Monday, January 31, 2011

Let's get this out of the's one of those bad memoirs. It's not exploratory or particularly groundbreaking. Nothing (as of yet) is learned and discovery isn't occurring. This is closer to the "I have opinions, too, but expressed in a pithy modern vernacular with swears & pop culture." Mary Karr this is not. But I could care less because I'm enjoying the hell out of this book even though I'm not learning one damn thing. It's candy. Sweet, sweet candy.

Here's the lowdown on why it's so damn sweet. It's about baseball, the loving of baseball, the bonds baseball creates betweens friends, fathers & sons, fans & teams & players and everything else. And it features the Cardinals & the Cubs from a decidedly anti-Cub point of view. Hooray for that.

Let's focus on that last part a bit because you don't realize how awesome that is that this book exists. Honestly, if there was to be a book from a fan's perspective about the Cardinals & Cubs, you'd expect it to be a Cubs fan. I'm not entirely sure why I feel that way. Maybe it's from watching Ken Burns's baseball and I assume that all the smart sounding people are Cubs fans (I'm looking at you George Will...and pay close attention to those italics, pal) and the Cardinals have no backers willing to put pen to paper and profess their love for the team. But this Will Leitch guy did so and did so well, capturing the rivalry & the fanaticism (for the Cardinals point of view) quite well.

The rivalry between the Cards & Cubs is different than any others because it's not chummy or civil or anything like that. It's serious, but not Sox-Yanks violent. There's very little gouging of eyes during Cards-Cubs games. If we consider baseball rivalries as a family, the Cards would be your uncle that has his shit together, decent job, stable family, and you know, serious about what he does. There's joy in the job well done. Then there's that other uncle, Uncle Pabst, the Cubs, the uncle who someone is enjoyable in spite of himself through sheer charisma, but kind of a buffoon, eating crumbs of food he finds in his jeans pockets, but somehow isn't a total wreck. And that's why the Cards & Cubs don't get along, the Cards are there, going on about their serious business goddamnit, and the Cubs, they are stumbling into picnic table, eating the decorative icing edges off the cake before it's ready to serve, but gets away with it because, shit, it's just Uncle Cub, come on, get him a beer. They just don't understand each others ways and it angers them because they both sort of wish they could maybe be a little like the other, but neither is willing to give up what they enjoy so much (Cards would be the winning, the Cubs would be the Pabst times) in order to achieve them. It's kind of a jealousy, I suppose.

Leitch seems to understand that. In fact, Leitch settles into many areas of agreement with me in terms of a sense of disappointment with Ken Burns's Baseball documentary (I love it, but it could have been better with a little less Red Sox/Yankees...yes they are the premier franchises and I understand that, but the love of baseball is more than east coast championships), the exact correct evaluation of the entire Bartman incident. He's also a bit of a stathead, which I appreciate. I haven't really gone full over to the dark side of sabremetrics because I don't know where to start my education on that subject, but I do like this obsessive search for better statistics. And he even thinks Yadi Molina is a giggler, which I agree he is 100%.

It doesn't really get much deeper than that for me with this book. There's nothing beautifully written, though I believe the emotional bonds he explains between sports and fans is well rendered, though not artistically shown. But who cares? I'm enjoying reading and agreeing with this guy on he's from downstate Illinois (sort of, Mattoon...well, not really actually, but at least not Chicagoland). So, really, is that such a bad thing? Actually, I know it's a bad thing to completely inculcate yourself with agreeing thoughts without challenging your opinions somewhat, but right now, I'm like a Sarah Palin fan...tell me how we agree so I can like you more and feel validated for my feelings.

Anyway, I'm enjoying this like candy, but it won't make me fat like candy. That's awesome.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, page 131 to the end

After Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Thompson's life was apparently one long spreading sadness, like paint spilled across a tile floor. Reading the account of that time of Thompson's life was brutal because he was still monstrous, the people around him enabled him, and his talent faded away.

The book itself got a little repetitive, in a sense. He'd get an assignment, fuck around, fail to achieve, over and over, in spite over everyone around him bending over backwards to prod him toward writing something.

But it was still interesting because it was so sad watching this comet burn out, and it makes you think of interesting questions. For example, is genius life Thompson's worth the price of enduring his batshit psychotic behaviors? He wrote three good books, one that will live on infamously for its excesses (not the message that will forever be lost to the frat boys who idolize it), and as he coasted toward his death on those laurels, he required around the clock handholding, parenting, and attention from girlfriends & assistants (sometimes one in the same). And then he would, if the mood struck him, shoot at you with a shotgun (as he did a friend, missing him narrowly). As a reader, the answer is absolutely yes because we don't have to have any actual contact with the person, but those in her orbit who did or wanted to tolerate and cultivate him...why? What was the value to them? I'm not sure the book answered that question aside from underlining the point that Thompson was a great charmer of women & could be a southern gentleman when he wanted to be...though they never bothered actually showing those behaviors in him (aside from interviewing girlfriends & having people say that he was, in fact, gentlemanly on occasion without saying what exactly those behaviors were).

I really did enjoy the parts of the book that illuminated the fact that while Thompson was an addict and alcoholic, that there were those around him that pushed him to keep being this outrageous addict & alcoholic & living this sideshow life & that he sort of had to live this way to keep up expectations. They were even interviewed. People like Paul Oakenfold, Marilyn Manson & others whose names I can't remember.

Ultimately though, this is a sad book watching Thompson's life degrade so spectacularly were this white hot personality had succumbed to mumbling around reeking petty havoc. It's wasn't a lot of fun to read either, and it didn't make his life seem like a lot of fun either despite all the shenanigans. It was just destruction & a lot of cocaine.

Looking at my bookshelf, I have the Ralph Steadman memoir about his time with Hunter and I don't want to read that anymore. It seemed so interesting when I bought it, but now, man, I don't think so. I don't need that kind of sadness dressed up as fun.

I am glad I read this book on Thompson and it's gotta be the definitive article about Thompson's life aside from his own work. I know I don't want to read any more of them, so that counts for something.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dubliners by James Joyce, the first four stories

I'm ashamed, too, but this is the first time I've read Dubliners. What? I've had other things to do.

I can certainly see why Dubliners in considered where all modern short stories flow from. But in reading these, it's striking how not similar they are as well, but not in ways that make it seem antiquated, but more like in ways that show how we've changed as readers. There seems to be a lot of time just getting people into place, like in the story An Encounter. No way is there that kind of lavish play-by-play of this kid running around doing nothing in a modern short story. It'd be cut, especially in any kind of workshop. We're too impatient. (Or at least I am.) Nothing of apparent consequence happens and it doesn't really seem to move anything along. The meat of the story is when he encounters that pervert, right, so just get to the goddamn pervert already. Am I wrong? Yeah, the dallying does kind of invoke some schoolboy innocence, wasting away the hours or whatever and it does give the pervert a proper foil and makes him even more striking. Idylls & pastoral stuff, verily, but with, you know, Irish perverts lurking in the fields.

And the endings of the stories all seem cut off too short. I'm waiting for that epiphanic moment, that beautiful "Ah-HA!" blossoming, and then it just sort of ends, or I kind of think I might maybe "get" it, but I'm not sure, so I want to read it again just to make sure. Really, I think this just shows how out of whack my deep reading skills have gotten. They need to be honed for sure. Like, I still don't know why that first story was called The Sisters. Are there sisters in that thing? Did I miss something? I had to miss something.

However, I am enjoying this quite a bit, despite my confusion. It's a bit like a 11 year old boy seeing an attractive naked lady for the first time. He knows he likes it and he knows that he wants to see it again, he wants to more of it, as in he wants the next thing he sees to be another brand new naked lady just like that one he's looking at right now...but he doesn't understand quite why he likes this naked lady all that much. However, enjoyment is being had.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I liked these interviews. I learned nothing from these interviews. However, Jonathan Franzen somehow manages to be a colossal douchebag in one moment, like when referring to his ex-wife as "the person I was having sex with at the time" and also be so beautifully relatable in the next moment when he was talking about making Literature for the masses. As for Louise...I'd like to check out her bookstore some time. Maybe hang out. Have a beer. Would be a blast.

And that's about it. These should be more informative right? These are the Paris Review interviews for goodness sake, so I should feel edified, learned even. And I didn't. Probably my fault and I didn't read it that closely...come to think of it of the Paris Review interviews I've read (and I've read a few, not a lot, but you know, more than 5), I couldn't point to a specific thing I've learned from any of them, except I liked the Barry Hannah & Marilynne Robinson interviews (big surprise there).

Anyway, from the Erdrich & Franzen ones, mostly what I noticed was the stark difference in the interview styles between the two. Like Franzen's seemed rehearsed to a point and stiff. The questions never followed up on one another and didn't flow forward. I could imagine the interviewer awkwardly saying, "um" shuffling notecards and then asking another question from the litany of unconnected stuff without actually engaging or responding to what Franzen said. It reminded me of how a grade schooler would interview their principal. The Erdrich one was fun. There was banter almost and it seemed like talk, which was refreshing after the Franzen interview.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (pages 1 to 3)

Oh, boy. This is what makes people go gaga these days? Bows and arrows? Eating rats? This insistence of the "reaping" (or whatever it's called, my copy of the book is too far away for me to get it right now). To build the suspense about what this reaping is just feels so artificial to keep referring to it with the definite article and not have any effort to define the term. Yeah, I'm impatient. And another thing...present tense? Okay, sure, but it sure is some formal-sounding talk for present tense & a teenager. I guess that's what makes it futuristic. Anyway. I'll get snarky now, but watch, next post will be after I've finished it and I'll be slobbering for the next installment.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson pages 1 to 130 (or so).

Hunter Thompson was a goddamn monster. Maybe my current affiliations have colored my interpretations of what I surely once thought was just rebellious and devil-may-care. But, really, this book so far has really peeled the skin back from this guy, and it's not pudding underneath.

First off, this book is an oral history, warts and all, compiled by Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone and a few other people. It's a birth to death kind of story, so they dig up everyone they can to help illustrate what life was like with Hunter banging in your orbit.

Turns out he was demanding, controlling and hardwired for criminality from birth. They cover his upbringing which was poor, but he still was able to enjoy the high social status of rich folks because of people he knew. But what strikes me is that I can't recall anything traumatic or terrible about his upbringing, but he did everything you'd assume people with fucked up abusive childhoods did. You want to assume that this guy maybe got beat a lot, or was somehow fouled by an uncle or something that would give concrete cause for the way he behaves, but I don't remember it in the book. He's an asshole all on his own.

And nobody ever called him on it. It's probably the most amazing thing about the book is that he'd do all this absurd shit, like somehow lugging a bag of concrete into a bar, starting a riot in that bar causing the bag to rip open and cover everyone, and then proceed to fight a few people, but he wasn't arrested for it. No one seemed to mind (aside from the people he was fighting, but they weren't interviewed). He really skated by on his audacity to actually do all that shit he did, so the only reaction you could actually muster was, "Well, yes, he did just fire a shotgun out of his door and somehow blame it on me for not loaning him $1,000 that I know he won't pay me back. Well done, I suppose. Of course I don't mind. A perfectly reasonable reaction, verily." Because, well, what do you do with people like that?

There's two real telling things though about this whole Hunter book, which is not a love-fest at all. Yeah, people are going on about his genius and such, which was expected, but there's more to this book I suspect than just that. It has another agenda to sort of illuminate something about this great character.

See, I'm 130 pages in. He's written Hell's Angel, the Kentucky Derby piece, nearly won that sheriff election and in the early stages of the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So, in terms of Hunter canon, there's the Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail `72...and then? Yeah. I have over 300 pages worth of material yet to make it through. See, something else is going on here besides just polishing Hunter's statute or telling ribald stories about the excesses Hunter inflicted on himself and others.

Sandy Thompson, his ex-wife (from divorce, not the suicide), is just brutally honest about him, pulling no punches about how cruel he treated her from early in the relationship and how she fooled himself into staying with him (because he was attractive and had the personality that sucked you in). The segments of his son make the son seem a little damaged or at least closeted in a sense from something. And there's this telling quote by Sonny Barger that's something along the lines of "just because somebody's good at something doesn't make them a good person" and that's about as right as it comes.

I'm eager to see what shape this story takes from here, especially after it gets past the campaign book because there's not much "literary" worth from there. The movies will be covered, sure. I just hope it doesn't keep beating this drum about Hunter was a wild man, Hunter was a jerk, and yet, impossibly, Hunter got away with it (but he really didn't...he paid remarkable prices for all this...because he lived and got a lot of money does not mean he lived well or sanely...can you imagine being trapped in that head?).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'm Not the New Me page 91 to the end

These kind of books are my romance novels. By that I mean voicey, funny, non-fiction books with just enough poignancy to let it rise above fluff. I can sit down and devour these kinds of things all day long. Is that really much of an endorsement? Probably not. I enjoy them, verily, but "fast read" is kind of a backhanded compliment, don't you think? Just because you can read it quickly doesn't mean it has any value. Why undertake something for pleasure if the main selling point is that you'll get done with it fast?

That's not to degrade this book at all. I still enjoyed it, though I had some worrisome moments. Lo, it was revealed that our heroine's weight problem was connected with some kind of drama. In her case, a mother who had two stomach stapling surgeries and belonged to Overeater's Anonymous, so there was some connection drawn from her overweight life to that of our heroine's. That disappointed me. I was hoping that McClure was fat because she was fat because that's the way it seemed at first, so to learn that, yes, there was a reason for the fatness, it bummed me a little. Well, a reason beyond too much cola and pizza.

Fat just can't exist only as fat if its put on the page. It's a symptom of something, or indicative of some other problem. It's sad that fat can't just be fat because you want to believe that fat is only from candy & pies, but, maybe there's more to it. Maybe fat is a symptom of some other problems in our life...and considering that we're an obese nation, well, what does that say abotu the country?

Anyway, the book also devolved into other disappointments as it got further away from the weight loss "struggle" and more about her just living her life and the growing popularity of her blog thereby getting her status & a book deal, and one really ill-advised moment of typical Sex-in-the-City stupid stereotypical female bitchiness/jealousy of a friend. It just cemented to me that fat or weight loss by itself just isn't enough and there's only so much mileage you can get out of being amazed at new clothes.

But it still sucked me in. The book covers the relationship problems that McClure faces, and I was really rooting for her with each guy she winds up with (aside from this one guy, Grape Ape, dude was an asshole).

The epiphany was nice, too. Sorry for the spoiler, but as the book gets away from the weight loss, so does our heroine. She sort of stops the "struggle" and just tries to be. I think total she lost like 15 pounds, even though she was 5'8" and weighed over 200 pounds. So really, for health physical she probably should have lost a heap more poundadge. But for health mental, well, she makes progress that it didn't seem like she needed to do at the outset of the book. By the end, she's really nowhere except maybe a little lighter, but somehow stronger than where she starts, so it's not fair to call it a failure. Yeah, she didn't lose "enough" weight, but she never outright gave herself a poundage goal (as far as I can remember). Change occured, verily, but not the change that was expected, which is nice. She doesn't end up 115 pounds and dancing in high heels on a cruise ship or some other nonesense like that. It's like she became comfortable with herself more than changing herself into some new version she could live with.

Yeah, deec book. Excellent shitter book. It's not the gold standard for shitter books (The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell) but it's enough. It's like a good sitcom. Not for everyone, and it's not terribly moving or inventive or anything that will make it Literature, but it's a good enough way to spend some time.