Poles Apart

Time to recap my fave magazines from last month. You may or may not agree with my assessments, so if not drop me a line. If your riposte is well thought out, I’ll put it up here.

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Harper’s Magazine, June 2013

 

As I’ve implied in previous posts about Harper’s, they are what they are. Meaning their lefty perspective hits dead center sometimes, and sometimes that viewpoint gets in the way. For example:

Of the two lead essays, Thomas Frank’s “Getting to Eureka,” gets it mostly right in assaying the worth of creativity in the marketplace, i.e., creativity as it applies to business. Here creativity is assumed to be a last-ditch stab at rescuing what conservative attitudes and complacency based in those attitudes have lost. However, Jeff Madrick’s “Education is not the Answer,” seems mired in 1930s leftist politics in implying that it’s unions’ power, not education, that strengthens the middle class and provides a pathway to the middle from the underclasses. What’s confusing here is that education is valuable in the marketplace, but education’s innovations usually send succeeding generations of those equally educated into obsolescence. Too, education shouldn’t be seen solely as a pathway to prosperity; instead it should always be seen as a pathway to thinking – critically and inventively.

But enough of that.

Nicolai Ouroussoff’s “Instant City,” chronicles the development of China’s cities, and the stream of farmer types to hopes of prosperity in those overlarge cities. In contrast, Glen Cheney’s “Promised Land,” depicts the plight of these mired in Brazil’s agrarian policies, the thinning forests of this giant country still seen as a way to prosperity.

My favorite piece in this issue (and such a relief it is from the rest of the well-written pieces) is Ben Stroud’s short story, “East Texas Lumber.” I grew up near the scene of Stroud’s story, and Stroud’s people could easily be my relatives. In his story two young men are delivering building supplies in the wake of a tornado and wondering about the women they wish to have in their lives. The story is rich in the dangers of tornados, building projects, and young, fumbling sex/love, and Stroud tells the story about as well as it can be told.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

How to help…Hmm

I’ve been thinking for some time about the best way to provide legitimate help to indie writers. Writing scrupulously honest reviews can seem a bit unfair, I think – those books published by major publishers have the advantage of serious editing and proofreading, which are the main elements missing from the indies I read. And if I give five-star ratings to  those with a few structural and grammatical problems, that’s not so honest.

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So I’ve decided that when I read an indie book that shows talent, a gift for story, and a strong voice, I’ll offer to do an interview with the author here on Gridley Fires. That way we can talk about the book, the author, and writing in general, and thus promote them all in the most honest way possible.

One will be coming up soon, so watch for it.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Of Movies, Sleep, and Politics

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Sleep has been a dependable commodity for me for a few months now, but last night the lack-of-sleep demons returned – for a brief sojourn, I hope. So I watched what’s probably the most underrated movie ever, John Sayles tale of complicated life at the Texas-Mexico border, Lone Star. I had just read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic magazine  essay giving his reaction to Paula Deen’s less-than-contrite comments about the Civil War, racism, economic opportunity, and her casual use of what is now euphemised as the “N-word.”

 

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Sayles, in his brilliant portrayal of culture clashes on both the personal and societal levels, takes on much more than Coates ever has – whites, blacks, and Hispanics elbowing for personal liberties, romance, family comfort, and new beginnings.

 

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While Coates’ perspective is all too true, by the nature of his literary vehicle he’s forced to deal with these societal handcuffings by calling attention to the symptomatics and hoping for the best. Sayles’ art, though, has much more impact by not dealing in political and social abstractions. Rather, he graphically depicts the ways each of these cultural groups bind themselves, hold down themselves and one another, preventing the “hope for the best” future Coates always seems to reach for. If we’re to truly progress as a society, art must be the catalyst. If not, I fear we’re lost.

 

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Transcending the Political: The Millions Interviews Rachel Kushner/The Millions

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I’m personally fascinated with politics as a composite view of the nations of the world, their people, their cultures, their economic and religious views. But how does such fascination affect one such as me, who is involved in one or more aspects of the arts? Or more succinctly, how does art intersect with politics? Or does it? In fact, should the two realms intersect?

The interview linked below with Rachel Kushner gives one very interesting perspective on this subject.

 

TheMillions

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Putting Character Before Story

 

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The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

 

Given my stance on this particular strain of postmodern American literature, I shouldn’t like this book, but I do. It’s character-heavy; These imagined people meet as children in Camp Spirit-In-The-Woods, and in a certain camp teepee, decide they’re darned special, special enough, in fact, to call themselves the Interestings. But who are these children-soon-to-be-adults in Meg Wolitzer’s world?

There’s brother and sister Ash and Goodman Wolf, Julie Jacobson, Ethan Figman, Kathy Kiplinger, and Jonah Bay. Kathy soon becomes a casualty of this group and exiled to peripheral status, as is Goodman and, to a certain extent, Jonah. These three, to be sure, have direct influences on the others, but the book solidifies around Ash, who marries Ethan, and Julie, who marries a man named Dennis. The two couples are poles apart – Ash and Ethan are rich, seemingly without care, Julie and Dennis struggling constantly. But both couples and their children  persist in remaining close.

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Wolitzer’s characters are perfectly crafted and textured within the context of this novel, and you get to know them as intimately as you would your own family. Sound familiar?

It should – this is the way of modern serialized television shows – there isn’t an overarching story; instead, the characters are in the forefront, struggling though vignette after vignette with one another and occasionally with their peripheral friends.

What always seems to be missing in such novels is that very overarching story.

But what, you  ask, is so darn important about story to allow it equal status with such grand characterization? It the case of Wolitzer’s novel, the testing of characters is limited to a small range of human experience. They’re not exposed to the foreign and perhaps unorthodox plot situations that take characters out of their cozy, friend-populated worlds, re-work these created people, and change their lives forever. The Interestings, though, perhaps emotionally tattered, seem to remain none the wiser for their spent years. Maybe that’s the way of modern life, but such portrayals makes for literature that leaves the reader in want.

 

My rating: 17 of 20 stars

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

The Great Gatsby – The 2013 Movie Version

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Okay, I’m a movie fanatic, I admit it. I own ’em, I watch ’em multiple times. Odd for a writer to be so fascinated with the silver screen, you say? Not really, I think. The novel – and the short story  – have evolved over the years, and while story’s the thing (most of the time), and while characterizations are the all-important glue to both long and short fiction, literature and cinema have been drawing ever closer.  But to Gatsby.

Perhaps even more so I’m fascinated with the era of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s great novel of social disparity, money, greed, fame, and decadence-built-on-false-morality received a cool reception by reviewers when the book came out; it bared the myths and exposed the seamy side of position, fame, and wealth. Not a welcome literary approach in the free-wheeling  pre-Great Depression U.S. of A. But that didn’t keep it from being re-made for the moviehouse.

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The first version was a silent film made in 1926, and based more on a stage adaptation than on the novel. The movie guys tried again in 1949 (post-World War II – happy days are here again…get it?) a black-and-white version with Alan Ladd Betty Field, and Macdonald Carey in the lead roles. But perhaps the most revered version was the 1974 issue with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Sam Waterston, which gave us glam and suavity over reality. Each of these versions missed (or scrupulously avoided) Fitzgerald’s main point altogether, preferring to give the affluence-worshipping U.S. public glamour with only a whisper of the aforementioned seedy underbelly. It’s only with the 2013 version (Jay-Z as executive producer) that the book gets an honest cinematic rendition.

Here, we see how the rich (literally -yes, I mean literally) run roughshod over the poor, how money corrupts in an almost innocent progression, how the poor always seem to bear the  burdens and the crimes of the rich on their own backs. The subtler message  in this 2013 version (as we try to slug our way out of a second Great Depression) isn’t in the corruptive influence of wealth; rather that realty, position, and fame really solve little, that these seeming panaceas are burdens in themselves.

If you see this version of Gatsby, you may not like it, in the same way that Fitzgerald’s reviewers didn’t like the book initially. If so, watch it again. And again. You’ll eventually get its uncomfortable but essential message.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

An Intimate Picture Of A Most Public Hemingway

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The Hemingway Patrols – Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for U-Boats, by Terry Mort

The missus, ever on the lookout for book about Papa for me, found this one and surprised me with it. It shouldn’t surprise readers of my posts that Hemingway has influenced me as a writer. He lived a legendary life that’s still full of Papa’s bullshit stories, mischaracterizations, and false claims, and books such as this one work to sort truth from, well, fiction, where Hemingway is concerned.

The book was published by Scribner, and I suspect they either recruited Mort to write this book, of they were excited that he wanted to write it and no doubt gave him access to people and papers that only Scribner would have. But to the book.

 

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Hemingway was part of a civilian volunteer force in the early 1940s that patrolled for German submarines. There’s very little hard information available about his patrols; he kept a poor ship’s log and he saw no subs. Too, the FBI kept a watchful eye on him because of his anti-fascist stance (which the little creep, J. Edgar Hoover, interpreted as pro-communist). So the approach Mort took here was to delve into Hemingway’s personal life and his writing during these years.

Hemingway was married to the attractive and combustible Martha Gellhorn at this time, and their marriage was less than ideal – they were both strong personalities and they competed as writers. Mort, a former Navy man, gives a lot of details about German subs operating in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico – how dangerous they were, how difficult to detect and attack. And, of course, parallel, surface ship experiences of Hemingway’s found their way into this book. Hemingway did search faithfully, did receive Navy help, and made much literary hay of these failed searches in Islands in the Stream and The Old Man and the Sea.

It’s a fine, well researched book, the prose a bit uneven at times, but if you’re interested in the Hemingway era at all, you’ll find that Mort has done yeoman’s work in sifting intimate facts from Papa-induced legends regarding the WWII years of Hemingway’s life.

 

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.