Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses

Well here we are at the end of the day on January 31st and the Midget is hurting to finish his goal already. I finished the first installment of "The Border Trilogy," entitled All the Pretty Horses a few days back, but haven't written the article just yet and am now struggling to finish both Into the Wild and 1984 at the same time. Since I am over half way through both of these books I feel pretty good about the project so far and I intend to stay up until I finish Into the Wild tonight. Meanwhile, I really enjoyed All the Pretty Horses. (note: I realize that writing a bunch of positive reviews for books that have already earned critical acclaim is kind of pointless and redundant, but a big part of the project is to read up on standards of cultural literacy including books that "everyone" read in high-school, etc. is bound to happen) At first, I was really enjoying the slow pace of this book, but then it kind of took off on me. I was lulled by McCarthy, but perfectly happy with the vivid descriptions of the terrain and horses and his use of language among the characters, which has all of the Texas courtesy and drawl one might expect, but also the humble, yet remarkable intelligence he bestows upon these seemingly simple folk. McCarthy seems to delight in reminding "city folk" that farmers and country dwellers are still capable of intellect that is equal if not superior to their own. I was happily feeling nostalgia for my youthful trips to visit my father in northern Montana and the many lessons on the majesty of horses taught by my step mother. Then, the next thing I knew, John Grady and was in an all-out western thrill-ride easily worthy of Clint Eastwood's direction. It is certainly closer to No Country for Old Men then it is to The Road, which I say after only having seen the movie in the case of No Country, but...I did read up on the movie before it came out including an interview with McCarthy and the Coen brothers (supposedly a very rare one at that since McCarthy is extremely apprehensive around the media and known to many as a full-blown recluse). Therefore, since they actually worked together with Mr. McCarthy and reportedly jumped through a few hoops to make him happy, I am going to make an ass out of you and me and stake this claim based solely on the picture. I plan to read the rest of the trilogy and maybe even waste a few hours on the Billy Bob Thornton adaption for the screen, but for now I have the intention of reading some African American authors for Black History Month. The pile has already accumulated Lush Life: The Biography of Billy Strayhorn and Jazz by Toni Morrison...stay tuned.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jon Krakauer: Into Thin Air

This is a dark and gripping tale. Krakauer joins my list of painfully honest, favorite authors. I picked up Into the Wild about half way through this book feeling that I must actually read it and that having seen the movie just wouldn't suffice (Especially not within the contexts of these proceedings). This is the first book that caused me to cry in the project. When everyone is radioing to guide Rob Hall, one of the most celebrated and accomplished mountaineers and guides in Mt. Everest climbing history, and he is confused about whether or not he is willing or able to try and descend from the south summit. They keep imploring him to descend and Hall keeps deciding to do it, only to change his mind. Several times they even think he has finally mustered the strength and begun, but he then returns to the airwaves ten or so minutes later once again convinced he doesn't have the legs. Then he eventually speaks to his wife, Jan Arnold, via satellite phone. Hall tells her that he loves her and to "Sleep well my darling. Please don't worry too much," the last words anyone ever heard him say. There is so much tragedy in this story and the most difficult parts to read and ultimately swallow are when the adventurers have to make critical decisions about whether or not other climbers are savable or lost causes. Krakauer is truly brutally honest in his retelling. He Admits mistakes that may have jeopordized or even cost the lives of teammates including the announcement of having seen guide Andy Harris near camp IV and the Lhotse face hours previous, and therefore falsely presuming him dead and halting further rescue attempts. Only later during a phone interview with Martin Adams did Krakauer realize that the whole incident he remembered involving Harris was actually between himself and Adams, who incidentally hadn't remebered it being Krakauer he'd spoken to, either. The celebrated and controversial author also includes some of the painful letters received by Outside after his initial article was published including an angry and heartfelt letter from the wife of the late Scott Fisher,  Jean Price. In this reaction to Krakauer's article Price attacks the journalist's judgements and criticisms of other members and guides involved in the excursion, which she validly argues are mere speculations and further claims that Krakauer's writings will not quiet his restless conscious or bring him any peace. Tough stuff to hear and certainly immensly saddening for each to read the other's words. Reading this tragic tale amidst the biggest storm to hit Southern California in years complete with tornados????What?????? 80 mile per hour winds and 20 foot waves has definitely been an eerie experience I will not soon forget. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Henry Miller: Tropic of Cancer

Such a fun read. The parallels to Kerouac and the realization of why Miller was such a big hero of Jack's was so immediately obvious. What a light-bulb. The zest for life, the splurge of ideas, ramblings, the seemingly effortless insightful observations, the ability to use the trashiest and most vulgar language and then turn around and use the highest levels of prose and poetry and Francais. To flow in and out of these different forms of language fluently and keep the reader on his/her toes and in my case ripping through Webster's and clicking through google to look up the French phrases. Augh. So good. A pilgrimage up the coast to Big Sur to Miller's library is inevitable. I feel that it is a must for this project, which has already brought so much joy in just 18 days. This novel and the reactions and the history...the banning in multiple countries for obvious reasons...I mean, 1934...damn...the balls on this kid....the sale of the original manuscript for $165,000 in February of 1986...the praise from not only critics and fans, but the most elite of his contemporaries...the legions of younger followers and aspiring American authors. It is liberating as a young aspiring author of even something as trite as these blogs and my leather bound diary full of poems, songs, reflections, ideas- to read people from farther and farther back in history and to put their works in their own contemporary contexts and to relate to their boiling American blood and open language and brutal, painful honesty. They are so easy to relate to and then bango! They floor you with something brilliant like Miller's sudden description of Whitman in the middle of the end:

"...He was the Poet of the Body and the Soul, Whitman. The first and the last poet. He is almost undecipherable today, a monument covered with rude hieroglyphs for which there is no key. It seems strange almost to mention his name over here. There is no equivalent in the languages of Europe for the spirit which he immortalized. Europe is saturated with art and her soil is full of dead treasures, but what Europe has never had is a free, healthy spirit, what you might call a MAN. Goethe was the nearest approach, but Goethe was a stuffed shirt, by comparison..."
 This is the kind of gold that lurks between the covers of Tropic and rewards the reader like a slap in the face to calm hysteria. I was quick to realize that it is insanely daunting to write about these masters, but it is these same masters who urge me on from within my own head. Rest in peace dear pioneers of the page, and thank you.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Road (Film) this goes against the description of my blog. "What a hypocrite." Whatever. Save it. At least you know I'm a human and not some cyborg toolkit reading these books with my eyes closed and my mind off. "Wait, Isn't that the whole idea? To read rather than turning one's mind off and staring?" Get over it non-existent reader who I am quoting, shit. Yeah, so in this case I went to the pictures and I sat and stared at the screen to see what Viggo Mortensen and John Hilcot did to this book. It seemed reasonable. I and many others have thoroughly enjoyed...or at least suffered through this story and ended up humbled and truly grateful to the author. I have to say that it was actually a pretty damn good movie. There were some issues here and there and I think I may have directed Viggo differently, but in the end, his even keel and quiet reflection made for a solid portrayal of "The man." The things that bothered me for a minute faded away because of his consistency and I was soon able to accept his mild manner and soft tone as a reasonable interpretation of McCarthy's character. "The man," was obviously tormented by some unimaginable demons and was slowly being worn down to the bone. If you didn't read the book then this movie is definitely worth seeing (it will be a rental before long because its' already out of most theaters) and if you did then give it a shot. If you usually try to separate the movie from the book as I do then you might just find that it isn't so hard to do in this case and that despite some minor details, sequencing, and very minor omissions, they are quite close. ONE thing did bother me at the end. Something so small as a location completely glazes over the resolve and sheer balls displayed by the child in the novel. However, I don't wish to spoil anything if someone actually stumbles upon this drop of water in the ocean of blogs so please comment if you care to discuss this lost and wandering soul with time to kill.....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beatnik Historical Landmark in LA?

Check this link about the former Venice West Cafe, once a favored hang of Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, being under review as a possible cultural landmark here in LA. The best part of this article is probably the quotes at the bottom on how the possibility of a Beat scene in LA scared the shit out of squares and local police. I agree that having a replica of the cafe re-made would be cool, but its still just a corny attempt made by the same squares who feared and shot-down the original movement. If you dig the beat scene head north my friends......
Seeking Establishment recognition of Beat hangout's importance

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

I was recommended to read this book around the time I moved to Los Angeles from San Diego at the beginning of last summer. My roommates, a wholly sophisticated and educated couple, had said to push through the first 50 to 100 pages and then I would be hooked. Well, I started to read it, but didn't make it quite that far and as I began to move I was asked to make sure I left their copy behind. Months later when the movie was about to come out and I had only continued to hear great things about the novel I decided I needed to pick it up soon. Oh, but that dragged out as well until finally I asked for the book for Christmas and I got it. It is the first book of this project and the first book of 2010 for me and I have resisted the urge to see the movie so that I could take it in. The previews for the movie did give me a little extra understanding and made it easier for me to get ensnared in McCarthy's story from the jump. Instantly, the prose makes me step back unconsciously crack my pencil in my left hand, and say to myself, "Holy shit, this guy is smart. Perhaps I should give up wanting to write in any format and leave it to the more skilled and studied literati".....ah, fuck it. I will just continue to read more of the masters of past and present and continue to learn. McCarthy is vividly descriptive in this post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son trudging through wasted America in hopes of continuing to live. The goals are uncertain and this is one of those books that grows like a giant black cloud and the reader finds his or herself slowly facing up to the fact that a happy ending just isn't in the cards. I have read critics that say McCarthy must be a tormented soul, but I say that if he is then we are insanely lucky that he decides to share his inner pain so eloquently. The Road is a relatively quick-read and the journey is undoubtedly one of hope against all odds. Whether you saw the movie or not I would recommend spending a few days with this novel; Oprah fan or not. Happy Sorrows....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


So this project pretty much started in December. I was (as I often do) feeling guilty about not reading enough and turning off my brain too often to stare at the blank window of the world. I had been trying to finish my biography of Elvis Costello; Complicated Shadows (written by Graeme Thompson and highly recommended) for just a little too long and I decided to try and read four books that month. I was able to pull it off. I read two Kerouac beauties: Big Sur and The Dharma Bums-both of which I enjoyed though I admittedly found The Dharma Bums to be ten times more entertaining and enjoyable for seemingly obvious reasons. The documentary on Kerouac's Big Sur had prompted me to revisit this favorite author of mine whose On The Road and Lonesome Traveler have always been close to my heart....Things were working out. I then was able to read the new Michael Connely novel, 9 Dragons, a new Harry Bosch detective book in a series that I love and have read probably six and listened to two more in the car on the ride home to northern California. That put me at four for the month. It felt good and I decided to make a new year's resolution to read five or more books a month for the new year and write short reviews in this here ol' blog about we go