character; the Yorkiee is more fully realized than either our hero, Pipip (we don’t even know his real name even when he says it’s something else), or Stanislav. Both characters are so distant and lie about nearly everything and are either flippant about everything (Pipip) or morose about everything (Stanislav) that even though they are fun to follow around, they are unknown, vaporous entities.

One thing that did occur to is that Pipip and Stanislav might actually the same person. And even if they aren’t the prototype of The Narrator and Tyler in ‘Fight Club’, thematically they might as well be the same person because neither have a country, a past (that they’re willing to tell the truth about), a future, or any prospects. Both are quite obviously members of that great early 20th century literary type known as ‘The Lost Generation’ that Hemingway so wonderfully romanticized and that explored the fractured new world order post WWI that modernism still deals with to this day. And unlike Kafka who was eternally pessimistic about a bleak world filled with faceless bureaucrats and stifling, soul-crushing laws, Traven at least tries to make the best of it with some humor.

The best thing about the book is the ship itself – The Yorkiee. She is constantly reffered to as being as old as the Greek Triremes and Viking Long-ships and even having sailed the seas when Moses was safe in his arc. The Yorkiee has a wonderful, if unforgiving personality: her boilerroom is quite literally hell, her crew dirtier than any other crew alive on the earth, her skipper (and the company the skipper works for) so cheap that not even silverware or plates are provided for the crew.

The Yorkiee also represents an interesting paradox concerning economics and governments (specifically capitalism): is it better to be stranded in the middle of the ocean, dying of thirst and delirium with no chance of survival or rescue and where blind, bleeding death is imminent any moment, or is it better to work for the worst, most inhumane, uncomfortable, filthy, unregulated, unsympathetic, lawless company in the world where you probaby won’t even get paid and sure won’t be provided for anything beyond enough water to keep you alive? These are the options Traven presents to the reader – well, that or Communism which is frowned upon by everyone who actually owns something in the story.

The other interesting theme Traven explores is what does it mean to actually belong to the human race and how do you even prove you are human? With no passport, no birth certificate, no sailors card, no embassy willing to vouch for you, no records back home, and no government willing to help you, do you actually get to belong to the human race? Do these documents alosne make a person a Real Person? In a way, it’s like trying to prove you are not crazy after you’ve been committed to an insane asylum such as the Rosenhan Experiments.

Yet even with all these interesting things to think about, there really isn’t much of a book here because it never seems to be able to decide what it wants to be: comedy? social satire? scathing economic critique? social justice? And these failings come from there being no character other than the machinery of a ship. Basically this novel fails in all the way where the great film The Wages of Fear succeeds. That film balanced the cheapness of human life with comedy with social satire and with dramatic tension in all the ways this novel could have had it been given a few more drafts. In fact, I almost feel as if this novel were written really, really quickly because Traven liked the voice of Pipip so much that he just ran wherever the story took him and didn’t bother digging deeper.

Still, there are enjoyable moments and the writing was easy-breezy, but it lacks depth; the sea in this novel is very wide but also very shallow. Go watch ‘The Wages of Fear’ instead.

page 339 of 384 of The Death Ship

So perhaps the poor old Yorkiee isn’t the Death Ship we’ve been thinking she is all along?

Funny how that rusted old bathtub of horrors now seems like a vacation compared to what’s probably going to happen now.

If there’s one thing this book does well is that it dispels a lot of romantic myths about being on a ship.

45% done with Ulysses

– Can you believe it. Dan reading that book of thick and haughty Irish wit? My Gob, he’s full of the stuff, isn’t he now?

Dan H, signingportentousbusyfootedearlyrigingoverreader address the social community once again for his nightly ritual of lording over his underneathers with a lookee here at what I’ve been a-reading, ya illiterate bastards.

– kick the shite out of him, I will.

40% done with Ulysses

Sound and fragments and thoughts resonating around and around the sound of Bloom and deaf Pat the waiter waiting and listening and the piano tinkling and Simon singing and gold and bronze drinking and laughing a greasyeyed Bloom – who’d marry that?!

And Molly and Martha and silly Milly who has no talent for scales and tuning forks whose sound resound around the dying rats gnawing underground.

Tough chapter.

36% done with Ulysses

This is the part of the P.T. Anderson film where we get a sort of montage where the camera sweeps back and forth through Dublin and pokes in and out of the various lives and characters. THe whole scene is held together with the dark shape of Bloom popping up here and there, the H.E.L.Y.’S men, the blind man, the cripple, and the well-dressed priest.

I’m surprised Mr. Deadlus is poor.

Judgmental they all are.

32% done with Ulysses

9’s theme: immortality and father envy

Knowing a bit about Shakespeare was helpful for this chapter – not really because of the allusions (it helps) but to keep up with who they are comparing to whom- especially Ann.

At least Stephen admits he doesn’t believe his own nonsense. His theory of Hamlet silly – just like a lot of academic musings on this very novel.

Immortality is hard; out of your control.

page 288 of 384 of The Death Ship

So now we get Stanislav’s story which is very much like our hero’s. The book seems to be framed by these two stories of men who have lost their passport, their country, their name, and some of them their lives all together.

Honestly, I’m not sure why the novel is taking this turn back on itself – it seems redundant to go over the same material.

28% done with Ulysses

Today’s theme: food and vision.

I feel like I already know Mr. Bloom better than any other person in fiction, non-fiction, or even real life.

I also settled on what I think those trams are all about: they’re like a transport system for the not yet born and the recently deceased.

Pins, broken hearts, 15, kidneys, things that are solid, questions, and everything has a story if you listen closely.

page 246 of 384 of The Death Ship

I rather enjoyed the time Traven takes to describe and explain the hellish conditions and processes of the ship. Boilers and the fallen bars and the second engineer yelling about the steam and them almost killing him. It was very Dante, but more terrible because it was more real.

And of course the Yorkiee is a smugglers ship – what else could she be? Yet nobody turns on the skipper and they keep quiet too.

23% done with Ulysses

Chapter 7 is kind of a tough nut to crack. I should have paid closer attention at first to ‘Keyes’ being the key.

The whole chapter is about language and about how to use it to confound, mystify, mislead, misinform, and lie. Each section devolves into an ever more outrageous headline title that sounds great and says nothing.

Joyce is tap-dancing for us, and it’s splendid – though a slog too.

page 179 of 384 of The Death Ship

A lot of people complain about all the rules and regulations and laws that governments come up with, but just imagine if there weren’t any. Imagine if the company you worked for didn’t have to follow any rules – do you think you’d be treated the same as you do now?

Of course not. You’d be screwed out of even your paycheck. So extreme as this book is, the slippery-slope it explores if real enough.

19% done with Ulysses

I love how Bloom is always trying to think of ways things can be done better. He spends half the time at the funeral thinking of better ways to deal with the dead bodies.

I wonder if that’s because he’s always been like that or because the death of his son has turned him into someone always trying to make things right?

He’s kind of a shulb, too but also kindly and likable.

page 152 of 384 of The Death Ship

Always read the fine print, but even when you do, whoever wrote the fine print can prove in a court of law that what you assumed the fine print meant isn’t at all what they meant and that you’re only going to get paid half of what you’re owed and you don’t actually have any rights.

This has always been the problem with capitalism – those who have make the all the rules and all the rules only favor those who have.

15% done with Ulysses

Bloom is MUCH easier to keep track of than Stephen. Bloom isn’t cryptic – he’s quite a regular guy and I love how he’s always going on about hoping to look up a lady’s skirt!

Joyce’s method of connecting ideas is beautiful to watch unfold. We go from the ritual of the toilet, to the church – from the mystery of the church to the chemist.

And still death lingers everywhere.

10% done with Ulysses

Stephen is a thinker, but he doesn’t ask questions like Bloom does. Stephen is surrounded by death and the image of a dog – cerebrus in a way. Bloom, the cat and he feeds off of death at the butcher. Both think about sex – a lot, but Stephen is more immature about it. Jews too, Jews keep coming up – a lost tribe? The Irish as lost a lost tribe? And green = death. Snotgreen, the bile, the cats eyes. Ireland is green.

page 105 of 384 of The Death Ship

As funny as this novel is, it’s a little hard to take anything seriously when the main character doesn’t either.

Not that I don’t like him, but he’s so flip and doesn’t have a care about anything that he almost doesn’t even exist.

Still, with a title like ‘The Death Ship’, I’m going to assume things will be taking a turn for the worse for out hero.

5% done with Ulysses

Aside from the moist emerald green snapshots I’ve seen of Ireland, I’ve no real idea what the island actually looks like. Odd then that I can see what Joyce is writing about: the tower, the dead body not yet found at sea, the classroom and the kids clambering over the chairs.

Stephen is morose, no wonder he surrounds himself with such comic friends, he has no humor in him it seems.

And death everywhere. Sad.

Bastard Out of Carolina: Read from July 01 to 07, 2013

I wanted to read this book because I wanted to learn something. The power of literature over all other forms of art is that it places you directly inside the minds and worlds of other people and you are an active participant. This is why books are still held in the highest regard concerning an education. And that’s why I like to read because I want to know about something that it would otherwise be impossible for me to know anything about.

And that’s why I was so let down by this book.

Of course I first need to ask myself why I even felt it important to read a novel about a child abuse victim growing up in South Carolina in the 1950’s and 60’s. As a male who grew up in Massachusetts in the 1970’s and 80’s, who had no extended family, not siblings, and was not a victim of any physical abuse, I couldn’t be much further from this subject matter if I tried. And that’s something I knew I needed to keep in mind while reading this novel because I knew I was going to come across situations and emotions that I’ve never had and that are unique to people who have been abused like Bone has. I was also conscious of the gender divide and though things like that shouldn’t have to matter in this day and age, it would be foolish for anyone to assume men and women see the world the same way.

Needless to say I felt prepared and since I’m also a very careful reader who doesn’t rush through a book and spends almost as much time thinking about what I’ve read as I do actually reading it, well, I felt up to the challenge to tackle some horribly dark and mostly foreign subject matter.

The book gets off to a great start too. The characters, in their formative infancy on the page, are lively, rowdy, prideful, and interesting. Anney especially shined as someone who I was excited to get to know through the course of the book. There was a good texture to the way of life of a poor, white southern family, a group of near criminal outcasts whose last name, the Boatwrights, seemed to be a clever way to turn the phrase ‘capsize’ (as in a boat the isn’t up right has capsized) right-side up and hint that this was a ship slowly sinking.

I continued to feel like I was in good hands when Allison describes the first instance of abuse. The scene happens so abruptly, so shockingly right there in the parking lot in the front seat of the car, and danger had been alluded to quite artfully with the images of Glen’s big, strong, fast, hands that I actually felt the confusion Bone would have felt. This is a remarkable scene and I’ll never forget it – it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read.

And to see Allison completely waste this opportunity to tell a better story, to waste these characters on melodrama, on cliche, on pat standards, well … it makes me mad because it cheapens the horrible abuse Allison experienced herself in real life.

Now I didn’t know hardly anything about Allison when reading the novel, but I did know that she is an abuse survivor and that this book grew from her own experiences. I didn’t know anything beyond that, however, and so I read the book without that influencing me. I only carried on trusting the author to know what she was talking about and that she would have some insight onto the subject matter. To say I felt sort of betrayed when the book was over, especially after reading that disaster of an afterword, would almost be an understatement.

Here are the major problems with this book:

The wrong character is the narrator. Bone is at times a fascinating character and what happens to her is central to the plot, but told from her point of view just doesn’t work. First of all it doesn’t work because I never felt like I was really getting the point of view of a little girl – rather I felt like I was getting what an adult writer wanted a little girl to notice and to say and to do. One moment Bone is luxuriating in the warm smells of her mother’s odor (a perfectly valid thing for a child to remember), but the next she’s wise beyond her years and seems to understand far more about what’s going on around her than I could believe. Not to say I think kids are dumb, but the things Bone noticed and said seemed to convenient. She didn’t feel ‘real’ or ‘genuine’.

And of course Allison actually admits to making Bone not real in her terrible afterword. Allison clearly states the Bone is the character she wishes she had been when she herself lived through the abuse she suffered as a child. The fact that Allsion even admitted this shocked me but didn’t surprise me because never did I feel like I was learning anything about the process of this poor girl turning into a terribly angry and hateful young woman because Allsion created a character who never would have become that kind of person.

Allsion says she didn’t want to write a biography, and that’s fine, but what she wanted to was to teach people about this cycle of abuse and to strip away the prejudices of the south and of abuse victims and to use art to help people. But how can she do any good if she takes her own experiences, throws them all right out the window and creates characters the exact opposite of what she knows anything about?

It’s one thing to invent a new character that doesn’t resemble yourself, but it’s another to try reach people who have been through the same things you have by giving them a person they wish they are but aren’t. It’s not going to help anyone – its like creating a comic book superhero – fantasy is all that is serving.

There are deeper problems, however.

The emotions are not earned. We have a lot of jigsaw pieces of ragged emotion – Bone is hateful, Bone is angry, Bone loves her momma, then hates her momma. But that’s all we get. We get told what Bone is feeling but there is nothing connecting what she feels with the outside world. We get told Bone hates everyone, and then in the next scene she’s at her Aunt’s house playing records into the night. Now I’m willing to accept a healthy dose of adolescent angst and emotional volatility and irrationality, but I’m not buying that here. Allison did not bridge the divide between what makes Bone feel the things she feels with how she does feel. All we get is ‘Bone is mad’ because ‘Bone was abused’.

Oh, I know that sounds bad too, and I understand that unfortunately the abuse a person goes through can mark them and define them in their own minds, but it doesn’t work in a work of fiction – a work of fiction Allison wanted to create because she didn’t want to write a biography.

In fact I’ll go as far to say that I don’t think Allison actually knows what she feels about her own real-life experiences because she also says that when asked by reporters how she feels when a school bans her book from the high school curriculum, she says that instead of telling the reporter she’s upset to hear that, she instead takes a deep breath and says ‘well, it’s understandable.’

Ms. Allison, maybe you don’t understand how fiction works, so let me remind you that when you take that deep breath and force yourself to force down your real feelings, you are cheating the reader because the reader only cares about what you really feel and really think – not what we think society and good adult company expects to say and how to behave.

In short, I mistrust Allison a lot and it’s why I feel the whole book is disingenuous.

And what a wasted opportunity too. She has all the pieces here for a great book – a book that could rival ‘The Color Purple’ in stature – she has some really good characters like Anney and Earl and she has a difficult but very good ending with the decision Anney makes. This book could have been great.

I would have written this in the third person and I would have spent a lot more time getting to know Anney because the only way to make the ending work is to know Anney, to know her indecision, her fears, and her strengths. But we only see Anney through Bone.

Had this book not been about so tragic and important of a subject as this sort of abuse I wouldn’t be so disappointed in the outcome, but Allison has done a disservice to more than just people who have been abused and are left reading about a character wholly unlike themselves in empathy – the book does a disservice to someone who wants to understand better, someone like me who is so far removed from the subject matter, from the culture, from almost everything Allison knows intuitively but swallows down out of sight because she hasn’t come to terms with or has thought through what this book is really about and what it’s power could have been.

Allison cheats us. The book is dishonest, melodramatic, and far from insightful. It’s a damn shame

90% done with Bastard Out of Carolina

Maybe it could happen in real life, but the way Allison has drawn Anney as so protective makes it impossible for me to believe she would not have just taken Bone to the hospital instead of hesitating in the driveway. It’s just far too melodramatic.

And Allison also hasn’t earned Bone’s constant blaming of herself. True, a victim would do that, but we don’t learn why – and that’s why I read the book – to learn.

page 72 of 384 of The Death Ship

This novel and Kafka’s ‘The Castle’ were published the same year, 1926 (‘The Trial’ was a year previous in 25). Granted, Kafka wrote his novels 10 years prior to publication but he was reacting to the same absurdities of modernity.

Where the authors diverge are in humor. Kafka’s characters are desperate, earnest and serious, Traven is caviler, jocular and typically American.

This is a very funny novel.

80% done with Bastard Out of Carolina

As a victim, Bone is always looking for things to be in control of, be that breaking and entering, masturbating constantly, canning fruit with her Aunts, or trying to learn to sing. She’s also bossy with the other kids and has an indignant streak that makes her kind of annoying. She’s a good character.

That’s why I was disappointed in how melodramatic the scene in the bedroom after the funeral was.

One Hundred Years of Solitude: Read from June 18 to July 05, 2013

Earlier this year there was a paper published explaining that scientists found ‘a bubble of’ bacteria surrounding the earth at around 30,000 feet up. Another paper from about a year ago described the Halicephalobus mephisto, the demon worm, a tiny multicellular worm that lives about 3km beneath the Earth’s crust. To me these two discoveries seemed relevant to this novel in that the whole world is, in a way, Macondo. Maconodo is a microcosm of and a fun-house mirror of the real world where life teems in every possible corner but because the world is only so big it will eventually begin mating with and end when it finally starts eating itself.

This is not an ‘easy’ novel and it most certainly was not what I was expecting. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting – maybe something more like a realistic Latin American fairy tale with a singular cast of characters – however, this far exceeded my expectations and my imagination. In fact were I had taken notes as I read this novel on every thought that popped into my mind that Marquez seemed to inspire or dredge up from some ancient, reptilian depth, I would still only be about 10% and probably would have resorted to writing everything down in Sanskrit inside a sealed off room while kind neighbors brought me plates of rice and meat as my beard grew, my eyes dimmed, and my heart ever more nostalgic for a simpler time.

What this novel is, at least to me, is as if some fevered mural artist were given a canvas the size of an entire country and spent his every waking moment interpreting the bible through brightly colored iconic Latin American, green-brown-gold imagery. The whole biblical history of the world is here from warm dewey Eden, to the endless flood, to Christ the Liberal’s Generalissimo, to Revelations and the whole ending of the world. But it’s not just the physical, but also the supernatural too that the works share. Here ghosts walk among the living, the entire history of Maconodo is written down in an ancient language 100 years prior by gypsies, events that did happen are then forgotten and people fight just as hard to keep forgetting them. And the novel is both epic in scope while also being intensely personal.

There are, of course, some rather obvious references to Latin and South America’s history – the banana plantations, the endless wars, government corruption, fierce religious conviction – but it’s as if this one section of the world is the breeding ground, the test-tube, the microcosm for the whole of the world. It’s life speed up to 11. Anywhere else in the world and life moves slower, but in the jungle everything is hot, life teems on every surface, passions are fierce (both love and hatred). It’s a candle burning at both ends.

A lot is said of the novel’s circular structure, however, I found it to be more of an arc or a wave. The novel begins idyllic, grows to a fever pitch and then everything comes crashing down and it’s all swept back out to sea – a sea with no memory (as the Indians called the Pacific Ocean). A lot less seems to be said about the humor of the novel. The idea of constantly struggling against some inevitable force or another or the notion that a good education will somehow make a difference is poked fun at. Ursula can get by totally blind and nobody is none the wiser, men spend years locked up in the same room deciphering texts or making little gold fish that eventually leads to nothing. Yes, in a way it’s all very tragic and sad, but it’s also comic too.

And this is where the novel diverges from the Bible. The Bible is deadly serious and always has a god hanging over everyone in final judgment. Here, there really is no god, it’s just the jungle taking back what belongs to it – the creeping of life, meaningless of anything beyond its desire to continue living. There is no judgment, everything just ‘is’. ANd through that lens the whole of existence seems rather funny and comical and makes you believe that maybe it would be best just to destroy your home all day long in the passionate act of having great sex and coating the walls with a wallpaper of real money and bathing in pools of champagne because, well, why not? Nobody is going to remember it all anyway, right?

Well, except for all the ghosts. And therein lies a small niggling issue I have with the novel and that is in the idea that in time everything will be forgotten, both good and bad. The massacre of the 3000 is eventually forgotten by the town and the bodies are all dumped into the sea (the only memory is perhaps all those rotting shoes in the pool), and so the novel, in a way, is giving permission to also be as cruel as you want too because in the end of the world it won’t really matter. The only consequences are that eventually all your children will bear the mark of incest (a pig’s tail), but even that is sort of funny too.

Someday I will revisit this novel because it demands a second, a third, a nineteenth reading. I’m sure I will see something different every time, feel different each time, and take away something different each time. However, I’m sure I’ll always put it down knowing I’ve read an incredibly unique, challenging, dense, and unexpected novel.

page 27 of 384 of The Death Ship

After watching the film ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ I thought about how unlikable all the characters were, how greedy and dirty and dishonorable the whole lot of them was.

This novel is by the same guy who wrote the book that movie is based on and while I can’t speak for that book, I already sense a similarity of character and world view. Traven is cynical, funny, and flippant.

Interesting stuff.

66% done with Bastard Out of Carolina

I wish Allison spent less time explaining everything through the dialogue of the other characters and just letting the reader try and figure out what’s going on. She then could use that time to let the characters talk a little more about each other before we meet them so that we have to reassess our initial impressions of them.

Allison should trust her unreliable narrator (and us) more.

page 377 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

Remember those PBS and BBC nature documentaries where they would take time-lapse photos of decaying fauna and flora then speed it up so strawberries would be enveloped by a gray-blue mold and cavity under their bloated weight or dead rodents would twitch and vibrate with a thousand hungry maggots until only the bones were left among green sprouting vines? That’s kinda what is happening as the book winds down.

page 355 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

It’s as if the narrator of the novel got all their information from the half-lucid ghost of Ursula and assumed everything she said was true and it all happened just like she remembered it.

I wonder if it’s ever possible to be present at the exact moment when a story, say like the telling of an actual Theseus, turns into legend and supernatural myth? There’s probably no one moment, of course, only the path it took.

page 333 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

‘It rained for four years. eleven months, and two days.’ What a great sentence!

So the flood has finally come to Macondo but unlike the bible where we never find out what happens to the more interesting people who god drowns away, we find the people here digging for gold coins under the house, picking leeches off of Ursula, making up what’s in the encyclopedia, and breaking all the fine china.

Starting over.

34% done with Bastard Out of Carolina

It’s odd to think that our world is really separated into 2 separate worlds: one of men and another of women. And I’m not talking about the obvious differences, but rather of how each of sees and moves through the world differently.

I think the one thing men are envious of women for is that women always have each other and there is a strength in the company of women. Us men are loners and it can work at us.

page 315 of 429 of One Hundred Years of Solitude

The way the government in the novel treats the murder of the 3000 by claiming it never happened until everyone starts to believe the lie is a trick that extends well beyond Latin America and is a 20th century horror.

By denying a person the right to martyrdom, by just making them disappear, it saps the courage from someone because they know they will be forgotten. It’s the most treacherous tool of fascists.

17% done with Bastard Out of Carolina

I’m assuming the narrator, Bone, is telling the story as an adult but telling us the events of her life as they happened and from a child’s point of view.

She tries to know everyone by how they look and how they smell, she’s always trying to figure everyone out on this surface level (as a kid would) and so it’s all the more jarring, helpless and confusing when Glen first touches her.

This is dark material.