6 thoughts on “Reading 2023

  1. I haven’t read Cormac McCarthy’s two recently published books–The Passenger and Stella Maris–but this write-up by Graeme Wood of the Atlantic definitely makes me want to.

    Also, this Fresh Air interview of Robert Gottlieb, the famous editor who has edited Robert Caro’s books (among others), made me want to read Gottlieb’s memoir and Caro’s The Power Broker, which has been sitting on my shelf.

    Finally, this interview with director, Noah Baumbach, talking about his new movie, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise got me interested in reading the book. (I’m interested in watching the movie as well, but Baumbach’s description of the novel make me want to read it.)

    I need to finish up some books, but I’m excited about these books (as well as reading T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land).

    1. I have read all of “The Waste Land” and honestly didn’t care for it much, but I was 23 and probably not ready for it. It’s a pain in the neck for the reasons you give, which is too bad because I otherwise love Eliot and have spent decades trying to memorize “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I’m interested in hearing what you think of “The Waste Land.”

      Don DeLillo’s Underworld has been in my stack for years.

  2. I’m currently reading the novel,Berlin Alexanderplatz, by Alfred Doblin. I sought out the novel because I have long been interested in watching Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s mini-series of it.

    I recently saw a copy at Skull Face Bookstore downtown and felt drawn to the book after reading a page or two. In these situations, I think it’s a good idea to get the book and start reading it. So that’s what I did.

    One of the quotes on the jacket, by Fassbinder, mentioned that “reading” was not an adequate description of the way he consumed the book–“devoured” or “gulped down” was more accurate. While I may not go that far, I do know what he means as this is probably the fastest I’ve ever read a novel of its size.

    So why don’t I wholeheartedly agree with Fassbinder? I think it’s because I can’t tell if I’m really loving the book itself, or I’m just in the mood for reading, and my rate of reading has increased. But it is an engaging novel–an urban tale that would appeal to Martin Scorsese (except it takes place in early 20th century Berlin).

    One last thing. This doesn’t seem like a great novel to adapt, as I think it will be difficult. The novel has these odd interludes that appear out of nowhere, equivalent to a jump-cut movies, giving it a post-modern flavor. I’m really curious to see Fassbinder’s handling of these elements.


    Update: I finished this a few days ago, and I felt disappointed. I don’t fully grasp the appeal, although I can understand if the novel wowed early 20th century readers. The novel has an exhilarating quality, almost to the point of delirium. I would expect the gritty and lurid subject matter would tantalize some of those readers, and likely scandalize others.

    But in 2023, the impact is a lot less–or at least I needed more to be satisfied. In fairness, this is my initial reaction–one without really reflection and analysis of the novel.

    By the way, I also watched the first episode of the Fassbinder mini-series, but I don’t feel much enthusiasm for continuing.

  3. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

    A few years ago I read For Whom the Bell Tolls, and I was underwhelmed. I recently have been been reading the Nick Adams’s short stories, and those impressed. I was even more impressed by “Old Man.” It might be might favorite Hemingway story. In a way, it reminds me of “The Big Two Hearted River” stories, except with a stronger narrative and more concrete themes–themes that resonate with me.

    Off the top of my head, here are some things I liked:

    • The relationship between the man and the boy, which I found effectively moving;
    • The relationship between the man and the marlin–having the type of beautiful relationship like Native Americans and bison, in spite of the fact that the former hunts and kills the latter;
    • the old man’s striving and fighting for a kind of greatness, even when the doing so is futile;
    • the way ambition behind this can lead to tragedy, not just to the ambitious individual but those around him.

    One last thing. I think this would be a great book for high school students. It’s short and simple, and there’s a lot to discuss. Although I’m not sure if teenagers would find story or themes poignant in the way that I did, and maybe the story would bore them. Then again, I could say the same for The Great Gatsby, and I think that’s far less accessible.

  4. The Confidence Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville

    I didn’t plan this, but Melville is at the other end of the spectrum–in terms of complexity and wordiness–to Hemingway. While Melville’s writing can be dense and difficult to read at times, partly because of either archaic or recondite vocabulary and the language that does seem heavily influenced by English writers like Shakespeare, I prefer his prose to Hemingway’s. (I could understand if British readers really enjoyed his prose.) Indeed, I would read anything written by Melville, regardless of the content.

    Speaking of which, this novel features a series of encounters on a Mississippi river boat–mostly of con men. My understanding is that the novel is satire, and as such I didn’t find it all that effective, largely because the marks seemed unrealistically credulous and gullible. It’s possible the novel satirized other popular ideas at the time (e.g., the notion that nature is an unequivocal force for good; the simplistic notion that showing trust and confidence in people will ultimately be vindicated, etc.), but I’m not entirely sure.

    Besides the prose, most of these episodes were not that satisfying. One exception involved the first appearance of “the Missourian”–a well-read mountain man–and his debate with a snake-oil herbalist.

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