Top 10 Books I read in 2017

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I read 34 books in 2017. Short of my goal of 50. This year I set my goal at 48 and will up my game.

Of the 34 books I read here are my top 10 favorites:

  1. The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
  2. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy
  3. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  4. Across the River and into the Trees, by Ernest Hemingway
  5. Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, by Simone de Beauvoir
  6. Old Path White Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh
  7. Sabbath’s Theater, by Philip Roth
  8. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
  9. Shakespeare The Inventor of the Human, by Harold Bloom
  10. So you Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood, by Patrick Modiano

The God of Small Things is by far my favorite book of the year.

What are some of yours?

ALL NIGHT DINER

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Night of the all-night diners, the yellow window machine shop night where daylight was being prepared on lathes . Night of the thunderous anvils preparing the cities ironheart for tomorrow’s iron traffic. Night of the city lovers, the Saturday night till Sunday morning lovers, Making Love on a rented bed with the rent not due till Monday.

-Nelsen Algren, Man with the Golden Arm

The God of Small Things

A Book Review

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The God of Small Things is a novel written by Indian activist and writer Arundhati Roy. She has been on my radar for many years now, ever since I started watching her on panel shows on TV. I was impressed by her brilliance as a speaker and thinker on issues that I care deeply about such as inequality, social justice, and the environment. And I have always been fascinated by the Indian subcontinent.

When I learned she had written a novel I went out and purchased it right away. Sad to say it sat on my bookshelves for a few years before I got around to reading it. I am one of those “too many books, too little time” people.

What prompted me to go ahead and read the novel was the fact that 17 yeas after the publication of The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy wrote and published another novel, her second, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.  I was very excited abut this and went out and purchased it also. I am now in the middle of that wonderful book. But, I get ahead of myself.

In the intervening 17 years between novels Miss Roy has written several other books. Works of nonfiction that reflect her other intellectual pursuits and human rights activism. These books include: Capitalism, A Ghost Story; Walking With the Comrades; Kashmir, The Case for Freedom; and Listening to the Grass Hoppers: Field Notes on Democracy.  She was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 1997 for Literature.

The God of Small Things is by far the best book I have read all year and I have only praise for it. Miss Roy is a master stylist and her prose reads like poetry. Her book is full of vivid imagery, symbolism, and metaphors. It is constructed like a sublime piece of architecture with each piece fitting into place like a jig saw puzzle.

The book is a bit of a challenge to read as it does not flow in a straight linear progression. Rather, it jumps around in time in flash backs and flash forwards. But stick with it, it is well worth the ride.

The novel is a story of an Indian family writ large on a grand scale. Some have compared Roy to Faulkner, but I think she comes closer to Gabriel Garcia Marqeuz. There is forbidden love, family drama, political unrest, and magical realism.

Estha and Rahel are seven year old fraternal twins, boy and girl, growing up in a small southern Indian town. They live with their mother Ammu and the rest of their extended family. Their uncle Chacko runs the family pickle factory. One fateful day their cousin Sophie Mol from England is invited to spend the Christmas holidays with them. Tragedy ensues and Sophie Mol is drowned in a boating accident.

In telling the story, Roy incorporates other larger issues taking place in India at the time, such as issues of cast, class, and political unrest.

There are many memorable passages in the novel, but this one in particular stands out:

“D’you know what happens when you hurt people?’ Ammu said. ‘When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”

This was said to seven year old Rahel when she apparently said something carelessly which hurt her mother, which is something seven-year olds sometimes do. When Ammu said this to Rahel, “…a cold moth with unusually dense dorsal tufts landed lightly on Rahel’s heart. Where its icy legs touched her, she got goose bumps on her careless heart. A little less her Ammu loved her.” This passage haunted me for the rest of the novel and it haunts me still.

This is a novel of life, love, fear, death, pain, and loss. It is wonderfully written and I highly recommend.

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl Who Played Go

 Book Review

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The game of Go has long intrigued me. I learned how to play years ago from a wizard who lived down the stairs. We wiled away the hours playing the game of Go. I moved away and never played again until recently. I took it up once again and discovered it had never really left me. I became reacquainted with Go because of a novel written by a young Chinese girl that sparked my interest all over again.

When The Girl Who Played Go first came out in 2003, I read a review about the book that was intriguing. I vowed to keep an eye out for it. In those days one didn’t just automatically add a book to one’s Amazon Wish list. One liked to find books the old fashioned way, serendipity. One liked to stumble across them by accident in some far flung and obscure bookstore in the Midwest, or northeast, or wherever. Years went by and I never saw the object of my desire. By then it was locked away in the recesses of my memory and I was no longer consciously looking for it at all.
Then one day in, 2007, in a crowded book store in Philadelphia, I ran across a book entitled, The Master of Go. To my imperfect memory I thought this must be the book I had long sought. I picked it up, took it home and put in a shelf where it languished a few more years. When I finally got around to reading it, I thought, this is strange. This doesn’t seem like the book I had read about all those years ago. This book, written by Yasunari Kawabata, was about a modern day Go player, in Japan. While I enjoyed the book very much, it was a realistic depiction of an elderly gentleman who was a Go master and the rigors of tournament play in Japan. I read the book and put it away and started a new book and didn’t give the Master of Go another thought; until the year 2012. I ran across another book on Go in Louisville, Kentucky at the Half Price Book store where I am wont to go. It was entitled, The Girl Who Played Go. Eureka! Sweet mystery of life, finally I found you! The Girl Who Played Go, written by Shan Sa, was my long sought after book. I immediately purchased the book and took it home and began reading. Friends it was worth the wait.
Go is a territorial contest. In Chinese the game is called, Wei Qi, which means, “surrounding game.” Go has roots in both China and Japan. Most Westerners are unfamiliar with the game of Go. It has simpler rules than chess but is far more subtle and takes longer to master. It is a game that is not structured around the theme of a small battle, like chess. Rather, it is more like a large scale war. In Go, every piece is identical: an ivory or ebony stone is played on a square grid by the contestants. Each piece has the power to turn the tide of a war. Go is powerful metaphor for the story told by Shan Sa in her novel, The Girl Who Played Go.
The Girl who Played Go is a wonderfully written novel set within the framework of the game of Go. It takes place in a small city in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in 1936. An unnamed Japanese soldier has been sent with his battalion to seek out the Chinese resistance movement within the region. Simultaneously, a bored Chinese schoolgirl finds solace obsessively playing Go in the local square eponymously name The Square of a Thousand Winds. In an attempt to infiltrate the enemy, the Japanese soldier joins the city’s Go players, and falls into a game and into love with the girl who played Go. The story of the soldier and the girl are told in alternating, short, chapters. Dramatic events in the lives of the protagonists are repeatedly brought together and interwoven.
The game of Go is a metaphor for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the resistance one young girl is able to mount by remaining undefeated at the game. Manchuria has been occupied by the Japanese for several years as the story opens, but there is an active insurgency movement. The girl, however, lives a relatively sheltered life. She is quickly maturing, and becomes sexually active during the unfolding events. The game of go symbolizes the play between man and woman, as well as the conflict between China and Japan.
The story is well presented with some scenes that are picture-perfect observations of life as illustrated by the following examples. “A carp pirouettes in a large jar that serves as an aquarium.” “The appeal of a prostitute has the transient, furtive freshness as the morning dew.” ” Prostitutes have no illusions and this makes them the soldier’s natural soulmates. Already damned, they dare not dream of eternity, and they cling to us like shipwrecked mariners clinging to flotsam. There is a religious purity to our embraces.” “The boys with white silk scarves around their necks, posture like tragic poets.” “In the game of Go, only aesthetic perfection leads to victory.’’ “He has the nobility of a man who prefers the turnings of the mind to the barbarities of life.” “It has taken many years for the game of go to initiate me into the freedom of slipping between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. From one stone to the next, from black to white, the thousands of stones have ended up building a bridge far into the infinite expanse of China.”
Shan Sa has an extraordinary background. She was born in Beijing, started writing at seven and enjoyed success as a teenage poet. At 18 she moved to Paris to study philosophy. She worked for a time with the artist Balthus. Writing in French, she won a Goncourt with her first novel. Her novel, The Four Lives of the Willow won the Prix Caze. In 2001, she was again awarded the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens for her novel, The Girl Who Played Go. Her works have been published in 30 languages worldwide. Since 2001, Shan Sa has continued to write literature and paint. Her works have been shown in Paris and New York, and Japan. In 2009, Shan Sa was awarded by the French Cultural Ministry, Knight of Order of Arts and Letters. In 2011, she was awarded by the French President, The Knight of National Order of Merit.

Little Sister

Top 10 Best Lines from Raymond Chandler’s Little Sister

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  1. She had a low lingering voice with sort of a moist caress in it like a damp bath towel.
  2. She looked almost as hard to get as a haircut.
  3. She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.
  4. She picked a cigarette out of a box, tossed it in the air, caught it between her lips effortlessly and lit it from a match that came from nowhere.
  5. “Shut up, you slimy, blackmailing, keyhole peeper!”
  6. She put a couple of cold blue bullets into me with her eyes.
  7. She looked as if it would take a couple of weeks to get her dressed.
  8. She reached up and pulled a fingertip down the side of my cheek. It burned like a hot iron.
  9. Marlowe, a private detective. Not the brainiest guy in the world, but cheap. He started out cheap and he ended cheaper still.
  10. It could have been a beautiful friendship. Except for the ice pick, of course.

Bonus Dialogue

“Do you always wear black?”

“Yes. It is more exciting when I take my clothes off.”

“Do you have to talk like a whore?”

“You do not know very much about whores, amigo. They are always most respectable. Except of course the very cheap ones.”

 

 

Of Cell Phones, Lap Tops, and Books

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Young Parisian couple, about a generation apart, one reading a book the other a cell phone.

Before there were cell phones there were laptops. Before there were laptops there were TV screens.  Before there were TV screens there were books.  I’m reading a book right now, which is what I am usually doing. You would be surprised  how much trouble I used to get into just for reading books. I have been called anti-social. Bosses didn’t like it.  One of my wives tossed my books out into the backyard into a mud puddle. And my own mother come into my room one day, and tipped my bookcase over, spilling my books out onto the floor. What was a poor boy to do?

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Most of the time nowadays people don’t seem to care much if I am reading a book. They are too busy with their own noses stuck into their cell phones.

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Next time you get a chance, try reading a book. Remember, Mark Twain once said, those who do not read have no advantage over those who can’t read.

 

The Poetry of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

A Critical Review

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William Butler Yeats is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. He was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 1923. He had the gift for enchanting the ear. His themes were: Life and Death, Love and Hate, man’s condition, and the meaning and patterns of history.

The poems present images and magical incantations that resonate deeply with the reader apart from their literal meaning.  Hear the music…visualize the pictures they project. Yeats considered himself to be one of the last Romantic poets. The element of song is always present in his works. Everywhere the theme of music and singing recurs constantly.

He believed that certain patterns or cycles of civilization existed throughout history, the most important being what he called gyres, interpenetrating cones representing mixtures of opposites of both a personal and historical nature portrayed as rotating gyres forever whirling into one another’s centers, merging, and then separating. Yeats used the term “gyre” in his most famous poem, “The Second Coming.”

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer”

He contended that gyres were initiated by the divine impregnation of a mortal woman, first, the rape of Leda by Zeus, then later, the immaculate conception of Mary. Yeats found that within each 2000 year era, certain symbolic moments of balance occurred at the midpoints of the 1000 year cycle designating moments of high achievement in the culture. Yeats cited as examples the glory of Athens at 500 B.C., Byzantium at 500 A.D., and the Italian Renaissance at 1500  A.D.

Certain patterns of history recur that are entirely indifferent to human suffering. History, like art, teaches us that only through identification with the impersonal can we transcend human suffering and limitations. A symbol of this transcendence for Yeats was the Byzantine Civilization. Byzantium became for Yeats the purest embodiment of the union and subsequent transfiguration through art of the fleshly condition and the ideal of holiness. (Byzantium is the name given to both the state and the culture of the Eastern Roman Empire in the middle ages. Istanbul is now the name of what was formally called Constantinople, the empire’s capital city).

He was a symbolist poet, using allusive imagery and symbolic structures throughout his career. He chose words that, in addition to a particular meaning, they suggested abstract thoughts that may seem more significant and resonant. His use of symbols is usually something physical that is both itself and a suggestion of other  possibly immaterial and  timeless qualities.

Yeats employed the continental stanza and used straightforward syntax. He wrote in iambic pentameter which is a line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (unstressed) syllable) followed by one long (stressed) syllable. For example: “Two households, both alike in dignity.” He also used what is known as the heroic couplet, which is a pair of rhyming iambic pentameters. This is a traditional form of English poetry used for epic and narrative poetry.

Yeats was 62 when he wrote, “Sailing to Byzantium.”

Sailing to Byzantium, by William Butler Yeats

I

That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,

—Those dying generations—at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Allusions and terminology

“Perne in a gyre”- a perne is a bobbin. A gyre is a circular motion. A perne in a gyre is your life spinning out before you.

“No Country for Old Men”, a title to a popular book by Cormac McCarthy and a popular movie by the Cohen Brothers

“The Dying Animal”, the title to a popular book by Philip Roth, and a popular movie made from the book.

“The Golden Bough” is from Roman Mythology. It was a tree branch that allowed Aenas to travel safely through the underworld guided by Sybil so that he could learn of the fate of his people. It is referenced in the epic poem he Aeneid by Virgil.

“God’s Holy Fire” is a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the day preceding Easter. A blue light emanates within Jesus’ tomb which forms a column of fire from which candles are lit.

Byzantium, by William Butler Yeats

The unpurged images of day recede;

The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;

Night resonance recedes, night-walkers’ song

After great cathedral gong;

A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains

All that man is,

All mere complexities,

The fury and the mire of human veins.

 

Before me floats an image, man or shade,

Shade more than man, more image than a shade;

or Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth

May unwind the winding path;

A mouth that has no moisture and no breath

Breathless mouths may summon;

I hail the superhuman;

I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

 

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,

More miracle than bird or handiwork,

Planted on the starlit golden bough,

Can like the cocks of Hades crow,

Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud

In glory of changeless metal

Common bird or petal

And all complexities of mire or blood.

 

At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit

Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,

Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,

Where blood-begotten spirits come

And all complexities of fury leave,

Dying into a dance,

An agony of trance,

An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

 

Astraddle on the dolphin’s mire and blood,

Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood,

The golden smithies of the Emperor!

Marbles of the dancing floor

Break bitter furies of complexity,

Those images that yet

Fresh images beget,

That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

 

 The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

References

 Information for this article was gleaned from the flowing sources:

  1. William Butler Yeats, Selected Poems and Plays, Edited with and Introduction by M. L. Rosenthal
  2. The Poetry Foundation
  3. Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Feel Bad About My Leg

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

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When I was in South Florida recently I injured my right leg. I don’t know how exactly, I just know I got up early one morning and I could barely walk. With every step I felt an excruciating pain in my right knee. It slowed me down for sure. Stairs were out, which meant I couldn’t get down the staircase to walk Gideon the Dog, a little white Shi Tzu with a boatload of energy. I took to wearing a knee brace which seemed to help. I hoped my leg would heal in a few days if I stayed off  it and I would get back to normal again. I am a pretty active guy.

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Gideon, the Dog

It did get some better for which I was grateful, because I had to travel back to Kentucky in a few days and there would be a lot of walking and schlepping of suitcases and bags. But as luck would have it, on the day of travel, I aggravated the injury to my leg as I stepped up onto the train platform. Ughhh!

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Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgefulness

I had to take a train from Delray Beach to Ft. Lauderdale, a  bus from the train station to the airport, then upstairs to the ticket counter to check in. I was carrying a backpack, a suitcase, and a small carry-on item. I checked the suitcase at the ticket counter and stumbled through security with the other two bags. It was more like a shuffle than a stumble but I managed to get through. There was more security than usual due the fact that there was a mass shooting at this airport just a few days earlier. Guy took a gun out of a packed suitcase in the baggage claim area and started shooting people. This would be your worst nightmare. He ended up killing five people.

I sat a moment in one of the ubiquitous lounges that lined the terminal and had a cheeseburger and a beer. Pretty good. So far so good. When the appointed time came I made the queue and boarded the aircraft. It was short flight to Atlanta but sitting on the tarmac and waiting to take off, then the time in the air didn’t do my leg any good. I was pretty stiff when I got off the plane and not just from the drinks.

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I had to change planes for the final leg of my journey back to Louisville. I arrived at Terminal 1 and had to make my way to Terminal 2. Thankfully there as an escalator, a moving sidewalk, and a train to take me to my destination. Then I had to walk the distance to gate 32, which of course was the furthermost gate away.

It was 7:30 at night when I finally got home. Had been traveling all day. All the sitting made my condition worse. By the time my daughter picked me up I could barely walk again. Once home I fell into bed exhausted. Weary, but glad to be home.

I continued to wear the knee brace and took it as easy as I could and gradually my leg began to heal. I was pretty worried actually, losing one’s mobility is a pretty frightening prospect. All this time I was thinking well this is it, this is how it’s going to end…I will lose my mobility and my life will change forever…

I got a little depressed while convalescing. I picked up a book I had recently purchased by one of my favorite authors, J. M. Coetzee’s , the novel Slow Man, and began to read. Turns out his protagonist, Paul Rayment, an older gentleman much like myself, as a matter of fact the same exact age, sustains a knee injury in a bicycle accident in the very first chapter in the novel. Only his injury was much worse than mine. He lost his leg just above the knee. Ironically, the things he thought about were the very same things I thought about. Here is what he had to say about it.

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“A circumscribed life. What would Socrates say about that? May a life become so circumscribed that it is no longer worth living? Unstrung. That is the word that comes to him from Homer. The spear shatters the breast bone, blood spurts, the limbs are unstrung, the body topples like a wooden puppet. Well, his limbs have been unstrung, and now his spirit is unstrung too. His spirit is ready to topple.”

My spirit was ready to topple too. But, as previously stated, I got steady better and now I am back to nearly normal. I don’t know what I would do if I were to permanently lose my mobility and my being became so circumscribed. It might not be a life so worth living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inherent Vice

Movie Review

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The fault dear Brutus lies in our our selves, not in our stars.

The movie  Inherent Vice (2014) is based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon of the same name. Inherent vice is a maritime term used to describe cargo by insurance companies.  It is also sometimes applied to ships. There is a whole discussion around this term in the book which is also echoed in the movie:

“Isn’t that like original sin?” Doc wondered?

“It’s what you can’t avoid,” Sauncho said. “Stuff marine policies don’t like to cover. Usually applies to cargo – like eggs break – but sometimes it’s also the vessel carrying it. Like why bilges have to be pumped out?”

“Like the San Andreas Fault,” it occurred to Doc. “Rats living up in the Palm trees.”

“Well,” Sauncho blinked, “maybe if you wrote a marine policy on L. A., considering it, for some defined reason, to be a boat…”

“Hey, how about a ark? That’s a boat, right?”

“Ark insurance?”

“That big disaster Sortilege is always talking about, way back when Lemuria sank into the Pacific. Some of the people who escaped then are spoze to’ve fled here for safety. Which makes California like an ark.”

“Oh, nice refuge. Nice, stable, reliable, piece of real estate.”

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Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth

Director Paul Thomas Anderson gives us a faithful rendition of the book in his 2014 movie, with only a few scenes and locales dropped, which doesn’t seem to have hurt the movie to any appreciable extent. One change, which I thought was inspired, was to create a voice-over narrative by one of the minor but important characters from the book: Sortilege. This character seems to have a spiritual dimension and a clairvoyance which allows her a certain omniscience helping to fill in some of the gaps in the rather convoluted plot.

The story takes place in a seedy beachfront community in Southern California in 1970 right around the time of the Manson murders. It marks the end of the ’60’s which, as Hunter S. Thomson described in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was a time when the high wave of the culture had reached its high-water mark and rolled back into the desert.

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Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin

The movie is chocked full of interesting and weird characters,  some hippies and some straight. There is the expected clash between the the straight culture and the counter culture. The story, as I mentioned above, is quite convoluted but I will attempt to describe it here. It is the story of California, not about water rights, but  about real estate development. It ain’t Chinatown, Jake, it’s the Long Goodbye. Part Raymond Chandler and part Joan Didion, it is both a comedy crime caper and a film noir.

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Katherine Waterston and Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix plays stoner private eye Doc Sportello. His nemesis is Lt. Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornson, played with devilish glee by Josh Brolin. Doc’s ex, Shashta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), brings him a case involving her new boy friend, the married real estate mogul, Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts). It seems that Mickey’s wife and her boyfriend are plotting to to kidnap the hapless developer and they want Shasta in on the caper which involves having Mickey committed to a loony bin. Shasta Fay is not sure how much loyalty she owes Mickey and that is why she shows up at Doc’s. Things get complicated from there and include a crime syndicate named The Golden Fang which is also the name of a mysterious yacht.

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There are many subplots, twists, and turns that are all somehow connected. There is another missing persons case involving Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) who turns up at the same loony bin as Mickey Wolfman. Doc is also involved with pretty assistant district attorney Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) who helps him out with some confidential files related to the case. Doc pays a visit to the headquarters of the Golden Fang where he encounters coked out dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short). Doc is aided in his endeavors by maritime lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio del Toro).

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Benicio del Toro and Joaquin Phoenix

I had to watch the movie twice and read the book before it made total sense to me. But it was worth the effort. I will tell you I loved this movie and consider it one of the best films to come out of 2014. It was underrated then, I thought, but since has gained popularity and is tending upwards.

I highly recommend this entertaining and thought provoking movie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demons

Demons

Upon my life, the tracks have vanished,

We’ve lost our way, what shall we do?

It must be a demon’s leading us

This way and that around the fields.

-Alexander Pushkin

Demons, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, is 700 page pamphlet detailing the rise of the Russian proletariat and presaging the revolution of 1917. It’s about nihilism, anarchy, and atheism. It is a complicated novel detailing Russian society as it descends into chaos, anarchy, and madness. The demons referred to are actually ideas, emanating from the west, that infect the characters minds and causes them to take extreme actions such as suicide, murder and arson. The action takes place in a fictitious small town in provincial Russia but is based on a true story that Dostoevsky took from the newspapers.

Pesky Dostoevsky. Every time I say I am not going to read another 700 page book I get pulled back in! I say pamphlet because that is how it is described in the critical literature.  Only thing is, last time I checked, there are not that many 700 page pamphlets lying around. A few manifestos, no pamphlets.

I had to read 500 pages before I got to the part that inspired me to read this behemoth in the first place. The part that Camus refers to in his Myth of Sisyphus. “If there is no God life is meaningless. And without meaning, men and women will go stark, raving mad.” Camus described the novel’s importance this way: “The Possessed is one of the four or five works that I rank above all others. In more ways than one, I can say that it has enriched and shaped me.”

According to Camus all of Dostoevsky’s characters ask themselves about the meaning of life. Kirlov feels that God is necessary and that He must exist, but he knows that He cannot exist. “Why do you not realize that this is sufficient reason for killing oneself?” he asks. “If God does not exist, I am God.”

The book title was originally translated as, The Possessed. This is not the title Dostoevsky originally had in mind. The Russian title, Besy, does not refer to the possessed but rather to the possessors. Therefore the new title, Demons, refers to some of the characters in the book (from the foreword by Richard Pevar) and is more in line with Dostoevsky’s thinking.

All the characters have three names and each name has three syllables and each time a character is mentioned or introduced all three names are used except when they aren’t and then they are referred to by their nick names or their shortened names which we the reader have not been given fair warning and have absolutely no idea who the author is referring to. I had to take to underlining each character’s name each time they made an appearance and by page 500 or so I finally figured out who was who. I must say, the last 200 pages were page turners and my eyes were so glued to each page I couldn’t look away. The novel had to be good or I would not have stuck with it to the end.  I did and I am glad I did.

There is a missing chapter in the book which was censored by the Russian authorities when it was first published due to it’s salacious nature. I almost didn’t read it as it was included in the appendix and I didn’t realize how important it was. It is absolutely key to understanding the central character Stavrogin. It is called at At Tikhon’s and in it Stavrogin confesses to a horrible crime.

One of the most important takeaways from the novel for me were the revolutionary ideas of the intellectual of the revolutionary group, Shigalyev: “My conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the idea from which I started. Proceeding from unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism. Ninety percent of society is to be enslaved to the remaining ten percent. Equality of the herd is to be enforced by police state tactics, state terrorism, and destruction of intellectual, artistic, and cultural life. It is estimated that about a hundred million people will be needed to be killed on the way to the goal.” This is oddly prophetic of what actually occurred in Russia under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.

I see strains of some of these ideas in modern day writers such as George Orwell who admonished us that if we want you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever. These currents have resurfaced again today in American politics and it is pretty frightening.

Like Camus, I can say that this novel has enriched and shaped me.