Sunday, September 30, 2007
I am up to the letter "F" -- hard to spend much time on this since school started, but I devote every spare minute to it. More later!
"R" hang on! Almost finished!
Finally! Teaching full time takes up huge chunks of time that I could otherwise spend reading. Those few precious moments must not be wasted. Clive James' newest book is definitely worth the investment of lots of small pieces of reading time.
Cultural Amnesia consists of 106 essays of figures, from the last 100 years or so, who have had a significant impact on culture. James includes a disparate selection of individuals from Beatrix Potter to Adolf Hitler, Louis Armstrong to Franz Kafka, and Charlie Chaplin to Albert Einstein.
Sometimes James examines the writings of his subjects directly, and sometimes he spreads a wider net to include those around the subject of a particular essay. I found the essay on Louis Armstrong to be one of my favorites. I know who he is, and I like his music, but I was not aware of the profound influence he had on jazz and American pop culture.
James has forced me to the bookstore, Amazon, and ABEBooks, or other vendors, dozens of times to fill in gaps in my library. I bought a complete set of the tales of Beatrix Potter, Keats' poetry, and I am going to take another look at F. Scott Fitzgerald. James spends a lot of ink and paper on the French left between the wars, and I skipped some of those essays (so many books, so little time). And he does drop an occasional crazy comment: "[Kafka] has influenced almost everything written since [his death]: not even James Joyce had such an impact" (343). Sorry, have to disagree here. Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man killed the 19th century as T.S. Eliot said. Most stream of consciousness traces itself to Joyce.
On the whole, however, it was a more than worthwhile read. I encountered many interesting people I had never heard of, and a few I wish I still had not heard of. But this buffet has more than enough to satisfy even the most discriminating tastes.
I must admit, however, that some (a few, not too many) sentences seemed tortured and forced me to re-read to parse out the meaning. Those were like sudden waves that came crashing down without warning, few enough to be only a minor distraction.
This book also inspired me to re-read Annie Dillard’s classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I read this many years ago, but recently discovered I had lost my copy. I am glad I replaced so I had it within easy reach. I find this the best part of buying and keeping, lots of books, right?
If you don’t know Dillard, start with Pilgrim, go onto to A Writer’s Life, then dive into Maytrees. You won’t be disappointed, and I think you will find a new favorite author.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Christopher Hitchens testified before the Vatican commission to determine whether or not MT should be moved along toward sainthood with beatification. The purported miracle was debunked by the photographer who shot some footage in a darkened room. He explained that some new, ultra-sensitive film was used.
Her establishments are nothing more than houses of death. They contain the barest of furnishings and rarely provide any pain medication, even aspirin, for those dying of cancer, plague, AIDS, leprosy, and other dreadful illnesses. Suffering, after all, is a gift from God and not to be shortened or alleviated. Interestingly enough, when MT was suffering from heart problems, she checked herself into the finest clinics in the world.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I thought it would be appropriate to add a comment about On the Road, Jack Kerouac’s counter-culture classic of the beat generation of the late 50s and 60s, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its publication.
I first read it as a rebellious college freshman in 1966. It was considered hip and dangerous. Of course, I didn't really "get" it then – we all snickered at the casual pot references. Most of us (some truthfully) claimed to have tried weed, but, as the saying went, "it did nothing for me."
Reading it again, about two years ago, I had a totally different perspective. I saw the angst and the searching in the 60s for something besides the "Ozzie and Harriet, two kids, a dog, and white picket fence" that was everyone's ideal in the 50s. I also saw, for the first time, a person's life laid out as a literal and figurative journey. This second read was much more serious than the first, and I think it is a metaphor for the searching that all of us do -- some with pot, some with religion, some with alcohol. Is it a great book? Nah, but it is a great book about the 60s. I am glad I read it, but it won't go on my "desert island shelf."