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Way behind with this thread so here's a year end roundup of loves and hates, omitting what I don't have strong feelings about.


Alfred Perry, Garrets and pretenders : a history of Bohemianism in America

Alice Fulton, Sensual Math, Felt, Barely Composed (three poetry collections)

Fleur Jaeggy, Sweet days of discipline

Nicholas Blake, Thou Shell of Death and The Beast Must Die

Thomas Doherty, Pre-code Hollywood : sex, immorality, and insurrection in American cinema, 1930-1934 (boy have I seen a lot of movies from the early '30s)

Patricia E. Palermo, The message of the city : Dawn Powell's New York novels, 1925-1962

Ottessa Moshfegh, Homesick for another world  (the short stories)

Ann Hood, Kitchen yarns : notes on life, love, and food - I have read a lot of food-related memoirs over the last few months, most of which have one or more of the following faults:

  • They think they're funny but they aren't 
  • They are poorly written
  • The author is squeamish about food

Hood is an exception. Serious and thoughtful. I didn't realize until the closing pages that she is married to Michael Ruhlmann.

Just no

Lesley Chamberlain, Rilke : the last inward man - I thought I remembered her book about Nietzsche in Turin was okay, but she dabbles more widely in philosophy here with embarrassing results. Example: a remark about Wittgenstein's "message to his generation." He published on book in his lifetime, a highly technical work of philosophical logic. Does she think he also had a radio show or something/

John Burnside,  The music of time : poetry in the twentieth century - Long, as you might expect from the title. I will finish it tonight and I bet I start yelling at it again. He's a poet, critic and professor English, but of course he can't keep his hands off philosophy. He is obsessed with the final sentences of that Wittgenstein book I just mentioned, the Tractatus. If he was a bit more keen on the first few sentences, he might be able to better state what the last sentences might mean. I don't expect him to cope with the bulk of the book.

But it's not just philosophy.  He misstates (surely knowingly) what Rilke is talking about in the first Duino elegy. There's a chapter on translation, but some howlers in the actual translations in the book - I don't mean controversial choices, just obvious mistakes. If this wasn't a library copy I would enjoy throwing it at the wall. Thank god I didn't buy it.


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Just finished Ask the Dust by John Fante, a slim novel which didn't live up to the extravagant praise I've heard from Bukowski fans. Henry Miller and Hubert Selby did this kind of thing much better.

I'm currently reading Middlesex, has anyone else read it? I remember it being discussed elsewhere and people were criticizing the fact that it won the pulitzer prize. Maybe not Pulitzer Prize worthy

Several of the pieces in Paris to the Moon appeared earlier as Gopnik's monthly Letters from Paris to The New Yorker. His use of adjectives to describe the weather, the neighborhood, etc impressed me

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I am going to ceremoniously put down this 400-plus page Burnside farrago 20 pages from the end. In the last chapter, he addresses O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died" and insultingly accuses the poet of trying to drag some fake "African-ness" into the poem. He also suggests the poem represents the poet on a "meandering ramble" through the city, whereas anyone who has a clue what O'Hara's job was knows it represents a quick lunch break from MoMA.

Grotesque book, and I blame the editors too, if any.

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The First Three Minutes, again ... but it's taking me hours upon hours to get through ... then again, I'm trying to verify a lot of this stuff and see if I really believe it ... but I'm skeptical by nature ... but I gotta admit that the author is no dummy ... frankly, he's pretty effing brilliant

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  • 2 months later...

After reading a Vanity Fair article about Gloria Swanson's autobiography Swanson on Swanson, I've been tackling it online.  Lots and lots of details, but the early days of moviemaking really were something.

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I hadn't touched a Walter Mosley tale in some time.  For whatever reason I grabbed his "Every Man a King" and began reading.  It's involved, enough plot for two novels by most writers.  Eventually the threads do merge.  I still do not get the selection of the title although two characters do have the name King. There are a few Easter eggs, lots of geography of places familiar and unfamiliar, lots of brown liquor, conspiracies of sorts and so on.  Ultimately our hero Joe King Oliver has to sort through various facts, conflicts of interest, physical threats and so forth to somewhat resolve the various dilemmas.  Spoiler alert: He'll be back.

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This might interest some people here: Let's Do It by Bob Stanley, a 600 page history of "the birth of pop music."

The book deals with popular music in the broad sense, beginning in 1900 and winding down as it reaches the 1970s (The Beatles show up around page 550). It's fair to say it restricts itself to American and English popular music, but of course that's not much of a restriction. Stanley is a British writer (and musician, a member of Saint Etienne), so there's plenty of music hall and Al Bowlly as well as vaudeville and Al Jolson.

It's a very well written book, in the sense that he makes a mountain of information highly readable and easy to digest. Much of it is familiar of course, but I think anyone will find stories and connections they hadn't known about.

But. Two things slowed me down as I read it.

I had to stop every few pages to yell at the book because of some nonsense. Misjudgments as much as factual errors. For example, he returns again and again to the claim that Jolson was a unsubtle belter and a stranger to the microphone (unlike Bing,etc); apparently in complete ignorance of the fact that Jolson re-recorded most of his catalog as well as new songs, with modern arrangements and a modern microphone, to coincide with the appearance of The Jolson Story. And had great success with that.

And then there's a constant blithe disregard of whether songwriters were composers or lyricists. Jerome Kern, who was exclusively a composer, apparently had a great "influence" on Lorenz Hart and Yip Harburg. Maybe one concedes that lyricists could be influenced by an important composer, but in that case you might have thought Kern influenced Hammerstein (who is not mentioned in this context).

Oh, the other thing that slowed me down? I decided to sing a few lines from every song cited, if I knew it. That's a lot of songs.

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Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, by Patrick Radden Keefe.  

One of the most shameful projects I ever worked on in my history of doing pharma-related work was working with Purdue long, long after the opioid crisis had begun (and they'd already been through the court system).  I think it was one of their last-ditch efforts to give Oxycontin a good face.  I had many meetings at Purdue HQ in Stamford and personally had contact with several opioid apologists.

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Just finished Cormac McCarthy‘s The Passenger and planning to start Stella Maris next. In the meantime I‘ve picked up Blutbuch by Kim de L‘Horizon.  Starts very strong and I would recommend, but I have no idea how it can possibly be translated. Seems to switch from partly Swiss German completely to English halfway through…

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18 hours ago, AaronS said:

what did you think of the passenger?

I loved the writing and there are some great scenes. Bobby and Alicia (presumably an encryption reference?) we’re too perfect as characters but maybe they are just concepts. The history of physics was too long and didn’t add anything for me but it’s hard to write about science. 

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