Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Songs Named After Books: How Faithful Are They? Part One: "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

When we were reading Huckleberry Finn in high school, we read a number of essays alongside it, including one which was all about how Uncle Tom's Cabin sucks compared to Huck Finn. The pedagogical value of this is unclear, given that we didn't read the former, or even excerpts therefrom. Still, I think I just took the essay at face value because it's just fun to hate on things, I guess. Nowadays, though, I must take exception to it. First, it's not even a tiny bit fair to compare them without noting that they were written on opposite sides of the Civil War (um, before and after, that is), with completely different motives. Also, while all the criticisms of Uncle Tom's Cabin you hear are accurate--it's awash in unconscious racism, it gets pretty darned mawkish, it flagrantly misuses archaic grammar in the dialogue of Quaker characters (seriously, Stowe writes things like "Thee knows thee can stay here, as long as thee pleases"--didn't she have editors?)--given that it was massively successful in turning public opinion against slavery and thus did literally the greatest tangible real-world good of any novel ever--maybe perhaps it deserves a tiny bit of credit? What have you done today that's so great? Also, I must maintain, in spite of everything, that it has genuine literary merit. The section on the Legree estate is as compelling a portrait of Hell as any.

Anyway, the Warrant song is about a guy. He has an uncle. The Uncle is named Tom. Uncle Tom has a cabin. The boys of Warrant had definitely heard the phrase "Uncle Tom's Cabin" somewhere, but whether they know what the book's about, or even that it is a book, is impossible to say.

(I'm just funnin'--it's a fun song, in its preposterous eighties-hair-metal way--but it sure has zero to do with the novel.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H. (1964)

Yes, well. I have claimed in the past to like books that give me entirely new aesthetic experiences, and you certainly cannot fault Brazilian author Clarice Lispector in that regard. The narrator, G.H. (wikipedia sez it's short for gênero humano, meaning "humankind" in Portuguese), is a well-off sculptor who apparently spends most of her time just swanning around, not really engaging. All that changes when she goes into the maid's room and sees a cockroach, which freaks her out. She smashes it between the door and the wall, and the sight of this dying insect precipitates a spiritual crisis in her. She spends the next hundred-odd pages contemplating the roach, the porousness of life and identity, and the divine, until she more or less breaks down altogether. Uh...is that an okay summary? It's not exactly an easy book to follow.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Videogames are not "art," so stop saying that.

The worst thing is when people talk about how videogames are art, man. I think we can all agree on that. But let's get into it briefly, because I think I have the solution here. First, though, I have to point out that it's pretty weird that people are so fixated on that word. I read a lot of books, and I take literature both seriously and joyously. But boy, I sure never look up from a book and think, oh man! What Great Art this is! I am truly having an Artistic experience! If something particularly strikes me I might think something like, damn. This is a great book, but my mind doesn't immediately go to "ART!" I don't think anyone's does. Well, you say, that's just because book are already considered to be it and so you don't have to say it. Well...maybe? But to me, it looks way more as if you're just super-insecure and you want to believe that your leisure-time activities stand among the pinnacles of human endeavor. I'm just saying.
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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Josefina Vicens, The False Years (1982)

Might as well read Vicens' other novel, while I'm at it! Though at seventy-four pages, "novel" is pushing it beyond the breaking point. Still, if those irritating Ravicka books count as novels, this must too! Also, there is no activity more interesting and meaningful than obsessing over what does and does not count as a novel! Let's write a WHOLE LOT MORE on that subject!
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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Renee Gladman, Event Factory/The Ravickians/Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge (2010/2011/2013)

Well, here's a trilogy of very short novels--novellas, really--that I read. They concern a fictive city, Ravicka, seemingly somewhere in eastern Europe, which is facing some sort of undefined crisis where everyone's leaving (Gladman specifically cites Samuel Delany's Dhalgren as an influence). The first book is from the point of view of an unnamed visitor to the city, the second and third from that of native Ravickians.
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Friday, January 15, 2016

Josefina Vicens, The Empty Book (1958)

And now, something short and sweet, for once. Josefina Vicens was a Mexican writer; according to Wikipedia, although she only wrote two short novels, "she is regarded as a pillar of modern Mexican literature" (she also wrote poetry, journalism, and a bunch of screenplays).  I found this novel via one of amazon's recommendation, presumably on the basis that I'd been reading or browsing a lot of metafiction.  Whether The Empty Book falls in that category is debatable, but it certainly points in its direction and as such must be at least somewhat influential.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Irmtraud Morgner, The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by Her Minstrel Laura: A Novel in Thirteen Books and Seven Intermezzos (1974)

If you're like me, you have this image in your head of the German Democratic Republic as this grimly functionalist places consisting mainly of concrete and barbed wire, with everything in shades of gray and NO FUN ALLOWED. And you've also messed around with Poly Play--the GDR's effort at an arcade game--in MAME, which humorously confirmed your impressions. And along with this impression, you assume, naturally, that the only art and literature to be produced is going to be some pretty intense socialist realism.

But--again, if you're like me! And why are you trying to be like me all the time???--then you'll read Trobadora Beatrice, and your impressions will be challenged. It seems that the official state policy of socialist realism was more of a suggestion than a rule, per se, because this novel is kind of the opposite of that: it's not about glorifying the proletariat, and it's not even a tiny bit realistic. Just goes to show how much I know.
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Monday, January 11, 2016

Oh no love you're not alone

My facebook feed last night and this morning was almost NOTHING but people mourning David Bowie. It's incredible, really; I have never, ever seen a celebrity death that had even remotely close to as much impact on as many people. It kind of caught me off-guard how much it affected me. I already told the story about the first time I heard Ziggy Stardust in this post (holy shit, seven years ago? Tempus fuckit). It's not like I went through any kind of obsessive phase where I wouldn't listen to anyone else, but somehow his music was always there, always in my head. For a period in Morocco I was smoking a fair amount of hashish (when in Rome, you know), and my absolute favorite thing to do while baked was listen to Bowie albums. I know the stereotype is that being stoned makes people like shitty music, but in this particular case, I think the main effect was to strip away whatever cultural mediation got between me and the music itself and really let me hear it for the first time again. And it really is incredible stuff. It's amazing to me that music could be so strange and so massively popular at the same time. I mean, it's because it's awesome, obviously, but what does THAT have to do with anything in this fallen world?

I suppose the only bright side, sort of, is that my knowledge of post-seventies Bowie remains extremely spotty, so there's still a lot to discover. I know it generally doesn't have the critical reputation of his earlier work, but I have no doubt there is nonetheless great stuff there.

An abbreviated list of great Bowie songs. "Space Oddity," "Cygnet Committee," "The Wild-Eyed Boy from Freecloud," "Saviour Machine," "Life on Mars," "The Bewlay Brothers," "Five Years," "Moonage Daydream," "Starman," "Lady Stardust," "Ziggy Stardust," "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," "Velvet Goldmine," "John I'm Only Dancing," "Aladdin Sane," "Panic in Detroit," "Cracked Actor," "Time," "Lady Grinning Soul," "Rebel Rebel," "Fame," "Station to Station," "Golden Years," "TVC 15," "Stay," "Be My Wife," "Beauty and the Beast," "Joe the Lion," "'Heroes,'" "African Night Flight," "DJ," "Look Back in Anger," "Boys Keep Swinging," "Repetition," "Scary Monsters (and super creeps)," "Ashes to Ashes," "Teenage Wildlife," "Modern Love," "Ricochet," "Cat People"

Really, did anyone else even come close?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2015 in Books

A bit belatedly, a round-up!  I think I read 'round about fifty books this year; I can't be bothered to count.  Goodreads always wants me to set a "challenge" for myself, that I'll read X number of books in the coming year, but that seems like a terrible idea.  If anything, it would just encourage me to read only short/easy books to game the system.  Though more likely it wouldn't "encourage" me to do anything; I'd just forget about it.  Might be useful it you need a li'l encouragement to keep on keeping on, though.

I didn't split “best character” into two categories this year, but I made up for it by adding several new ones.
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