Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller

April 10th, 2012 at 4:34 pm

“Remember, if you can’t make money, make friends.” – Henry Miller

Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller

I care not for trends and fads, nor do I care to know how The Establishment regards the life and letters of Henry Miller. But at the rate I’m going, I’m going to have to keep reading Henry Miller books and eventually develop an opinion of my own. In the meantime, the opinion is verging on positive.

Henry Miller’s Big Sur book is 400 pages of rambling, rants, idle preponderances, and anecdotes. The book simply eschews. At every page. It seemed a bit Thoreauish. My favorite excerpts are below. Remember, Big Sur does not exist. Don’t go there.

It would be too easy, too convenient to refer to any degree of prescience in Miller’s Big Sur book because I am quickly learning that there is no prescience. Nothing changes. The writing is on the wall. We are. It is.

“I would rather be surrounded by the work of children and the insane than by such “masters” as Picasso, Rouault, Dali or Cezanne.”

“Well, nobody belongs who’s trying to simplify his life. Nobody belongs who isn’t trying to make money, or trying to make money make money. Nobody belongs who wears the same suit of clothes year in and year out, who doesn’t shave, who doesn’t believe in sending his children to school to be miseducated, who doesn’t join up with Church, Grange and Party, who doesn’t serve “Murder, Death and Blight, Inc.” Nobody belongs who doesn’t read Time, Life, and one of the Digests. Nobody belongs who doesn’t vote, carry insurance, live on the installment plan, pile up debts, keep a check account and deal with the Safeway stores or the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. Nobody belongs who doesn’t read the current best sellers and help support the paid pimps who dump them on the market. Nobody belongs who is fool enough to believe that he is entitled to write, paint, sculpt or compose music according to the dictates of his own heart and conscience. Or who wants to be nothing more than an artist, an artist from tip to toe.”

“I am not interested in the potential man. I am interested in what a man actualizes – or realizes – of his potential being. And what is the potential man, after all? Is he not the sum of all that is human? Divine, in other words? You think I am searching for God. I am not. God is. The world is. Man is. We are. The full reality, that’s God – and man, and the world, and all that is, including the unnameable. I’m for reality. More and more reality. I’m a fanatic about it, if you like.”

“I abhor people who have to filter everything through the one language they know, whether it be astrology, religion, yoga, politics, economics or what. The one thing about this universe of ours which intrigues me, which makes me realize that it is divine and beyond all knowing, is that it lends itself so easily to any and all interpretations. Everything we formulate about it is correct and incorrect at the same time. It includes our truths and our errors. And whatever we think about the universe in no way alters it…”

“Man is not suffering from the ravages wrought by earthquakes and volcanoes, by tornadoes and tidal waves; he is suffering from his own misdeeds, his own foolishness, his own ignorance and disregard of natural laws. Man can eliminate war, can eliminate disease, can eliminate old age and probably death too. He need not live in poverty, vice, ignorance, in rivalry and competition. All these conditions are within his province, within his power, to alter. But he can never alter them as long as he is concerned solely with his own individual fate.”

“The sum of all knowledge is greater confusion.”

Is Hipster a Bad Word?

February 1st, 2012 at 11:59 am

I couldn’t help but notice that our culture decided to slander Hipster with negativity. We’ve been stereotyped with skinny jeans, snobbishness, obsession with music, and a general malaise between goth and emo.

Hipster with Dog

Hipsters are the new Hippies. We’re dirty in a clean way. And friendly. Go ahead, don’t like us. We don’t mind. Our elitist isolation is part of our charm.

You start out innocently enough: peaceful, small, idealistic. But once your self-identifying clan has grown into a position of power, affluence, and elitism, the show is over.

I, for one, am proud of the moniker Hipster. It’s one I embrace. Since when is hip uncool? And why have we been ghettoized, marginalized, and relegated to neighborhoods such as Brooklyn, Portland, Echo Park in Los Angeles, East Austin, and The Mission District in San Francisco? (Because the suburbs want to make us vomit and are what caused our existence in the first place.)

In light of all this, it was with a very mainstream glee and populist satisfaction that I stumbled upon Z.Z. Packer’s definition of Hipster in her “Keeping it Weird” article in January’s Smithsonian. It’s an article subtitled, “Even though it’s the state capital, the city still works hard to be quirky.”

Packer begins her contemplation of Austin, TX with, “Hipsters of all stripes trek to Austin, Texas. By hipsters, I mean people who love irony but are suspicious of symbolism, who are laid-back without being lazy, who groom their music collections the way Wall Streeters monitor their stock portfolios, people whose relentlessly casual dress is constructed as painstakingly as stanzas in a pantoum.”

That. I like that.

And I know I’m a Hipster because I love that and identify with it but am outraged that Z.Z. Packer did not capitalize Hipster. Especially when appearing in a sentence with “Wall Streeters.” Occupy!

And I know that I’m a Hipster because I love the fact that I don’t know what a pantoum is. Sure, it’s probably some kind of poem with strict rules like a Haiku, but no, I’ve never heard of it. But I love it.

Franzen Feud

August 30th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Jonathan Franzen. Perhaps you have heard of him.

More importantly, hopefully you have read the various words he has strung together. Perhaps you recall his Oprah Book Club snub for the very good “The Corrections.” Perhaps you are aware of his new book, “Freedom,” and the glowing praise it has received.

A masterpiece of American fiction???

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Well, certain females have taken issue with such gratuitous and potentially sexist adulation.

Jennifer Weiner, in particular, put out a call for non-Franzen novels that deal with similarly Franzen themes of family, identity, and love. I assume she is looking for novels written by the non-Franzen gender as well.

So Authwhore humbly endorses Sophie Dahl’s Playing With The Grown-Ups.

On the other end of the spectrum is of course Marisha Pessl. Remember that atrocity?

Jodi Picoult too has been implicated in this controversy. I am loose, eager, and easy when it comes to reading, so get ready for my assessment of Picoult’s contribution in this matter.

Praising Trash. Inventing Reactions.

August 28th, 2010 at 5:41 am

“Prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash but constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feeling whatever.” – George Orwell

Praising Trash

Good thing books won’t be around much longer.

What a relief.

Funniest Thing I’ve Read in 2010

August 5th, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Thanks, February 2008, for publishing the funniest thing I’ve read all year. From Steven Millhauser’s short story “Cat ‘N’ Mouse” in Dangerous Laughter:

“The mouse is sitting in his chair with his feet on the hassock and his open book facedown on his lap. A mood of melancholy has invaded him, as if the brown tones of his room had seeped into his brain. He feels stale and out of sorts: he moves within the narrow compass of his mind, utterly devoid of fresh ideas. Is he perhaps too much alone? He thinks of the cat and wonders whether there is some dim and distant possibility of a connection, perhaps a companionship. Is it possible that they might become friends? Perhaps he could teach the cat to appreciate the things of the mind, and learn from the cat to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures. Perhaps the cat, too, feels an occasional sting of loneliness. Haven’t they much in common, after all? Both are bachelors, indoor sorts, who enjoy the comforts of a cozy domesticity; both are secretive ; both take pleasure in plots and schemes. The more the mouse pursues this line of thought, the more it seems to him that the cat is a large, soft mouse. He imagines the cat with mouse ears and gentle mouse paws, wearing a white bib, sitting across from him at the kitchen table, lifting to his mouth a fork at the end of which is a piece of cheese.”

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

March 1st, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I have a passing interest in writers and writing.

Someday, I aspire to be an aspiring novelist.

And some days, the good days, my vanity and stubbornness subside enough so that I am open to advice and instruction.

So recently, on one of these rare days of clarity and calm, I picked up a copy of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

While  not as practical and straightforward as Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, nor Kundera’s Art of the Novel, nor even Wood’s How Fiction Works, Bird by Bird is far more enjoyable to read. It’s the writing guide for the budding scribbler looking for their writing advice to be translated to them by a moody, pessimistic Sarah Vowell who is absolutely hilarious and kind.

Lamott proves to be frankly blunt and honest about writing, limiting none of her acerbic sarcasm. She relates a story about a friend’s imaginary company whose business was having cats put to sleep; the slogan being “The pussy must pay.” Lamott encourages writers to let someone do this with their manuscripts.

Inbetween parables relating the act of writing to the act of executing family pets, Lamott peppers her memoir on writing with straightforward advice:

“To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care.”

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

At the very most, I will eventually write something. At the very least, I will have a few Lamott quotes up on my walls. Like this one:

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

Billy Collins Goes Ballistic

January 26th, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Ballistics by Billy Collins

I adore Billy Collins. The way one adores a grandfather.

And I marvel at his poetry. The way one marvels at an enormous flock of birds swooping and diving in semi-unison beneath the pallid light of dusk before moving onto more serious, captivating matters. Like blogging.

To be sure, there is some you can criticize Collins about. His instantly recognizable, simple, understandable language, for example, can be regarded as safe. Or easy.

And as we all learned in grade school, poetry should be hard. And boring. Very, very boring.

T.S. Eliot Collins is not. Thank god.

And with Ballistics, Collins’ latest collection of poems, there is plenty of poetic warmth for those eager to snuggle up with the same familiar cardigan of a Collins poem.

He is still supremely playful and witty. His mastery of language is like that of a grandfather’s fluency with the rules of pinochle. And like a grandfather who tells the same jokes, Collins’ poetry is simultaneously predictable and enjoyable because it is completely inevitable while still surprising.

In the poem “January in Paris,” Collins takes Paul Valery’s quote, “Poems are never completed – they are only abandoned,” in order to imagine seducing a poem and “completing” her.

There are arrestingly sublime images and magnificent turns of phrase. From “Le Chien:”

For my part, I had mixed my drinks,
trading in the tulip of wine
for the sharp nettles of whiskey.

Tulip of wine and sharp nettles of whiskey. Quite nice, that. Quite nice.

But within Ballistics, there is some edge. And Collins seems to have grown a bit more ornery. A bit more Bukowski.

He muses on the various colloquialisms for drugs in “High.” He grumpily observes the inundation of his contemporary’s poems in The Poems of Others.”  In the title poem, Collins openly refers to “a recent collection of poems written by someone of whom I was not fond.”

In “The Effort,” Collins encourages us to “join me in flicking a few pebbles in the direction of teachers who are fond of asking the question: What is the poet trying to say?” He even refers to the “intolerable poetry of my compatriots.” And he begins “Liu Yung” with “This poet of the Sung dynasty is so miserable.”

We are all fans of Collins the Poet. Now let us praise Collins the Curmudgeon.

Michael Crichton is Dead

November 6th, 2008 at 3:00 am

It’s a tough time to be a writer. And I’m not referring to the fact that thirty-seven publishers have passed on my high-concept, psychological thriller-novel about a Latino ascending to the Presidency. (Note to interested parties: I can easily change Latino to woman, homosexual, or Scientologist.)

David Foster Wallace. Dead.

Studs Terkel. Dead.

Tony Hillerman. Dead.

Michael Crichton. Dead.

Crichton was my favorite author for an extended period in my youth. I read every single one of his books, losing interest sometime after Airframe. Tastes quickly mature into elitist sophistication and one most stop reading books and start reading literature. But to this day I wonder why Travels isn’t more popular. It is probably Crichton’s best book (and the closest he ever got to a memoir/autobiography). I don’t re-read books because life is too short, but thinking back to all that time I spent in the very capable mind of Michael, I can’t help but think how much fun it was.

Say what you will about Crichton’s breezy genre tendencies and his poorly developed characters, the man has contributed some serious stories into our canon. Jurassic Park. ER. Eater’s of the Dead. Sphere. The Great Train Robbery. The Andromeda Strain.

Totally decent reading.

I bid you adieu, Good Sir.

Happy Banned Book Week

September 29th, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Well, it’s finally here: Banned Book Week.

Sponsored by the American Library Association, Banned Book Week is observed this year from September 27th to October 4th. And while Banned Book Week probably falls somewhere beyond Grandma’s Birthday and Flag Day on the Degree of Celebration Scale, I am reading Bless Me, Ultima in order to partake in the festivities.

Because this isn’t really about banned books, which seem quaint and harmless. It’s about censorship and 1st Amendment Rights and free speech, which strike a far more resonant cord in freedom-loving folk.

In commemoration of Banned Book Week, Time has assembled a nice slide show of the most challenged books of all times:

Squares beware.

Banned Book Week does not currently have the celebratory, festive tradition of a Christmas or Thanksgiving or Fourth of July, but Authwhore thinks that the likes of Voltaire, Mark Twain, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, J.D. Salinger, and Vladimir Nabokov should make for a really, really smashing good time.

So look for Banned Book Week party recommendations next year. Suggestions welcome and encouraged. We should strive for combining New Year’s Eve, Christmas, and Fourth of July in a week-long orgy akin to Carnival.

David Foster Wallace is Dead

September 15th, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Author David Foster Wallace, 46, was found dead at home by his wife, having hung himself in the garage.

A writer of “postmodern,” “darkly ironic” tales, David Foster Wallace is best known for his 1,079-page novel Infinite Jest. I’ve only read the abridged, illustrated version.*

But I did read Wallace’s collection of short stories, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The titular thing is cruising. I read it prior to going on a cruise myself. Beyond Wallace’s signature barrage of endless footnotes, which I found mostly distracting, he suffered from mild agoraphobia and therefore confined himself to his tiny cabin, missing about 85% of the obnoxious excess that makes a cruise worthwhile.

While I don’t have anything more intelligent to say about David Foster Wallace that you can find by Googleing his name right now, I do mourn his loss and find comfort in imagining a lively discussion in Hell between him, Arthur C. Clarke, and Norman Mailer.

I’m sure they’re looking down hoping we vote for Obama.

*To the best of the authwhore’s knowledge, an abridged, illustrated version of Infinite Jest does not exist.