“I’m Baaaaack”: lists, reading, blogging, and Halloween

I'm Back

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

It’s been 10 months tomorrow since I last posted on this blog, though it seems much longer than that. These are trying times, indeed.

I came back to this web site partly because of a column I read in the New York Times’ Book Review last Sunday.  In it,  the writer “reviewed” the web pages of the authors whose books currently sit on the fiction best seller list.

The first, Mitch Albom’s, dealt with lists… the 15 best movies, the 10 best songs, etc. This was a bit coincidental as I was to begin teaching Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity the very next day, which is a novel founded on the idea of “best of…” lists.  Hornby’s lists are amusing and fun, from the 5 best Dustin Hoffman movies to the 5 best songs to play on a rainy Monday (depending on whether you want to lift your spirits or wallow in the gloom.)

And speaking of coincidences, one the last pieces I had posted last year was a piece on Jess Kidd’s wonderful novel Himself,  which I have just finished teaching a week earlier. (Perhaps the pile of 60-plus essays that I am carrying around to grade is really what’s driving me back to the blog. Procrastination is a great inspiration for doing things other than the tasks at hand. As one writer once said, “My house is never cleaner than when I am working on a novel.”)

Himself book cover

Himself by Jess Kidd

Anyway, let me reach out to any and all readers to find a copy of Himself. (It came out in paperback this summer.) It is a wonderful, magical, and darkly comic read.

But back to the NYT Book Review, the number two best seller’s blog tracked the number of profanities in his novels (compiled by his son) and number three’s blog focuses on houses–both real and fictional–and their architecture. The deal is that most publishers want their authors to have some on-line presence and this is what is presented.

And so I re-examined my own blog. At one time I was posting four times a week: a post on books, one on movies, one on music and one of commentary. But I can’t promise that anymore. Either, I am too disorganized or there are less hours in a day these days.  But, I am, once again, going to take working on my postings as a serious venture.

And so it is that after 10 months I decide to post again and on Halloween no less which is why I featured the frightening picture of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining.

Halloween is undoubtedly the greatest holiday in my neighborhood for both young and old. For example, last year between 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., we gave out over 800 pieces of candy. Four and five of our neighbors sit together on the sidewalk, sharing wine and

IMG_5588

My treat for this night of tricks and treats.

beer and catering to a constant stream of children that parade by. (I have two bottles of Witching Hour red blend and my wife has a six-pack of pumpkin beer for the occasion.)

Some of the costumes are wonderful and clever and imaginative, and some are pretty lame, but everyone is happy.

After we run out of candy—although there are still many people walking by and many people handing out treats—we head up the street to another neighbor’s who is hosting his annual Halloween party. His own costume is often the talk of the neighborhood for the next few days. (i.e. Walter White in his briefs with a pistol in the waist band, Jack Torrance himself with a full door framed around his head, a priest dressed as Elvis.)

The party—and the entire night—is festive, but more importantly it is communal.

And god knows we certainly need that these days.

Book Review: Remainder by Tom McCarthy and You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake by Anna Moschovakis

My intention was to talk about one book a week, and originally I wanted that to happen on a Friday. But then, I realized that a large bulk of my outside reading–my non-class reading–is finished up over the weekend, so a posting on Monday makes much better sense. And since, this is the first venture out with a post about books, I figured I would start out with two.  Remainder by Tom McCarthy and You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake by Anna Moschovakis.

Tom McCarthy’s novel about a post-coma, post-trauma survivor who receives a “settlement” for eight-and-half million pounds is at times aggravating and at other times marvelous. The narrator has lost much of his memory after being hit by an untold object that placed him hospital and in a coma for an extended period. When he returns to “normal” life, he is given an enormous payout by the responsible parties. His only vivid memory, however, is one that involves an apartment house with a crack in the bathroom wall, a woman cooking liver in the flat below him, another tenant  playing piano in the room above, and a man working on his motorcycle in the courtyard. With an almost unlimited amount of money, he arranges to “re-enact” the entire memory, buying several buildings, re-doing them to the specifications that he remembers, and hiring actors around the clock to play the tenants that haunt his memory. From here, he begins to re-create other more recent occurrences.  McCarthy’s–and the narrator’s–attention to detail is precise and minute, a true feat of writing and observation, but Nicholas Baker did it much better in his earlier works.  The payoff for me, however, comes at the end of the novel. Early on, when the narrator first learns of his windfall, he is set in a circuitous route between a telephone booth and his home. He travels the distance back and forth three or four times within a short period, stymied by his forgetfulness and his demand for exactitude.  I enjoyed this scene; it verged on the slapstick; and I even related it to other people. At the end of the novel, the same type of scene is played out, though this time with more dire and impending consequences.  It brought the novel together. Remainder certainly contained moments of brilliance yet they were couched in much larger moments of cloudiness and frustration.

Anna Moschovakis’, award-winning book of poetry, You and Three Others are Approaching a Lake, is another work that has me of two minds.  The topics, the observations, the connections, all are intriguing, mind-jarring, fresh. Yet the poetry itself leaves me wanting. The book contains four long poems, plus a prologue and an epilogue.  They touch upon the contemporary and allude to the past. They are geographical and internal. They play with typography and they play with presumptions. They deal with our technological world and the examine our anthropological past.  Indeed, having read the collection at one sitting, my first reaction was to read it again, to try to wrap my head around the numerous ideas and permutations.

In the poem “The Human Machine” there is an extended conversation between “annabot” and “the human machine” which questions what we know about and how we love, questions the substance of spirit, dissects the more mechanical part of our being. In a letter to the Human Machine, Annabot writes:

Dear Human Machine,

Resolve, reason, ration, rational, rationale, rationalize

ratiocination, rationing, ratify, rather, rate,

ratios, ratio, rat

According to Peter Singer, a rat who is loved by a person

is more worthy of being pulled from a fire

than a person who is unloved by persons

This is taking into account Singer’s technical definition

of “person”

As I said, this is truly a marvelous book for thinking, for exploring, for discovering new ways of seeing the world.  It is a book that I have–and will again–return to.  However, I am not sure of the poetry of the pieces. I found them wanting.