Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fromkin's Middle East

David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace presents one of the most detailed and thorough portraits of the creation of the Modern Middle east out of the dissolution of the Ottoman empire.  It also presents a harrowing picture of modern diplomacy that, as the recent wikileaks communications show, is still prevalent.  Both aspects are relevant today as the tug-of-war of politics is played out.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Transgressive Pierre Guyotat

In 1965 Pierre Goyotat's Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers was published.  It is extraordinarily transgressive, disturbing and violent.  However, it was received well enough to garner a following among the French intellectual community so that when his next novel was faced with restrictive sales regulations public figures such as Sartre, Genet, Blanchot, de Beauvoir, among many others, came to Goyotat's defence.  After my own reading of Tomb I cannot but feel that the praise reflects an idiosyncratic trend in mid-twentieth century French thought rather than a more lasting contribution to thought and literature.

Friday, November 19, 2010

William James's Gamble

William James' essay The Moral Equivalent of War (1906), which can be accessed here, provides a glimpse into what is most optimistic and most naive in American thought.  James felt that the direction that the world was going would lead to a predominantly socialistic system around the world.  Along with this, the willingness of nations to engage in expensive, destructive conflict would fade.  However, he also writes that this may not be successful, or even desirable, if the psychological impetus toward the "martial type of character" isn't given an outlet.  James, an avowed pacifist, makes the admittedly paradoxical claim that tied into the horrors and destruction of war there is an element of it that is conducive to building a moral edifice.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Appeal for Feedback

After nineteen posts I see that I've had visitors from around the world stop by, but I've yet to see a comment on any of the posts thus far.  While an inner dialogue is always important, the reason I started this blog was to try and generate interpersonal dialogue.  Whether the style reveals it or not, I always write with the intention of the post being a starting point in a conversation, not a final statement.

If you're here on a repeat visit please take a minute to let me know why this blog appeals to you.  If you're stopping by for the first time let me know if you'll be back and why or why not.  In either case, constructive feedback is always appreciated.

Remember, if you really like what's here the "follow" link is only a mouse-click away!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jacques Ellul's Technique

I have always been interested in the structures of thought that pattern he way we think.  I do not mean in a medical sense, but in a sociological one.  I'm referring to the belief systems, usually taken for granted and very often secular in nature, that influence large groups of people but have their fundamental origin on how successfully they affect individuals.  They can also be referred to as the mythical substructure of a society, and despite the belief that we have left this seemingly outdated mode of thinking behind, myth continues to abound.  Roland Barthe's Mythologies is perhaps the clearest statement that myth is still a driving force in society, but it is surely not alone.  Other works have done admirable jobs at unveiling how much of what we think is not spontaneously generated but instead finely formed by forces that we don't have control of.  Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media and Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion are great examples of works that reveal these forces.  I can now add another to that list.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Three Stages of Bolano

Aside from the merits of his individual works, the literary output of Roberto Bolano presents a fascinating portrait of a writer in development.  The seemingly never ending stream of translations of his work over the last two years at one point seemed to me to be approaching the level of barrel bottoms being scraped.  From a monetary standpoint for the publishers, this seems likely to be the mentality.  However, it allows the opportunity to get an understanding of how he developed over his writing career.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Articles

In the November 1964 edition of Harper's Magazine Richard Hofstadter's article The Paranoid Style in American Politics explored a mindset that was prevalent in his time, but that he traced throughout American history.  He referred to the "paranoid style" as a negative force in politics that is problematic primarily because it is employed by more or less normal people.  The people who fall into the trap are not certifiably disturbed, but average citizens and members of the public service, and the "style" they employ, whether conscious or not, create it's impact on how the ideas are perceived rather than the inherent value, or even validity, of the content of the message.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall

Don Carpenter's Hard Rain Falling certainly can't be judged by it's cover, at least by the New York Review of Books edition I own.  The cover shows a car speeding down a road implying, in my mind, freedom and open spaces.  On the contrary, the novel is incredibly claustrophobic.  Jack Levitt, the anti-hero, is always inside, whether this be a pub, a pool hall, an apartment, a prison cell, solitary confinement, or his own mind.  The lack of freedom comes through on every page and makes for an intense reading experience.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ronald Wright's America

Ronald Wright's What is America? occupies a strange place: part well-researched history (there are well over 100 pages of endnotes, sources, etc.), part polemic, and, as the title suggest, part attempt to figure out why the United States makes the particular decisions it makes on the worldwide stage.  Wright is a compelling read, largely due to an seemingly effortless writing style and the ongoing sense of concern he reveals on every page.  However, this is not enough to make a flawless book, of which I'm still trying to assess it's true value several days after finishing it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Fantastic Voyage

When I speak with someone who has read Jose Saramago I invariably find out that the particular book they read was Blindness.  I attribute this to it being the book released in an English translation immediately prior to the Nobel Prize announcement, thus well stocked on bookshelves when the announcement came.  It's unfortunate as out of the four novels I've read Blindness was by far the least enjoyable.  Actually, it was the next work I read after the excellent Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis and, due to my disappointment with it, it took three years before I read anything else by him.  Fortunately Blindness seems to be an anomaly as the other three novels I've read were wonderful, including my most recent reading of The Stone Raft.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Been a long time comin'

I recently got around to reading Allen Ginsberg's Howl, one of the many works that has been on my reading list for well over a decade but I hadn't got around to reading yet.  Howl was published in 1956 in the collection Howl and Other Poems, and met with controversy immediately upon its release.  Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books was arrested upon publication on charges that the book was obscene.  Kerouac's letters, which I discuss in an earlier post, trace the development of the publication as he writes to Ginsberg while he is in Tangier upon publication, updating him on the events following the release.  The work, and Ginsberg, was finally vindicated in 1957 when a judge ruled that the poem was not obscene.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Needle in a Haystack

Like many people, I had a comic book collection when I was young.  Like many, I grew out of it.  The idea of people in colourful tights, speaking in slogans, using their imaginary powers to combat imaginary beings eventually lost its appeal as I aged and has never returned.  Nevertheless, the age-old tradition of telling stories with pictures never failed to provoke my interest, and having an open mind I have tested the waters from time to time to see what is out there.  Barring one exception, I have yet to find anything to give me hope.

However, it is this exception that is the focus of this post.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Little Housekeeping

Using a blog is new to me and there's a lot I don't know.  A case in point is that I just found that my site settings were not what I intended and nobody could leave any comments if they had wanted to.  This, as well as a few other tweaks under the hood, have been looked after to allow for a more enjoyable experience...if I start getting regular visitors, that is.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Story of a Crime and Crime Stories

I'm generally not one for so-called genre fiction, preferring to read simply what's considered important regardless of thematic base rather than immerse myself in a specific genre, but over the past two years I have been introduced and become further acquainted a number of writers of mystery and crime writing.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon was my introduction, and I immediately followed this by purchasing a collection of Raymond Chandler novels.  Since then have shored up my familiarity to the genre by reading several works by James Cain, Dashiel Hammett, Agatha Christie, and Jim Thompson.

I just had the pleasure of adding another to the list by finishing Roseanna, the first volume of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's ten part police series they collectively call The Story of a Crime.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Small Victory

After two failed attempts to read William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury, what was supposed to be my initiation into his writings, I took the advice of a friend, which was to try and start with one of his less experimental works before moving into his more challenging novels.  As I have a habit of introducing myself to a writer with what is considered their best, often also their most challenging work, it took me a few years to heed the advice.  However, I can now finally say I've read something by Faulkner and what's more, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to the Books

After three posts where I attempted, with questionable success, to expound some of my views on the importance of what we read and why, I'll now return to the original and primary goal of this blog: writing about the books and authors I'm reading and that I feel have significance.

After reading the first volume of Jack Kerouac's selected letters almost ten years ago, I started reading the second volume the other day.  Now, I have owned the second volume since it's release yet I have been carefully avoiding it as I knew what I was in for.  Where the first volume charts the development of a writer, and his letters acting as a primary means of developing his style, the second volume charts his trajectory after reaching his personal apex.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Last Point, for Real

I intended to make the last post the final post on that particular topic but this caught my eye this morning and I wanted to share it.

It fits the theme of my posts regarding the ubiquity of entertainment in general, and the types of books people read in particular.  Books can uncritically be fit into the same lump as one of those activities to "kill time," but that changes with the type of book being read.  The same could be said of types of music or types of movies, but the target of these posts is primarily on reading.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


After receiving an email from a friend regarding my previous post I realized I unintentionally sowed the seeds to a justifiably easy rebuttal.

The essence of the email was that the authors I mentioned, as well as other figures such as Joyce, Kerouac as well as many other 20th century figures not mentioned but easily implied, even if they had a period of wider public admiration, have fallen into a niche, "elite" reading now, and this may be the continuing trend and may even be for the best.

Books and Society

Our modern entertainment industry, including the developments in the publishing industry, has blossomed into its predictable end: a key means to maintain the social status quo.  What better tool could there be to maintain a specific social and economic system than to prevent time for reflection by filling it with superfluous time-killers?  Entertainment, the primary means to fill time between workdays, grows by the day, with ever more spaces being filled.  There has been an explosion of portable media players, social networking programs that limit in-depth discussion (all apologies to the true craftspeople of aphorisms, but what can really be said in a 140 character Twitter feed?), and dominant types of traditional media, such as books and film.

Now this is the natural progression of a capitalist economy.  A day spent in toil leads to an increased use of downtime to "turn on, tune in, and drop out," and the entertainment industry has met this demand, providing a means to relax while keeping the mind busy enough so that it doesn't have time to question.  Now, this isn't a conspiracy.  My use of the word "tool" above was to achieve simplification, but this device differs from a true tool in that nobody consciously wields it.  There is no person behind the curtains pulling the strings.  It is part of the logical development of our socioeconomic system and it affects the CEO of a Fortune 500 company as much as a grocery store cashier.

So, as this is a book blog, where does reading fit in?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Simenon Interview

Here's an interesting interview with Georges Simenon from the Paris Review where he describes the origins of his style, his working method, and the differences between his commercial works and his more stark "romans durs."  I discovered Simenon through one of his "hard novels," Dirty Snow (also available translated as "The Stain on the Snow"), but have read his more commercial work since and can safely say I haven't read anything that didn't impress me, with Dirty Snow in particular being profoundly disturbing.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Correction, or A New Approach

Something didn't sit well in my initial post regarding my favourite authors.  While yes, they are my favourites, I don't think it gives an accurate representation of what my interests are.  Instead, I want to make a brief list of what I'm currently reading and what I have recently read.  I feel this will provide a better idea of my reading habits.

A hello to whoever

Well, for a first post I thought I might describe what I envisioned when I created this blog.

First, I envision few, if any hits or followers.  It's more of another place to jot down thoughts and ideas spurred on by what I'm reading, though film and music may also come into play.

Second, as suggested above, it's primarily a place to write about what I read, and would ideally become a place where the books and ideas triggered by them can be commented on and discussed in a positive way.  It's not a forum to argue, though any negative comments are encouraged as long as they are respectful and constructive.

Now, as far as the reading material goes, it is very eclectic.  I do not mean that it's random as I see a common thread running through it all, and that is that I view books as a vital part of understanding the world.  The posts will include works within many genres of fiction, history and politics, philosophy, poetry, current events...essentially the entire gamut of what pen has put to paper.