Monday, August 20, 2018

D.O. Fagunwa, Forest of a Thousand Daemons: A Hunter's Saga (1939)

I didn't read this today after writing about Bartleby (although I could have; it's short). I usually do a write-up for a book a few days after finishing it, having in the meantime started a new one, so...there you go.

Hey. Did you know that I had--as best I can recall--never read a novel by an African author until now? No, not even Things Fall Apart, which many do in high school. Boy, that's a thing, innit? Of course, it's really not entirely inexcusable; it's obviously true that, for various reasons, Africa did not develop with a literary tradition in the way that other places did (obviously, nothing Saul Bellow ever made jackass remarks about). Still, it's a pretty large area of ignorance. So, I read this book. It's the first novel to be written in Yoruba, and per the back cover, it's "one of [Nigeria's] most revered and widely read works." Of course, I have to wonder: if you mentioned it to the average Nigerian on the street, would this person actually be familiar with it? To be clear, this is something I'd apply to any country's "revered" works of literature: most Americans probably know the name of Moby-Dick, but I would bet that the number who can name the author is much lower, and the number who've actually read it? Forget about it.

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Chris Scott, Bartleby (1971)

Who's Chris Scott? Just some guy, really. English-Canadian. He's written some books. Although he appears to have given up that bad habit. And...that's all. I only discovered this one because it was rereleased by Verbivoracious, my favorite small press that may or may not still exist.
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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Songs that, Perhaps Surprisingly, We Don't Hate: Rupert Holmes, "Escape (the piña colada song)"

Don't worry; I'm not going to try to defend this song on the merits. It is bad and dumb. But, while I know there's kind of a cottage industry devoted to hating it, for me to really hate a song it has to somehow outrage my sensibilities. But this doesn't; it just kind of amuses them. I certainly won't, like, play it or anything, but if it comes on the radio--as it does--I won't change the station. Boom.

So you know the plot of the song, presumably; he's bored of his marriage so he answers a personal ad in the paper, only to find that it was actually his wife trying to cheat on him! Doh! Holmes seems to have a kind of insane idea of how personal ads work, but that is neither here nor there. So, sing along:

If you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain,
If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain,
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape,
I´m the love that you've looked for, write to me, and escape.

...or don't. Yeah, there's no denying it; these people are pretty insufferable. But I have to say, I always laugh at the "if you're not into yoga" part (and also the "I'm not much into health food" bit in the response), because holy shit this is the most painfully, intensely seventies thing ever (and ALSO ALSO, re "I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne": hmm...are you sure you're not actually into WD-40?  'Cause you sound like some kind of robot).

There's another thing I kind of like about it, too, reading it against itself: all of these things--being into fruity drinks, getting rained on, etc--are clearly meant to be a vision of a genuine alternative; a life removed from the humdrum. And yet, I can't help reading it in terms of this kind of mid-century white male with a petite bourgeois lifestyle that they can see on some level is destroying them, but that they can't remotely conceptualize how to, ahem, escape it, so you just get these little signifiers that don't remotely come together into something coherent--like Rabbit Angstrom or someone. We're supposed to read the denouement as the two of them realizing that they all they really need is each other after all? NO. All it does is prove to them with a grim finality that there is no escape; they're stuck in this white-picket-fences hellscape until they die. The song's a lot more tolerable thought of in those terms, I find.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Mario Vargas Llosa, The Green House (1966)

So this is Vargas Llosa's second novel. If you want a li'l look behind the scenes at why I'm reading the specific things I'm reading, I'm actually probably going to be working abroad again as of this Fall, and while I can certainly bring some books along, I'll mostly be reliant on the ol' ereader at that time. So right now, I'm reading as many books as I can that aren't available in that format. And, for whatever reason, of Vargas Llosa's novels, the only ones that aren't thus available are this and Conversation in the Cathedral. The last book I read in ereader format was The War of the End of the World. Look back, and you'll see that all the ones since then have been books without e-versions. And now you know. What a fascinating story this was.
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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

A silent nation hooked on emulation

When I was in high school, more or less, I had one great concern that caused me no end of grief (and this tells you A LOT about the kind of adolescence I had): and THAT was that I'd NEVER EVER be able to play all these classic NES RPGs because I didn't have an NES and the system was receding further and further into the past and IT JUST WOULDN'T HAPPEN WOE IS ME. It's sort of embarrassing when you write it out like that (if I could go back, I'd tell myself: dude. Your priority right now REALLY needs to be getting laid. This other shit will work itself out), but there it is.
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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of This World (1947)

Carpentier (1904-1980), in spite of being born in Switzerland to a French father and Russian mother, grew up in Cuba, wrote in Spanish, and always considered himself a Cuban writer. And this book, in particular, is considered extremely notable--an ur-Latin-American novel (I'd thought that Pedro Paramo held that role, but perhaps this one is ur-er). There's a pretty striking blurb from Ilan Stavans: "It all starts in these pages: magical realism and its discontents, the illustrious tradition of modern Latin American novels, and maybe even the Hispanic world as we know it today. Without The Kingdom of This World there would be no Juan Rulfo, Julio Cortazar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Mario Vargas Llosa." So...there you go.

This novel (some would call it a novella) takes place in Haiti before and after its independence, through the eyes--mostly--of a slave (later a former slave) named Ti Noël. It depicts the lives of the French overseers and slaves, and later of Henri Christophe, who, as Haiti's first king, reproduced the brutality and cruelty of the French. Compared to Garcia Marquez (say) the magical element is understated, but the narrative is suffused with myth and voodoo ritual.

The thing that immediately impresses you about this is how much Carpentier is able to fit into a hundred thirty pages. The book is short, but it nonetheless feels very sweeping. It is riveting stuff, as a story of Haiti in particular and the human condition in general. To be honest, he was a bit of an afterthought to me: I sort of thought, okay, whatever, I'll read this and be done. But now, I think I'm going to have to read more of his stuff, just on accounta he's friggin' badass. This, I think, is the kind of book that should be taught in high schools. Stop boring kids with The Scarlet Letter! Give them something like this, that'll put meat on their bones!

History Facts with Wikipedia

Friday, July 27, 2018

Things other people say.

A comment on Lawyers Guns & Money by a person known only as Warren Terra:

...the disrespect and even loathing this administration shows for all forms of intellectualism, in both science and the arts, is quietly stunning.

For the second year running, the Trump administration hasn't awarded the National Medal for the Arts. They also haven't awarded the National Medal for the Sciences. They discontinued the White House Science Fair (despite April 2017 articles saying they wouldn't). Trump was the first US President in memory not to invite the American Nobel Laureates to the Oval Office (George W Bush, who saw the 2008 and maybe 2004 Democratic nominee endorsed in an open letter signed by every living American Nobelist, never stopped this practice). I'm sure I could find other, similar examples of disrespect for science and the arts in the White House.

In one sense, this is really only about the seven-thousandth-worst thing about this administration.  And yet, in another, you can't rank things like that, and it's highly indicative: previous administrations, even republicans, would at least pay lip service to these things because, whatever their flaws, they at least had the idea, however conscious, that America's cultural and intellectual heritage should be celebrated and respected.  Not so with the current goons and their followers.  The only thing they care about is their ideology of corporatism, authoritarianism, and white supremacy.  They don't actually give a shit about the country, and it would never even occur to them that there would be any reason for them to pretend otherwise.  It's why they don't give a shit about Russians undermining our democratic processes: our contemptible president is giving them what they want, so who cares?  This does put them in an awkward position at times, since they can't exactly admit this (and, I'm quite sure, most of them won't even to themselves).  Suffice to say, however, that my sympathy is limited.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Osman Lins, Avalovara (1973)

Lins (1924-1978) was a Brazilian writer. I wasn't sure whether Brazil counted as part of Latin America, but then I realized that the term was fairly all inclusive, and also includes Francophone countries like Haiti. Whether it counts as "hispanic" is another question, but probably not super-relevant here.
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