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#5386 Wilfrid

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Posted 25 December 2019 - 11:38 PM

Anniversaries is in some ways a great New York novel, with the Times (female, Aunty Times) almost a protagonist. But it’s not just that, as its two central characters have come to the city from the Europe of WW2.

Don’t worry that it’s long, it’s really good. It’s just physically heavy (and too big for my book stands). Uwe Johnson, NYRB.

#5387 Wilfrid

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Posted 25 December 2019 - 11:44 PM

Also “Cop-Killer,” Nero Wolfe novella in which our hero identifies the murderer from a barber chair in a barber shop (how could the chair hold him?).

And Karen Solie, The Caiplie Caves, poems.

#5388 Wilfrid

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Posted 27 December 2019 - 12:18 AM

I have a holiday reading list which goes back maybe 30 years, and expands very slowly. These are short pieces I read every year because they make me happy and form part of my own tradition. No reason they would work for anyone else, except the obvious first one, which is universal.

O. Henry, “Gifts of the Magi.”
William Burroughs, “Junky’s Christmas” and “They Call Him the Priest” (early and late versions of the same story).
Kingsley Amis, Christmas drink recommendations from his Everyday Drinking.
John Arlott, “Dear boy...” an imaginary letter to his son from his Guardian wine column.
John Arlott, “The Hungry Traveler” from Another Word With Arlott.

#5389 Wilfrid

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Posted 04 January 2020 - 11:24 PM

Patrick Modiano, Paris Nocturne (a good translation of the French title would have been Night Accident. Easy to read in a couple of hours, but always left wondering if there’s much substance in his novels. There’s atmosphere, sure.

Paul Bowles’ second novel arrived in the mail, to my surprise (Let it Come Down). Retracing my steps, I remembered dipping into a book about the Beats and their precursors over the holidays. Sure enough, it’s cited there, and it appears I found a $4 copy online on Christmas evening, after the Cornas. 🤔

#5390 Wilfrid

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Posted 06 January 2020 - 11:16 PM

The Job, a collection of interviews with William Burroughs from 1969 to early 70s. The trouble with extensive exposure to Burroughs’ world view is that once you get past a few remarkably prescient and influential ideas you are reminded that he’s a credulous misogynist who will fall for any plausible huckster.

I say that with regret because his actual texts (novels if you will) are wonderful.

#5391 Wilfrid

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 11:48 PM

And then Don’t Hide the Madness, the recently published transcripts of several days of conversation when Ginsberg visited Burroughs in 1992. Plenty of amusing trivia about getting old, but also stories from two guys who went everywhere and met everyone. A light read.

#5392 Wilfrid

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 11:51 PM

I have the Paul Bowles mentioned above, and a complete Elizabeth Bowen short stories on the pile, and I am fascinated that they would stand next to each other on the shelf (when I make some room on the shelf).

#5393 Wilfrid

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Posted 19 January 2020 - 11:04 PM

And a Bowles biography, An Invisible Spectator by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno.

I had wanted to read John McDowell’s Mind and World but was too mean to pay internet prices for used academic books. Then I found a free pdf. So I have too much to read right now. On the other hand, it all amounts to a lighter load than Anniversaries.

#5394 Wilfrid

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Posted 25 January 2020 - 11:32 PM

Khaled Khalifa, In Praise of Hatred, which up to a point is quite wonderful.

Through the eyes of a teenage girl, growing into her mid-twenties, the fortunes of a family in Aleppo as the country is overtaken by the civil strife of the 1980s. It’s a bloody business, captured in full horror by the author, but through an erotic and lyric lens. Best I can do at describing it.

The early family scenes before violence take over recalled, to me, The Cairo Trilogy, but Khalifa isn’t content with Maguib’s realist register (in that work).

The girl/young woman lives through the contradictions between her religious and political faith and the surrounding temptations of sex and Westernisation.

The third section, set in prison, is gripping. The point at which the English version ceases to be wonderful is at the end of that section, because the fourth section...is missing.

The publisher (not the translator) lopped off the end of the book. An incredibly stupid piece of vandalism which means a new edition is urgently needed.

What we have, in a English, is highly recommended. I immediately picked up his next novel (translated in full, I trust).

#5395 Wilfrid

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Posted 25 January 2020 - 11:36 PM

Also just starting the Plattypants odyssey, The Book of Eating.

#5396 Wilfrid

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Posted 30 January 2020 - 03:43 PM

The above, composed in the distinctive, galloping prose style familiar from Platt's long form New York magazine pieces, with the familiar odd stumbles (how can a choucroute garnie be "laced with" sauerkraut?), but entertaining enough. I did not know about his brief career writing Talk of the Town pieces for the New Yorker.



#5397 Wilfrid

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Posted 31 January 2020 - 01:04 AM

Sorry, but why wasn’t it properly edited? Many stories just retold on the following page, sentences repeated two paragraphs later. Not fair on him.

#5398 Wilfrid

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Posted 31 January 2020 - 11:45 PM

Exile’s Return by Malcolm Cowley is a book I kind of felt I’d read, because I’ve seen so many citations and quotes. It’s known as a chronicle of the “lost generation” of American writers who went to Europe in the 1920s.

If only. It’s a kind of diffuse ramble, with very little insight. And finally with some very conservative reactions to modern art (abstract painting and Finnegans Wake are disdained, without much supporting argument).

I read it so y’all didn’t have to.

#5399 Wilfrid

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 12:19 AM

That game where smart asses have to confess the book they haven’t read and the winner is the most embarrassing confession?

Catch-22. It’s a strange experience because I am so familiar with the plot, characters, and even the best lines. Trying to imagine how fresh and sharp it would have been at the time, or if I’d read it when I was 18.

#5400 Wilfrid

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Posted 04 February 2020 - 12:29 AM

Robert Westerby, Champagne for Mother.

Westerby started out as a young writer of mean streets, blue collar thrillers in the U.K., long before the Angry Young Men. His classic in that genre: Wide Boys Never Work (1937). Recommended. There is a straight line from that to The Who’s Quadrophenia.

This is his memoir of his early life, in and out of London at the time of WW1. It’s very funny.

In the forties he moved to Hollywood and had a long, successful career as a screenwriter. He could do the dialogue.