Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Anthony Powell, The Acceptance World (1955)

This book takes place in the early thirties--Great Depression times, although you wouldn't really know that from the book itself.  The title refers to the idea that trading partners have to operate on faith to a certain degree--that is, you have to pay someone before you've actually gotten what you're supposed to be getting, and sometimes that works out, and sometimes not.  This is generalized to life in general.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Cleaners from Venus, Back from the Cleaners (1995)

Okay, so there's this band, Cleaners from Venus, which is basically just one guy, Martin Newell, who's been releasing pop music since the early eighties, first as CfV, then under his own name, and lately returned to CfV (and he's incredibly prolific: I just checked, and saw that he's released FIVE new albums since I last checked in 2015).  It's basically the same kind of stuff regardless: eccentric pop music sometimes reminiscent of XTC.  He's really a very good songwriter.  And to add to his mystique, for a long time, he only released his music on cassette tape, and it was very hard to find--since, it's almost all been released digitally, but his discography is very messy, with loads of rarities everywhere.

Anyway, before all this, he did release two best-ofs, Golden Cleaners and Back from the Cleaners.  That was how I first heard the band.  They're both out-of-print, but the former is more or less reproduced by the current CfV best-of, and I'm pretty all the tracks are readily available on their original albums anyway.  Back from the Cleaners is a different story.  It's hard to find for a reasonable price, and it includes a lot of rare tracks: a few of them can easily be found elsewhere, but a lot of them are b-sides and complication tracks and previously-unreleased (and, to my knowledge, still only ever released here) material.  But don't think it's any lesser in quality than his other material!  Newell's one of these dudes who can somehow just toss out great pop songs like it's nothin.'  My favorite here is "Monochrome World," one of the otherwise-unreleased tracks.  It's absolutely insane that such a great song should be so hard to find.

Is this available online?  Well...not really.  The amazon listing alleges that you can buy it in mp3 format, but if you click on the button, it just takes you to the completely-different current best-of.  There's this, which LOOKS like it might be legit, but turns out to be one of those dodgy-as-fuck sites that wants you to give them your email and who knows if you'll get it anyway (and actually, come to think of it, I'm going to intentionally fuck up that link so as not to give them extra traffic--don't bother clicking on it; it will avail you naught).  But me, I'm getting rid of a bunch of old CDs--like most people, I only listen to music digitally these days--and I thought before I ditch this one, it would be a good idea to make a cool rare album a bit easier to find.  So here it is, ripped as 320 kbps files, and I even scanned the booklet, in which Newell explains a bit about where these tracks come from.  Enjoy.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Anthony Powell, A Buyer's Market (1952)

 

This picks up a few years after A Question of Upbringing.  I guess that's not exactly a shocker.  Ol' Nick is working for some sort of publishing company, although it's pretty vague; certainly not what the book is about.  What IS it about?  Well...in the beginning we are introduced to a painter named Mr. Deacon (Powell's extensive treatment of artists of various stripes certainly parallels Proust) who was a long-time family friend of the Jenkins,' and at the end, he dies in a bathetic way by falling down the stairs at his own birthday party. 

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Monday, August 16, 2021

Anthony Powell, A Question of Upbringing (1951)

Here we go, folks!  This is the first in Powell's twelve-book series A Dance to the Music of Time.  I'd been meaning to check this out for a long time, but I feel like I was a little traumatized by reading In Search of Lost Time; the idea of embarking on another massive multi-volume novel filled me with trepidation.  This isn't as long as Proust, but it's not too far off.  Altogether, it's several thousand pages, all told, easily giving it a place on wikipedia's list of the longest novels.  Yeesh.  But you've gotta maintain that adventurous spirit, so I dove in.  And really, I needn't have worried: there are certainly Proustian aspects to this, but this first book at least is A LOT more accessible and...well, fun.

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Sunday, August 08, 2021

Anthony Trollope, Phineas Redux (1874)

Oh Tony Baloney--I just can't quit you.  So...what's Phineas been up to lately?  Well, in a similar move to the one the author pulled in Barchester Towers, his wife Mary died between the two books, in childbirth (the child died as well, which is too bad--it might have been interesting to see him have to deal with single-fatherhood).  He still has his comfortable government office in Ireland, but his ol' pals in the Liberal Party convince him to come back to England and run for Parliament again.  He does this, and although he loses at first, it turns out that his opponent had engaged in bribery so he's declared the winner.  But as you will perhaps remember, MP was an unpaid position at the time (that STILL seems nuts to me--and before he becomes a duke, Plantagenet Palliser himself is one (in the House of Commons, that is), which renders gibberish the idea that members should have other careers), so he's gunning for a cabinet position so he can even AFFORD to be in politics, and despite the help of various people (notably Glencora Palliser), he's not having much luck.

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Robert Nichols, Daily Lives in Nghsi-Altai (2017)

This was the last book to be published by the late, much-lamented Verbivoracious Press. Nichols was a poet and activist, not to be confused with the better-known British poet by that name. His second wife, Grace Paley, was a rather better-known writer. This book consists of four linked novellas from the seventies: Arrival (1977), Garh City (1978), The Harditts in Sawna (1979), and Exile (1979). Additionally, there's a prequel, Red Shift, which I think was published sometime in the nineties, but about which the introduction is really unclear about. Considering how little documentation there is of this work, you'd think they'd've tried to do a better job.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)

 Yeah, so I reread this for a class I'm going to be teaching. I like it; it's kind of a cozy read. I hope that doesn't sound condescending. Anyway, I have a few miscellaneous thoughts.

I was sort of surprised how little I remembered about this from the first time I read it, but, well, that was fifteen years ago. I'll tell you this: the thing I remembered most clearly was the character of St. John Rivers, because GOOD LORD, man. That shit'll stick in your mind. It's very difficult for me to tell to what extent his portrayal is meant to be a veiled criticism of this austere religious zealotry. It's easy to read the novel anachronistically and thereby misjudge it. And he does get the last word in the novel, so I do feel like he's meant to be more admirable or not. But GOOD LORD: right, so if you haven't read the book recently or at all, he's the one who wants to marry Jane even though they're not at all in love so she can accompany him to India to do missionary work, and he manipulates her feelings super-hard, and gets all judgmental about her reservations about this extremely swell idea, and he just comes across as a sinister svengali in a way that it seems Brontë couldn't have been completely insensible to. Crazy stuff.

Here's my Hot Take on the novel: the romance between Jane and Rochester? Overrated. Aside from them declaring their love for one another in ever-more assiduous terms, what is there to it? I don't get any particular sense of why they should be so attracted to one another, and they actually don't get that much screentime (pagetime?) together. I will say that the Madwoman in the Attic business is questionable in many ways. I mean, this woman is black, or at least part-black, which is the same thing in the eyes of everyone. And she's being taken away from her homeland and locked up by this guy? Yeesh. I think it was good and necessary that someone should write The Wide Sargasso Sea in response. But even overlooking the colonialist element, you have to ask: is this even legal? Can you just lock up your wife and keep her a secret from the world and it's A-okay? What if any Victorian law would apply to this? And how about if she's not "mad?" Can you do it then? And if the answer is no, well, what's to stop you from unilaterally declaring her such? This whole situation seems to me to be on extremely shaky ground.

One more thing: the conflict here where they want to get married but oh no, he's secretly already married so they can't even though he really isn't in any practical sense is very similar to the one in Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall, where the titular tenant has run away to escape her philandering, abusive husband, and the narrator wants to marry her, but nope, even though she loves him and she never plans to see her husband again, sanctity of marriage and all, so can't do it. It is extremely obvious that neither of these novels could be set in 2021; here and now, this would seem ludicrous. Well, but they aren't [citation needed]. They're set in a premodern society, and anything that would undermine the stability of an institution like marriage would be considered unacceptable.

BUT. At the same time, you want these books to have happy endings. I don't think, "well, this violates our norms, so the love interests can't be together, too bad so sad" would have been considered any more satisfying a conclusion then than it would be now. And what this means, somewhat perversely it seems to me, is that the only answer is authorial murder--gotta kill off the people getting in the way. I mean CRIKEY, if you weren't so deferential to the idea of marriage, you could have gotten together with Jane WITHOUT getting maimed in a fire, and maybe Bertha could've gotten the help she needed.