Archive for May, 2009



May 29, 2009

Finished this book on the bus ride home…it was all I could do not to hurl my copy out the bus window into the downtown traffic.  Here’s my review on Goodreads:

Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) Dead Souls by Nikolai V. Gogol

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars
If ever there was a posterbook for not publishing unfinished works…this here book is it. Not cohesive, flat characters. Not a fan.

View all my reviews.

I think I’m going to take the weekend off…revel in my doneness…read some of Stone’s Fall and I’ll dive in to Ship of Fools come Monday.

On a side note…according to Wikipedia Porter won her Pulitzer, not for this novel but for a collection of her short stories.  This was confirmed in Hilton Als’ recent article about Porter in New Yorker.  That makes the score Wikipedia – 1, Justin – 0 (that a goose egg folks!).

But this novel was the best selling book of 1962! (Also the Als article).

Until June,



Waiting for Jon

May 29, 2009

Ahh…communicating your feelings in play form, excellent idea. Here’s a little drama I like to call “Waiting for Jon (to finish Dead Souls).”  Now, it’s still in workshop so there are probably a few kinks that need to be worked out. It’s a little Krapp’s Last Tape meets Waiting for Godot with just a dash of Brigadoon:

Waiting for Jon (to Finish Dead Souls)
a play in one act 

The lights come up on a stage that is bare except for a single tree set Center Stage. The tree is leafless and bedraggled. Beneath the tree sits Justin. Justin stares out into space twiddling his thumbs.

Enter a Townsperson who stops at the tree.

Townsperson: Hello.
Justin: Hi.
Townsperson: What are you doing?
Justin: Waiting.
Townsperson: Waiting for what?
Justin: Waiting for Jon.
Townspeople: Huh?
Justin: Waiting for Jon to finish Dead Souls.
Townsperson: (Knowlingly) Oh, I see. Well, I must be off. (Exits the stage.)

Justin picks up a banana. Peels it. Eats it with relish. Enter Vladimir and Estragon from Beckett’s  Waiting for Godot.

Estragon: Wow, that Godot. He’s something else.
Vladmir: Yeah, could you believe that he got that tenth plate spinning….(Sees Justin. Both stop.) Hello.
Justin: Hi.
Estragon: Howdy.
Justin: Hi.
Estragon: What are you doing?
Justin: Waiting.
Vladimir: We know how that goes.
Estragon: What are you waiting for?
Justin: Jon.
Estragon: Huh?
Justin: Waiting for Jon to finish Dead Souls.
Vladimir: Good luck with that.
(Vladimir and Estragon break into highland dancing as the curtain comes down.)


I will be honest, Ship of Fools was not the book I was anticipating you’d pick. But you know me, I love a nice, obscure, Pulitzer Prize winning novel just as much as the next guy. (And bonus points for this book: it takes place on a boat! I love a nice maritime character study.)

Anyway, I don’t want you to have to waste too much time reading this post when you could be finishing Dead Souls, so I will wrap it up. 

Happy reading, and be sure to say hi to Chichikov for me.



My Dinner With Dead Souls

May 28, 2009

I’ve put together a little dramatic representation of my experience with the book Dead Souls.  It’s like My Dinner With Andre meets Battleship Potemkin with a splash of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood thrown in.

“Waiter” is played by me.

“Chichikov” is played by Russian funnyman, and Branson staple, Yakov Smirnoff

“Jon” is played by Sean Penn.  (I feel like Jon has an intensity that only a Sean Penn can pull off…well Sean Penn or Dan Ackroyd).

Scene:  A devastatingly handsome waiter takes “Chichikov” and “Jon” to their table in a fancy New York bistro.

Waiter: Your table.

Jon and Chichikov sit.

Jon:  You know I don’t usually do this type of thing, but my twin really recommended that we meet so I thought…what the heck!  You only live once!  So do you have any hobbies?

Chichikov:  I collect dead souls in an effort to satirically condemn the status quo of tsarist Russian society.

Jon:  Interesting.  I like crossword puzzles.  And cat mysteries.  That Koko and–

Chichikov:  I am not your average noble hero!

The waiter brings a big, juicy steak and places it in front of Jon.  Just as he is about to take a bite the waiter whisks the plate away.  Jon is flummoxed.

Chichikov:  I buy the dead souls of peasants who are still officially alive, according to the Russian census…I will use these souls to start a real landowning empire, proving myself to be worthy of owning land by purchasing and amassing a fortune that is completely illusory and/or imaginary!  Oh the satirical brill…(Chichikov falls into silence…an awkward pause ensues)

Jon:  Oh…so these cats solve myst–

Chichikov:  I grew up in a small countryside school.  While there I befriend an old man.  I believe traveling makes a man wealthy in ways that money can’t.  Drinking is fun.

Jon:  I don’t understand you…

Chichikov gets up and leaves.  Jon drops his head into his hands and sobs.  The lights go dark, the waiter comes to center stage.  A single spotlight highlights his amazing good looks.

Waiter:  For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Jon reading Gogol. 

It feels really good to express my emotions via play.  And how about that closing couplet!



Less Coherent Indeed

May 26, 2009

My oh my this book has really flown off the rails!  I’m in the midst of part two (I will finish this book!  Unlike some people…ahem, Gogol).  And you’re right…it’s pretty willy nilly.  A snippet here, a portion there. Not a lot to talk about.  This book does make me curious to read some of Gogol’s shorter works…they must be good right?  Isn’t there one about a nose…I think I’ll look that one up.

But as I’m finishing I have been looking to the future (and the future is bright!).  And I think I have our next book!  There have been some complaints that this blog is male-centered (but then again we’re men!)…but I’m going to change that (the male-centered thing, not my actual gender).  There have also been complaints that we don’t read enough books that take place on ships.  Or feature dwarves.  So I’ve decided to right many wrongs with one fell swoop.  Our next book is Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter.

I’ll try to finish this book by the end of this week, so we can get a June start on Ms. Porter’s novel.  In the mean time here’s some Dead Souls illustrations that I found on Flickr.  Enjoy!

Dead Souls Picture from Flickr.

Dead Souls Picture from Flickr.

This picture was taken by cod_gabriel.  It’s in the Creative Commons.  You can see all of the pictures by clicking here.

Enjoy the pictures…



Oh, Ye of Little Faith

May 22, 2009

“Have you even started the book?” you say? Not only have I started…I just finished, and let me tell you it’s a wild britzka ride to the finish line.

I had been meaning to post yesterday, but then I re-read your post and was once again sent reeling by your Lerner and Loewe-ering me. Not since you left me Rodgers and Hammer(ed)stein with your searing quotation of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” have I so felt the stinging slap of musical theater.

How many times have I begged you to use your encyclopedic knowledge of “Broadway’s Golden Age” only for good?

Now, back to Dead Souls…actually, I don’t really want to talk about Dead Souls. First, I don’t want to ruin it for you, and second, I didn’t really like the book.

Here are some things I would be interested in talking about:

1. Season 1 of The Wire
2. Cheeses of the world
3. The Chicago Cubs inability to score runs
4. Any book that’s not
Dead Souls

So, with that ringing endorsement: Happy reading. But quite honestly if you wanted to quit after Part I, you really wouldn’t be missing anything. The book becomes slightly less, shall we say, coherent in Part II.

Yours in Chichikov,



I Think I May Have Been Gaskelled

May 20, 2009

Dear Twin,

It seems like you do an awful lot of talking (or typing rather) about reading Dead Souls but precious little actual reading.  Have you actually started the book?  Or are you still “just thinking about it” or “setting goals to start”?  I’m getting tired of your lack of progress…I think I shall reproof you Lerner and Loewe style…If I may, I’ll  quote everyone’s favorite Cockney Flowergirl, Eliza Doolittle from the late second act complaint-as-song “Show Me”

Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him [Gogol?], now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?

I’m sorry I had to chastise via Eliza Doolittle, but I think we both know you had it coming.

I have actually been reading (proof:  I know Chichikov’s first name…its Pavlov).  I also know why he’s buying the souls and I only have two words to say about that…Let. Down.

I finished reading Part I on the bus yesterday and although I didn’t have time to start Part II, I did have time to peruse the back cover as I waited for my stop.  As I read I found out that this book was written over years and years as Gogol slowly went insane (a ringing endorsement!)…and that it was unfinished.

I couldn’t believe this so I quickly scanned ahead and indeed the book is conclusion-less.  The end of my book reads “Here the manuscript breaks off”

Did you know this, dear twin?  I think you know how I feel about unfinished pieces of literature (here’s a refresher:  I don’t want to read them!).  Ever since the Wives and Daughters Incident from Summer 2003 I made a vow never to read unfinished works again!  You knew this and yet you still decided to lead my on this psychedelic carousel ride that never ends!

Oh you’ll pay for this twin…remember that I have next pick for books and all of a sudden Atlas Shrugged is looking mighty tempting.

Off to find a suitably punishing read,



“Souls” Goals

May 16, 2009

It’s been awhile since I last posted. As a warning: I may be a little rusty, so I ask you to now please lower any expectations you might have for this post.

Here, I’ll give you a minute…

Apologies I too have been neglectful, lax, delinquent, cool, unmindful, inattentive, nonchalant, indifferent, and derelict in my posting. But, as you can see, while you were occupied painting walls, I was busy reading the thesaurus. 

Actually, I’ve been distracted by the compulsively watchable first season of The Wire and the highly entertaining The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but I am ready to get down to business and focus (almost) solely on Chichikov, Korobochka, Nozdryov, and all the other wacky denizens of the town of N.

In fact, I am so committed to making some headway in the book, I’ve set myself a goal for the weekend: I want to be on page 300 by the time I head to work on Monday. 

I am nowhere near that now, so I best stop wasting my time (and yours?) and get to reading.