The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

October 18th, 2008 at 6:59 am

Does anyone still read Walker Percy?

I don’t know. But I doubt it.

Well. Not anyone. Because I read The Moviegoer.

But The Moviegoer, winner of a National Book Award, was published in 1961. Has anyone read it since?

I did. And I found it to be mostly unremarkable.

And as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, Michael Dirda, quotes Jack Green in the book Book by Book, “Recognizing masterpieces is the job of the critic, not writing competent reviews of the unimportant,” I don’t have much to say about The Moviegoer. A masterpiece The Moviegoer is not.

But then again, in Book by Book Michael Dirda also quotes Eeyore: “This writing business, pencils and what-not. Overrated if you ask me.”

So The Moviegoer. You do not need me to tell you what it’s about. For that, dear Reader, there is the Internet. I am not John McCain and I will insult you no further. You, having found yourself here, are clearly a decent, intelligent person and I thank you for being for The Cause. In lieu of gifts, The Cause asks that you buy the Authwhore drinks.

But I did find two particular passages in The Moviegoer to be of note:

1. This short passage from our protagonist, a stockbroker:

“It is not all bad being a businessman. There is a spirit of trust and cooperation here. Everyone jokes about such things, but if businessmen were not trusting of each other and could not set their great projects going on credit, the country would collapse tomorrow and be no better off than Saudi Arabia.”

Did I mention that this book was published in 1961?

2. This rather longish passage from our stockbroker protagonist:

“Now is the     thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth and knowing less than I ever knew before, having learned only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies – my only talent – smelling merde from every     quarter, living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one     hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fallout and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall – on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.”

Did I mention that this book was published in 1961?

Everyone start reading Walker Percy.

The Moviegoer is a masterpiece.

Running the Table by L. Jon Wertheim

October 10th, 2008 at 6:04 am

Following the death of Paul Newman, potentially anti-American controversy surrounding the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the eventual prize going to a Frenchman, it’s time for aspiring American writers to turn their focus to pool hustling.

Running the Table by L. Jon Wertheim

I don’t know why you’d pick up Running the Table by L. Jon Wertheim unless you’re a pool aficionado such as myself.

Which is too bad because the world of pool is a fascinating one. More of a cultish hobby than a sport sadly; pool is as intriguing as any other subculture, colored with its own lingo, characters, and history, so Running the Table has a lot to offer. It is the tale of Danny Basavich, aka “Kid Delicious,” a modern day pool hustler.

Running the Table provides a stirring adventure packed with, of course pool hustling and tales of outrageous gambling, but also a struggle with obesity, mental illness, and drug addiction. There are anecdotes of extreme bets and filthy pool halls. Money won and money lost. Partnerships born and friendships decayed. It is a road story, a buddy story, a pool story, and a sports story. It’s a story equal parts Rabelais and Odyssey.

And I really freaking enjoyed it.

Pool is notoriously full of colorful characters and Running the Table doesn’t disappoint. But Wertheim doesn’t just simply recount Basavich’s singular quest with all its exploits and escapades, he places it in context, sharing the sport’s history and present relevance (or lack of). The defeat, the accomplishment, the heroes, the villains, the close calls, the subplots, the suspense; Wertheim, a writer for Sports Illustrated and a very capable storyteller, packs it all in.

As an aspiring writer myself, join me in giving the finger to the Swedish Academy and instead honing our breaks, cuts, banks, kicks, draws, caroms, and combos.

American Literature: F@*& Yeah!

October 9th, 2008 at 9:00 am

As we eagerly await the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature and raise our eyebrows in disagreement with permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl’s assessment of American literature as “ignorant,” “insular,” and generally lacking, there is much about American “literature” making the news.

So take this, Horace!

Speaking of insular and ignorant, author Jerome R. Corsi was recently detained in Kenya.

And the Collins English Dictionary wants to remove 2,000 words from its pages in order to make room for new ones. If an American doesn’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature, it will be because their dictionary failed to enlighten them about words like muliebrity and olid.

Combating this removal is Ammon Shea, who read every single of the 59 million words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Get that man the Nobel. Or a hobby.

In a continuing segment on the Future of Reading, the New York Times has published a rousing article on the convergence of the printed word with video games. It’s a fascinating and troubling inquiry into a burgeoning facet of learning and entertainment. As someone who takes literary merit and literacy quite seriously, I just can’t get behind the thinking that Everything Bad is Good For You. Video games and books seem to provide two distinct avenues for development. Both are important in their own right for sure and while there is certainly room for convergence, video games are no substitute for the nuances afforded in books. While a video game, such as a flight simulator, may be able to teach and hone a pilot’s skill at the stick, it takes a book and the written word to explore the peculiarities and complexities of science, meteorology, and mathematics of things like turbulence, rain, and wind sheer.

Here’s the thing. The times, they are a changing. For the longest time, books have been our default format. They have been the cheapest, easiest, most effective way to accumulate knowledge and experience. But as technology develops, there are new mediums for interacting with the written word and acquiring information with just as much, if not more, efficacy.


October 7th, 2008 at 1:29 am

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Not to be confused with Infamous Scribblers, The Wordy Shipmates is Sarah Vowell’s latest book. Like her previous work Assassination Vacation, The Wordy Shipmates is a survey of specific historical times in the past portrayed with deliberate intentions of highlighting said peculiar time and place’s ramifications on our own peculiar present.

With The Wordy Shipmates, Vowell examines the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the eventual founders of Boston. And with her usual pluck, wit, and searing intelligence, the bizarre antics of those weird ancestors of ours who bored us in history class come alive with surprising relevance.

Vowell tells us that, “The most important reason I am concentrating on [John] Winthrop and his shipmates in the 1630s is that the country I live in is haunted by the Puritans’ vision of themselves as God’s chosen people, as a beacon of righteousness that all others are to admire.”

Sound familiar? Reagan? Bush? McCain? Palin? There’s such a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism. And clever and stupid.

Vowell further explains that, “It’s worth revisiting New England’s Puritans because they are our medieval people. The most storied way to get from the castle moat of monarchy to the polluted shoreline of this here republic is on their dank little ships.”

We got to this “polluted” shoreline on “dank little ships?” What’s she going to tell us next, that we descended from monkeys?

While Vowell takes a less prominent role as a character in The Wordy Shipmates than she played to much entertainment in Assassination Vacation, she still delivers with her usual pop culture references:

“Talking about Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” without discussing Ronald Reagan would be like mentioning Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and pretending Whitney Houston doesn’t exist.”

“Threatening to take away a Puritan magistrate’s right to punish is like yanking the trumpet out of Louis Armstrong’s hands.”

“As I write this, the United States of America is still a city on a hill, and it’s still shining – because we never turn off the lights in our torture prisons. That’s how we carry out the sleep deprivation.”

In addition to her dry sense of humor, pop cultural references, and impressive ability to start at the Massachusetts Bay Colony and arrive at Abu Ghraib, there is also her typical visits to museums, historical societies, state archives, cemeteries, parks, and government buildings. There is also her usual sarcasm, railing against “annoying scholars” and their “painstaking hard work” in order to obtain “truth,” and describing the Mayflower replica as a “claustrophobic floating vomitorium.”

Like a good novelist, Vowell outlines the rhetoric and behavior of the main characters in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their early years of struggles, in fighting, Indian fighting (especially the Pequot War), and the Anne Hutchinson controversy. Vowell follows early American Protestantism to its current manifestation as our Bible Belt. Vowell traces the words and ideals of Reaganism from the Puritans, correlating the contradiction and hypocrisy we’re familiar with to these founder’s lofty, positive diction taken from the bible as precedent for our current State/state.

But there’s not enough Vowell. She takes a back seat to allow for ‘this happened’ and ‘then this happened’ and to quote from diaries and it’s all a bit boring and tiresome to read after a while. Oh my god, I thought I was back in that boring history class for a few pages! The focus is scattered and seriously lacking in Vowell’s talent in simply summarizing things and making them humorously relevant to our modern dilemmas.

Evidence of this, the absolute strongest elements of the book are those that spring from the personal: “On the other hand, Protestantism’s shedding away of authority, as evidenced by my mother’s proclamation that I needn’t go to church or listen to a preacher to achieve salvation, inspires self-reliance – along with a dangerous disregard for expertise. So the impulse that leads to democracy can also be the downside of democracy – namely, a suspicion of people who know what they are talking about. It’s why in U.S. presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol’ boy who’s fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people killed.”

That’s a good point. Sarah Palin sure would be fun in a malt shop! I even bet they still have malt shops in Alaska.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

October 3rd, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

I read Bless Me, Ultima in celebration of Banned Book Week.

It encountered opposition in Colorado due to its pagan content.

Having read it, I will say that it does in fact contain pagan content, but less pagan content than other books such as, say, the Bible. Bless Me, Ultima is full of blessings, praise, and worship for the open land, animals, the environment, plants, trees, herbs, roots, food and the wind.

Really controversial stuff. That stuff has got to go!

Bless Me, Ultima is about as pagan as a Christmas tree, which is saying that yes, it’s technically pagan, but that’s not really the point.

A cross between Siddartha and Catcher in the Rye, Bless Me, Ultima is a coming of age story about Antonio, a young boy struggling to ascertain his professional, familial, and spiritual identity in rural New Mexico.

In a typical passage of doubt, Antonio contemplates, “The power of the doctors and the power of the church had failed to cure my uncle. Now everyone depended on Ultima’s magic. Was it possible that there was more power in Ultima’s magic than in the priest?” The overall style and existential wandering is strongly reminiscent of Ecclesiastes.

In addition to the pagan content, there are also allusions to sex and multiple instances of graphic violence involving a minor; the innocence and naiveté of our protagonist quickly diminishes as he even encounters a brothel. But violence and whores are rampant in the Bible so I guess that stuff is okay.

But that liberal-pinko-commie crap with loving the environment and respecting what it provides us, no, that’s witches and warlocks.

There are also a LOT of Spanish cuss words. Had they been translated into English, Bless Me, Ultima would hardly qualify as a book for young readers.

So as Banned Book Week draws to a close, I feel that I will always be mystified by what my culture manages to get its panties in a knot about.

I have been reading Sarah Vowell’s latest, The Wordy Shipmates, and this country’s puritan underpinnings run deep.

I eagerly await the delayed publication of Jewel of Medina, a fictionalized account of one of the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s wives, Aisha. The publisher of Jewel of Medina, Gibson Square’s Martin Rynja’s house was recently firebombed, bringing the relevance of Banned Book Week to unfortunately horrific proportions.

Rumors: Sarah Palin Doesn’t Read, Too Busy Smoking Salvia

October 1st, 2008 at 8:06 pm

A lot has been said about Sarah Palin since she was tapped, like that last keg of old PBR that no one wanted to drink but would if we got desperate and times got tough, to be John McCain’s running mate.

And a lot has been said about her since then.

But what has not been covered by the liberal mainstream media are the rumors that have been writhing around John McCain like maggots that spontaneously generated from him after being left out and exposed to the elements for too long. They certainly didn’t hatch from the eggs left by flies and they certainly didn’t evolve. This is the McCain/Palin campaign we’re talking about here.

These rumors are something that only a select few can confidently corroborate: that Sarah Palin is in the throes of a severe addiction to Salvia divinorum.

Salvia is an intense psychoactive that causes hallucinations. While currently legal, lawmakers across the country have recently been calling for Salvia’s criminalization.

All the surefire signs of a serious Salvia habit are frighteningly present in Sarah Palin: A bubbly yet detached demeanor. A glassy, distant gaze. Stuttering, stammering, restarting sentences and failing to complete thoughts. A smirking, goofy grin. Onset of a slow drawl as the active constituent, trans-neoclerodane diterpenoid, interferes with the k-Opioid receptor. An inability to focus, especially on direct questions, such as, “What newspapers do you read?”

America, you don’t read when you’re high on Salvia! You’re too busy having a philosophical argument with your Ego in a bright white room. And then you army crawl into the kitchen and look out the window at Russia.

There have also been rumors that even Tina Fey smoked Salvia in order to prepare for her spoof of Palin on Saturday Night Live. But smoking Salvia results in only a few minutes of an altered state. Palin is clearly a chewer, whose effects last much, much longer.

But remember, My Fair Country, however you feel about this country’s state after these past eight years, remember that it was presided over by a sober man.