Archive for December, 2009

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A Christmas Gift Of A Blog Post

December 28, 2009

Well Twinner…I didn’t take Proust along on my first round of holiday travels so I’ve decided to make this blog post my second annual favorite books of the year blog post.  It’s a little gift for you.

It’s been quite a year for reading–the year I finally finished Sophie’s World (only took me three and a half years!) and the year I got a Nook (Merry Christmas!).  Last year I limited myself to my top five, but this year I’ve got too many favorites so this will be a top eight list.  I hope it gives you some good ideas.

  1. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.  Without a doubt this Swedish thriller tops the my list…I haven’t been this enthralled in a book in a long time.  It was definitely a novel where the rest of the world stopped as I read it.  A cold case mystery, corporate intrigue and great characters. Maybe the first time I’ve read something that I thought was un-put-down-able.
  2. Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz.  Kind Girl with the Dragon Tattoo light.  This breezy and hilarious series gets better and better with each book.  Word on the street is that this is the penultimate entry.  I should qualify that light does not mean frivolous–Lutz’s protagonist shows surprising depth and facets.
  3. Secrets of Happiness by Sarah Dunn.  And speaking of light not equaling frivolous…Sarah Dunn writes witty page-turners that illustrate more truth than most dry literary novels.  Her books read so easily that its easy to forget that they’re also really well-written.
  4. 2066 by Roberto Bolano.  And about as opposite as you can get from Sarah Dunn’s breezy wittiness come this epic about the mass killing of women in Mexico.  There’s a really grisly middle section that’s pretty hard to get through, but this novel is a shaggy mess of genius that is unlike any other book you’ll find.
  5. Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor.  Ever since I saw Robert Altman’s Prairie Home Companion my affection for this modern day Will Rogers grows and grows.  My affection may have peaked when I took this book on vacation with me this summer.  About the perfect summer beach read…a conversational history of small Midwestern town that is funny and touching.
  6. Miss Herbert by Adam Thirwell.  Speaking of conversational, this nonfiction survey of world literature is about the most informal and chatty book you’ll find on the subject.  And I can think of no better conversation partner that Politics author Adam Thirwell.  And if you haven’t read Politics I think you should read that too.
  7. Richard Stark’s Parker #1: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke.  A perfect match of material to drawing for this graphic novel.  It doesn’t purport to be anything of great depth (a failing, I think, of more and more graphic novels)…but this one is rock ’em, sock ’em entertainment.
  8. The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard.  My favorite play that I’ve read this year is actually three plays the Coast of Utopia trilogy by Tom Stoppard about the great Russian thinkers of the late 1800s.  Sometimes I get frustrated by Stoppard’s over-eruditeness or staging shenanigans…but these three plays hit a perfect balance on each front.  Each play is stylistically different, but of a whole with the others and Stoppard creates some captivating characterizations.

Those are my suggestions.  I think I’d add Swann’s Way to the list too, but that would require me to finish it.  So I’d better get to work.

Happy New Year!

Jon

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More Asparagus and Legrandin

December 19, 2009
Green asparagus

Marcel's favorite vegetable, en masse.(Image from Wikipedia)

I know that you wrote eloquently about asparagus in an earlier post…but it re-enters the story. And since asparagus keeps being mentioned I thought perhaps it was toting some symbolic heft along with it.

Deciding to dig deeper into this asparagus enigma I put on my detective hat (it’s right next to my sleuth trilby, which rests adjacent to my tec fedora, which happens to abut my gumshoe pillbox) and do some digging into the semiotics of this deliciously branchy vegetable.

And I didn’t real find anything. But I think perhaps it symbolizes transformance.  As Proust so eloquently puts it:

…the precious essence [of asparagus] that I recognized again when, all night following a dinner at which I had eaten them, they played, in farces as crude and poetic as a fairy play by Shakespeare, at changing my chamber pot into a jar of perfume.

Also asparagus is medicinal and perhaps an aphrodisiac.

So forget Madelienes!  The real food of this story is asparagus.  Proust’s love letter to asparagus comes around page 123–the poem to the smell comes only at the end!

And not shortly afterward we see the return of M. Legrandin.  (I told you he’d be back!…now bring back Bloch Marcel!).

Jon

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Do You Remember Me, Marcel?

December 17, 2009

I know, I know it’s been awhile. And believe you me Twinner those doleful eyes of Marcel Proust have been haunting me as I go from one day to the next without further posting. I have been making my way through Swann’s Way, well in bits and pieces anyway…

But what’s been keeping me from posting was the assignment you gave me two posts (or was it three?–sheesh, you write a lot) ago. When you dared…or was it double dared…me to find parallels between Herge’s Tintin series and Proust’s super-sized novel.

Well, after much pondering and more than my fair share of head scratching (people thought I had lice) I’ve decided to take the physical challenge. (Oh, wait that’s Double Dare not double dared, my mistake.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ve come up with:

Tintin and Proust’s nameless narrator both like cookies–and honestly I don’t know that for sure about Tintin, but c’mon, who doesn’t like cookies?

And that made my head hurt.

So you go on with your fancy-dancy parallels between Tristram Shandy and Swann’s Way, I am going to go read a book that’s mostly pictures.

Later gator,

Justin

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Jerry Lewis

December 14, 2009

Wasn’t it only a week ago (or two weeks ago…time flies when you’re reading Proust.  And I am….reading Proust.  I am reading Proust–I just like to say it.) that you used a picture of Marcel’s doleful eyes to inspire me to post?  And now look…we hear nary a word from you.  Who do you think those melancholic eyes are gazing at now?

I’ve been enjoying the glimpse into French culture of the late 1800s, especially their conceptions of humor.  Here’s a favorite example of a Proustian gut-buster:

If at ten-thirty one of us absentmindedly drew out his watch and said: “Let’s see, still an hour and a half before lunch,” everyone was delighted to have to say to him: “Come now, what are you thinking of, you’re forgetting it’s Saturday!”; we would still be laughing over it a quarter of an hour after and we would promise ourselves to go up and report this lapse to my aunt to amuse her.

Hahahahahahahahaha!  Oh the hilarity!  Quell your chortles.

I guess you had to be there?  Anyway if this was the era’s idea of a knee-slapper it’s no wonder the French embraced Jerry Lewis with open arms.  (Well that and because he’s hilarious…but that’s a topic for a different post.)

While I was reading this book this morning I was thinking about its relation to Tristram Shandy–they both take this winding narrative style with long (often inconsequential) tangents.  (I.e.  the pages and pages outlining his Aunt’s schedule–choose what’s key to the story Marcel…key to the story).

Anyways they remind me a lot of one another…but I think the major difference (and I may prove to be wrong…I doubt it, it happens so rarely.) is that in Proust’s book there is a narrative strand of importance in the morass of minutiae that he piles on the sides…so you have to sift through the nameless narrator’s overwhelming detail  to find the shiny gold pieces of import (if you’re keeping score that’s two blog posts in a row in which I’ve used panning for gold to metaphoric effect.)  While as in Tristram Shandy the minutiae was the whole point.

Anyway something to ponder over.

Jon

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New Kid on the Bloch

December 9, 2009

First let me correct a mis-conception that you appear to have Justin– I’m your brain litter’s number one fan!  A little Tintin factoid here, a little Samuel Johnson quotation there…what’s not to love!  What I don’ t care for is your litter metaphor…for two reasons.  1.)  It devalues your contributions to the conversation…rather I choose to describe them as brain gold nuggets that a wily old prospector pans for in the river of your thoughts.  2.)  Litter is a very real problem…c’mon people give hoot, throw your trash in a can.

So thanks for sharing if you can draw any parallels between Herge’s boy detective and Proust’s tome…I’d love to hear it.  Here’s a start both Tintin and our nameless narrator are boys.  Run with that.

But I don’t want to give the spotlight of this post to the nameless narrator (that diva) instead I’d like to bring a bit player to the center stage.  Enter Bloch.  I can only hope that this friend of the nameless narrator makes a return visit to the story, because he’s a hoot.  He’s described by Swann as “The boy I saw here once, who looks so much like the portrait of Mohammed II by Bellini”  When he arrives soaking wet at the house of the narrator he replies when asked jokingly about the weather, “‘ Monsieur, I absolutely cannot tell you if it has been raining.  I live so resolutely beyond physical contingencies that my senses do not bother to notify me of them.'”  He’s a pip!

And just to keep rolling out Bloch’s Greatest Hits…his reply to arriving an hour and a half late for lunch covered in mud, “‘I never allow myself to be influence either by atmospheric perturbations or by the conventional divisions of time.  I would happily instate the use of the opium pipe and the Malay kris, but I know nothing about the use of those infinitely more pernicious and also insipidly bourgeois implements, the watch and the umbrella.'”

Bloch will you marry me?

From the in-text clues it seems as if Bloch’s stay in the story is meant to be shortlived (maybe its for the best…live Evita

I could burn with the splendor of the brightest fire

Or else, or else I could choose time

But my fingers are crossed that he’ll be back.

I guess I’m quite a bit ahead of you (quell surprise).  I just passed the century mark baby!  In the next fifty pages you have the arrival of Bloch to look forward to (lucky you!) and a nice section about reading as well as the return of Swann.

Swann keeps flitting in and out of this story…is his centrality to this text his absence…is he a slightly more present Godot (granted a slightly more present Godot with a ginger mullet)?

Chew on that,

Jon

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Self-Pity and Asparagus

December 6, 2009

Well, now it’s my turn to face the doleful eyes of young Marcel. No sooner do I get done shaming you than I myself get distracted by other things and nary pick up Swann’s Way for a week. So, I apologize to you for cleverly (very cleverly, if I do have to say so myself–p.s. thanks for ignoring my cleverness) rubbing your nose in it.

Rather than reading Proust I was knee-deep in the history of another Francophone classic, ageless teen detective, Tintin. Along with wise-cracking dog, Snowy, mildly alcoholic Capt. Haddock, and absent-minded Prof. Caculus solving mysteries, righting wrongs, exploring new worlds–well technically moons.

I was reading Pierre Assouline’s Herge: The Man Who Created Tintin. And while I couldn’t tell you much about what happens past page 50 in Swann’s Way I could litter your brain with tidbit of knowledge about Herge.

(For example, Herge would sometimes make Hitchcock-esque cameos in his own work.)

But I won’t because, if memory serves you are not the biggest fan of my brain litter.

After all that though, I did start reading more Proust this evening, and I came across my favorite passage of the day:

“You know very well he only grows wretched, spindly little asparagus. I tell you these were as fat as a woman’s arm. Not your arm, of course, but one like mine, poor thing, which has got so much thinner again this year.”

Ahh…pity and produce. Nicely done, Proust. Nicely done.

Well, that’s all I got. Happy reading,

Justin