…”Voltaire in Love,” by Nancy Mitford. It’s a neat little book, a history that’s not a history, a bio that’s not a bio, a romance that’s not a romance. Maybe it’s a novel. Certainly it’s a work of art. It has humor and intelligence and perspective and courage. It’s a picture of artists and royalty in 17th century France, with excursions into German and Polish courts, as wecourse freshman yearll. It has lovers and mistresses and literary feuds galore. The character who grabbed me the most was the previously-unknown-to-me Mme du Chatelet, who was unaccountably omitted from my History of Western Civilization, though, while carrying on several affairs, and gambling away Louis upon Louis, she also translated Newtonian physics into French, upsetting Descartes’s apples.
My father had this joke, usually employed when my brother and I were stuck inside by the rain, being pests, complaining we had nothing to do. “Well,” he’d say, “you know what the Chinese do when it rains?”
They don’t, so I tell them.
My father, an early Jewish Buddhist.
“No, dad,” we’d say. “What’s that?”
“They let it rain.”
So when someone says to me, “What’re we going to do about this drought?”, I say, “You know what the Chinese do when it doesn’t rain?”
…”Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon. It’s my fourth Pynchon and the most accessible. It’s pretty funny in parts and studded with passages of rich prose. About half-way thru, I decided to watch the movie on pay-per-view, whose release made me want to read it in the first place, since, as I recall, my friend Bud, not to be confused with my friend, Budd, whose areas of expertise are entirely different, hadn’t liked it much. Anyway, from what I knew of Pynchon, I figured seeing the movie wouldn’t spoil the plot and might even help.
The movie’s good too, but you’re better off with both, if you know your Raymond Chandler and done, even a little, drugs.
…”Insider Histories of Cartoonists,” by longtime fellow “Comics Journal” contributor and more recently pal, R.C. Harvey, who knows more about cartoonists than the entire populations of most stated. Here, in a dozen essays, Bob scrutinizes several of them, usually little known today, and raps generally about the art form. His knowledge is vast, his style welcoming, and his insights useful. Here is my favorite line, delivered about Bill Mauldin’s dogfaces,
Willie and Joe. “At least a score of his images are iconic, integrated every wrinkle and whisker intact into the cultural consciousness of America.” Note those repeating “i”s and “c”s and “w”s. Just beautiful.
My latest is up at http://www.tcj.com/reviews/trim/
When I was drinking at “Dirty Frank’s,” in the mid-60s, it was regularly observed within my fashionably depressed circle that no one ever moved to Philadelphia, unless it was from someplace smaller than Reading. Sure, things change in 50 years; but even now, learning that Aaron Lange, whose “great, funny stuff” Robert Crumb has celebrated, which, for a cartoonist like Lange, must have felt like Adam receiving the touch of God in DaVinci’s ceiling, had relocated there from Cleveland drew my attention. And Lange’s explanation that the reason for his migration was Philly’s being a “grungy, drug-infested, racist, violent shit-hole…,” doubled it.
…”Gun Crazy” by Eddie Muller. Muller is a fan of — and expert on — film noir, and this book is his tribute to a film admirers of the genre consider a classic. Me, I saw it a couple years ago on TCM and thought it stupid. But I liked the book. Muller did a terrific job researching it. He skillfully portrays many of the characters involved in the movie, from producers t bit players, and he uncovers lots of truths from lots of fictions. The accompanying photographs are smashing, and his case for the film’s excellence and significance seem the best that could be made.
I may even watch it again.
…”When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. It is always good to have some Buddhism around to assist one’s alignment. I keep “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” on my desk within arm’s reach for just such a purpose. I am unsure yet will this one will go. It was good but it will not displace the other.
…”The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skoot, which Adele’d picked off the FREE shelf at Café Bongo (not its real name). Probably you know all about it, so I won’t go into that. But I did think my reaction was unusual.
I was most interested in Skoot’s dealings with Lacks’s hostile, suspicious, feloniously inclined, and assortedly whacko descendants, whose cooperation she needed in order to write her book. I was drawn to shat she had to go through to write her book, but I sure wished she had been more honest about her reactions to these encounter and more inquisitive about her own motives in persisting with them. (Imagine if Janet Malcolm was writing this! I kept thinking.) It wasn’t until I reached the concluding chapter and it wasn’t about her and these people but about the “issue” of individuals’ proprietary rights in their body parts that I
realized how outside things I stood.
…Joshua Ferris’s “The Unnamed,” an Adele recommendation.
It took convincing, but she got me to read it. I am glad I did. It is imaginative and compelling, with my expectations, one after another, having the rug pulled from beneath them. I like that in s novel. It was deep too — and daring — and creative in its approach and execution. John Updike meets Samuel Beckett. A significant achievement.
My only disappointment which engaged Ferris about it. In fact, the reviews, while in quality places, were oddly mixed.
These reviews were wrong. Adele was right.
My latest is up at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/archives/2015/03/10th_and_baimbr.html
I met E. Martin in 1958 at summer camp, where he was not only our bunk’s starting shortstop and point guard but the only one among us who read I. F. Stone’s Weekly. He went on to courageously lead the anti-war movement at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, admirably participate in Physicians for Social Responsibility, and steadfastly practice psychiatry from a self-characterized “radical social/economic justice perspective.” At age 70, he relocated from suburban Boston to a sustainable farming community in western Massachusetts. When he recommended reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, I did.