Monday, September 19, 2011

We have the technology!

Current book: None
Pages read: None

Still no copy of my book from the library. However, that said, I have been very productive on the blog lately. All posts are now tagged with the name of the book and the author's name, and the final post for each book is tagged with an assessment of whether it was worthy of the list. I'm also going to be making the list along the left side of the page into links that will give you a page of every relevant post, but I haven't gotten there yet.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MLA, eat your heart out.

Current book: None
Pages read: None

My book has not yet been returned to the library. Come on, random person. You have like $3.50 in fines by now. Cough up the goods already.

Regarding the Scientology expose - I've decided that I'm annoyed by the fact that there aren't citations. She's got a huge bibliography in the thing, and a bunch of notes at the end, but there aren't any superscripts to indicate where those notes might correspond to the text. Her footnotes are purely to add asides and clarification, but don't offer any sources, or at least not sources that are cited in an academic fashion. (They'll say something like, "The Church denies this.") It's lazy and it undermines the legitimacy of her research. You would think, when she spent this much time investigating the thing, she'd want it to come across as rigorous and meticulous. Apparently not. So if you, dear reader, decide to write a book that relies heavily on source material, don't be as ass - cite.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ask not for whom the fines accrue...

Current book: None
Pages read: None

Well, whoever was supposed to return his or her copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls to the Saint Paul library by September 1st has failed to do so, even though I put a hold on it. So, needless to say, I haven't got the book yet for this next one. Amusingly, I already have the copy of Slaughterhouse-V that I also put on hold. But to go out of order would be anathema, so instead I'll just wait. I hope that said delinquent will rectify the situation soon.

In other news, I'm reading an expose of Scientology right now, and man, it is a giant cult. I always had a very suspicious view of it, but now that I'm reading details (which seem quite well researched and accurate), I'm sort of actively horrified by it. It has a lot of the important hallmarks of a cult: it promises to solve all your problems, it has a great, venerated leader, it requires you to invest a significant amount of money to learn its practices, it assigns you new ways of thinking, it punishes its initiates with isolation and physical labor for disobeying its tenets, it encourages you to cut ties with non-members, et cetera. (Also, reading that list makes me realize how many religions are characterized by at least some, if not many, of those attributes. Money, I think, tends to be the deciding factor in a cult. Well, that and building compounds. (Seriously, compounds - are they ever good?)) Anyway, it's fascinating, though I must admit to feeling a little voyeuristic reading it.

I'm clearly very upset that the Hemingway hasn't come in yet. I suppose I'll attempt to keep you entertained in the meantime.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Everybody who's anybody drinks.

Current book: On the Road
Pages read: 260 - 307 (end)

Well, I missed reporting on yesterday's antics. Let's see. Everyone drank and slept with girls.

Sal spends a small amount of time in New York and then eventually finds Dean again, who's now married to Camille in San Francisco. (I think. Honestly, the endless, dead-end, empty relationships are getting hard to keep track of.) Anyway, he and Dean decide to go on another great road trip cross-country, leaving the pregnant Camille all alone and with no support. (Technically, she "threw them out" for staying up all night in her house drinking with strangers. There's this great scene where all of Dean's friends' wives confront him about his treatment of her, and all Sal can do is think about how wronged Dean is. It's almost funny, except that instead it fills me with rage.) They drive like fucking maniacs across the country, sometimes with passengers who fear for their lives (an instinct that Kerouac mocks as dull and pedestrian of them). Eventually they get to New York, where Dean settles for a while, and then marries yet another woman, Inez. (I'm pretty sure he's actually a bigamist at this point, but there may have been divorces. It's unclear.)

Later, Sal goes on a trip alone to Denver, but eventually Dean follows him and they decide to go to Mexico with some other random guy named Tim. They make it all the way to Mexico City, after, you guessed it, drinking and sleeping with girls (actual prostitutes, in this case, and some of them as young as 15). Sal falls ill in Mexico City with a fever, and Dean abandons him there. In the end, Sal ends up in New York and has a steady girlfriend, and Dean ends up back with Camille, miserable and penniless. Gee, I'm all broken up about it.

I can't decide whether I like the misogyny or the utter disregard for everything that's important in life less. One could argue that those go hand in hand. I suppose I shouldn't hold Kerouac responsible for the overt, absurd sexism, since it's a product of the time, but it offends my sensibilities that he thinks everyone should be free and easy and whatever else he decides, but not women. They're either whores or shrews, apparently, and it's just blatantly unfair. At some point, they meet a friend's wife who allows him to go out at all hours, bring friends home, and treat her like she doesn't exist, and Dean has this to say about it,
"Now you see man, there's a real woman for you. Never a harsh word, never a complaint, or modified; her old man can come in any hour of the night with anybody and have talks in the kitchen and drink the beer and leave any old time. This is a man, and that's his castle." (204)
Jesus Christ. It's like goddamned Stepford in here. (Also, "or modified"? What the hell does that mean?)

I realize that I'm about to sound like the biggest square in the world, but as I mentioned in a previous post, Sal and his friends' utter disregard for all responsibility is pretty despicable. In Dean's case, leaving his pregnant wife alone and with no support is the worst crime; in Sal's, I suppose he doesn't have a reason to stay anywhere, but I'm baffled as to how wasting his money, getting smashed, and having sex with women he doesn't like is a good choice, especially since he spends all his time unhappy and fighting, or thinking about how sad America and bars and things like that are. (To be fair, he usually calls things glorious a second before he calls them sad, but there you are.) My favorite moment*, and one that I think characterizes Sal pretty well, is when he says the following to Dean.
"It's not my fault! It's not my fault!...Nothing in this lousy world is my fault, don't you see that? I don't want it to be and it can't be and it won't be." (214)
And there it is, really. That's the material point of this entire novel. Nothing is my fault and I don't care about anything. Seriously, Kerouac? You are such an asshole.

To be fair, the writing is decent, and his voice is both immediate and convincing. I can, I suppose, fathom how some people might enjoy that about it. But honestly, it's like listening to a pompous drunk guy blather about the summer after senior year.

Unworthy of the list. Moving on.

*Another quote that is amusing only because it proves that Kerouac is, quite possibly, insane, is on the last page.
"...and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear?" (113)
For Christ's sake, Jack. Masturbate on your own time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A lark, a spree, it's very clear to see.

Current book: On the Road
Pages read: 179 - 260

I read today, but I also spent seven and a half hours cleaning. I'll finish tomorrow and just do a comprehensive one for the whole book. So tired now.

There was more drinking and screwing around. Shocking.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Well. There it is.

Current book: On the Road
Pages read: None

Did I mention I'm not posting on Fridays? I'm not posting on Fridays.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A faaaaabulous new car!

Current book: On the Road
Pages read: 86 - 178

Guess what happens in this section? If you said, "Sal gets drunk and fights with his friends," you're right! Tell the contestants what they've won!

Sal spends some time with his Mexican...girlfriend? I'm not really what we're supposed to be calling these liaisons, but we'll go with that. Anyway, they run out of money, shockingly, and try their luck going out to the California farms to pick fruit and cotton. Predictably, Sal sucks at hard labor, and fails to make any real money, but is happy being "a man of the earth," as he says. Happy, of course, until he decides it doesn't suit him anymore. Also, Terry, the Mexican girl, picks up her son, a youngish kid, who lives with them in their farm-laborer tent city for a while. Eventually, Sal ditches Terry back with her family and goes home to New York.

Some months later, during a Christmas vacation from college, in which Sal is now enrolled, his friend Dean shows up with Dean's ex-wife, Marylou. They've decided they're in love again, despite the fact that Dean has another live-in girlfriend in San Francisco named Camille. Dean inspires Sal to want to go to California again, so they head out in Dean's new car, which he drives fast and recklessly. They've also got another guy with them, Ed, who, as it turns out, left his wife on the way out to the East Coast with Dean. (And by left, I mean they actually abandoned her at a motel on the road during the trip. And we're supposed to like these people. Christ.) They stop in New Orleans, where Ed finds his wife, and they spend the rest of the trip running out of money, picking up hitchhikers, and fighting about everything. Eventually they get to San Francisco, where Marylou goes off with some guy and Sal decides she's a whore. This in spite of the fact that he's been propositioning her the entire way to California, and was, previously, pleased when she reciprocated. Almost as soon as they arrive in San Francisco, Sal goes back to New York.

It's not any better. If anything, it's even more ridiculous because of the hypocrisy that's crept in. During one of their periods on the road, Sal chastises Dean, Ed, and Marylou for not getting their lives together, and tells them that they have to figure out what they're doing and have a real impact. My jaw didn't actually drop at the unintentional irony, but it was close enough. You can't have it both ways, Sal/Jack. Either freedom and the road are glorious, and you're making the most important decision of your life by abandoning all responsibility, or you need to make a decision about your life and choose something to do. Not both. (I'll have some more to say about abandoning responsibility when the whole book is finished. I'm waiting to pass judgement on that one.)

Also, Sal is just so damned presumptuous. When he's with Terry, at some point he decides he needs to make sure that no one breaks into their tent and threatens them harm because they're Mexican. He says, "They thought I was a Mexican, of course; and in a way, I am," (98). Ignoring, for a moment, the improper use of the semicolon, we'll move on to the improper appropriation of a Mexican identity. And why? Because he's "balling" a Mexican girl, whom he will leave in approximately three seconds. (All right, it's at least a couple of weeks, but still.) And this makes him a Mexican?

It's terrible. There still haven't really been any drugs. They smoked pot once. Also, I've decided I want this book to be a satirical criticism of the lifestyle it's illustrating, and it's really, really not one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No one wants a fellow with a social disease.

Current book: On the Road
Pages read: 1 - 85

Ew. Just ew.

So, Jack Kerouac is apparently the original hipster, and, as such, is obnoxiously irresponsible and proud of himself for it. I'd tell you what happens, but something would have to happen first. I mean, honestly, in 85 pages, the main character, Sal Paradise (Paradise? Seriously? Give me a goddamn break.), hitchhikes from New York to Los Angeles and gets drunk a lot. That's about it. He stops in Denver for a while, where he hits on girls (who are, by the way, pretty much just pieces of meat to Jack...I mean Sal...and he even refers to them as such) and fights with his friends because they're all drunk and idiotic. He proceeds to San Francisco (which he refers to as Frisco, and, though I have never been there, I cringed on behalf of all San Franciscans), where he, you guessed it, gets drunk a lot and fights with his friends. He has no money, because he's wasted it all on whiskey, basically, so he's constantly crashing with people (and by people, Jack Kerouac always means men), hitting on their girlfriends, and eventually fighting with them until he gets kicked out or leaves.

Anyway, he also gets a job as a barracks guard for the navy, of all things, and spends some time discussing how his fellow guardsman are all terrible people with "cop minds." (And normally, I'd be on his side there, because I know what he means by that, but frankly, I was so disgusted with him at that point that I wasn't inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.) Eventually, he leaves and goes to Los Angeles. On the bus there, he meets a Mexican woman and successfully propositions her. When they get to his hotel room in L. A., however, she accuses him of being a pimp and they have a tawdry little fight before falling into bed together, an experience that Kerouac describes as "having found the closest and most delicious thing in life together," (85), clearly indicating that he has no idea what it is to be in love with someone, if you ask me.

Um. Wow. I hate it a lot. I'm also failing to see the redeeming value of the book (because I'm pretty sure there isn't one). I mean, I get what we're trying to say here, which is that, when you abandon all pretense of social obligation, you can choose your own path and be free to move along it. But frankly, the message so far seems to be that, in so doing, you will waste all your time and money drinking and pissing people off, and mostly you'll be sorry about it later. The narrator often regrets his decisions and is sorrowful and depressed about his circumstances and surroundings. He remarks on how awful bus stations are, no matter where you find them, for example (and you can't deny him on that one), but it's hard not to think, "Well, then go home, for Christ's sake."

I'm sure there are a lot of people who argue for this book being original and saying something about the era that produced it, that it characterizes the desire for freedom and that it lead a whole generation of people to question, pardon my diction, the establishment. I'm sure they're right about the generation of people who paid attention to it, but that doesn't make it original, and it doesn't make it great literature. It's Tropic of Cancer all over again, with fewer drugs and set in America. Original, my ass.

Also, did I mention it's sexist? It's ridiculously sexist. The women are all either "untamed shrew[s]" or simple sex objects, and he often describes "balling" and "banging" them. I have very little patience for that sort of nonsense.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Boy meets fish. Boy gets fish. Boy loses fish.

Current book: The Old Man and the Sea
Pages read: 9 - 127 (end)

No, seriously, the post title is a good summary.

All right, all right, there may be a few more details, but not many. Let's see. Santiago is an old, weathered Cuban fisherman (one might call him an old salt, if one were inclined toward nautical terminology) who hasn't caught a fish in eighty-five days. He is friends with a boy, Manolin (who, honestly, I'm not sure is actually named Manolin; he may just be called that. (You missed the parentheses, didn't you? It's ok. You don't have to say. I know.)), who once fished with him as an apprentice, but who now fishes with a different boat due to Santiago's bad luck.

So, anyway, Santiago goes out fishing alone on the eighty-fifth day, and he hooks a marlin. The fish is enormous, and it tows him far out into the Gulf, while he muses upon his life and his relationship with the sea. For several days, the fish pulls him, and he thinks about the fact that he loves and respects the sea and the fish, but also wants to triumph over the fish by killing him. Santiago also contemplates his left hand a great deal, which cramps up on him and doesn't work properly, as well as the fact that he was born to be a fisherman and feels that it's his calling. (He's got a whole thing about baseball and Joe DiMaggio, too, which frankly, seemed somewhat irrelevant.)

He finally fights the fish in, injuring his hands (and possibly his internal organs) badly in the process, and harpoons it, killing it; he ties it to his little boat, towing it alongside because of the fact that it's fully two feet longer than the boat itself. Making his way back to Havana, Santiago is set upon by sharks, and, though he fights and kills many of them with his harpoon and his bare hands, they manage to eat the entire fish, skeleton excepted, before he can make it back. Upon his return, he is greeted and nursed by Manolin, who weeps for his loss of the fish that everyone can see was the most magnificent ever caught. It's unclear whether he dies at the end, but signs point to his imminent demise.

It's funny, actually, that the back of the book in the edition that I have says that this is a story about "personal triumph won from loss." I just don't know, Scribner, if I can agree with that. It's more, as my husband said this morning, about loss in the face of personal triumph, when you get down to it. Not to go all allegorical, but the fish is clearly representative of something here. (Man, also, what is it with giant sea animals and symbolism? Eat your heart out, Herman Melville.) Is it the great tragedy that is life itself? Hemingway has a real glory-worship thing, and there's nothing, it seems, that he likes more than killing large animals as a manifestation of that glory. So, I'd say that the hunting of the fish is supposed to represent all that is good and noble in man, in that it is a sort of simultaneous respect and love for, but also dominance of, nature (and therefore the world).

However, if that's true, then the subsequent destruction of the fish must represent the futility of that search for glory. After all, Santiago fought so hard and so long for the fish only to lose all that he had gained. Certainly he is still covered in glory, in a way, because both he and his comrades know that he caught the greatest marlin they'd ever seen, but in the end, he has nothing to show for it but sorrow and regret. He even says, after it becomes obvious that the whole fish is going to be eaten by sharks, that he never should have come out so far and that he broke his own luck by dooming both himself and the marlin to destruction. The waste, as he sees it, of the fish's carcass is the waste of his own life and his own fate as a fisherman, and it is the hunt for the great glory of the catch that brought them both to that waste.

A lot of people agree more with the Scribner interpretation, which is that the great glory of the fight with the marlin dignifies and ennobles Santiago, proving that it's the fight that's important, and that, even in defeat, glory lives on. Frankly, I just don't know about that. I think there's an indication of that, since, as I said, Santiago retains his glory, but there's a pretty melancholy cast to the whole thing, what with the loss of the fish and Santiago's injuries. The fact that something breaks inside him and he coughs up blood near the end of the book is a pretty dire indicator to me. Then again, he finishes the novel dreaming of his happy youth, so who knows?

It's a pretty good book, regardless of the fact that I don't like Hemingway. You have to admire the style, as well, which is stark and matter-of-fact, but also evocative. He was one of the first to write this way, and The Old Man and the Sea is a particularly good example of the clean spareness of his prose. (Probably because it's a later novel.) It also helps that this particular book doesn't have any war or woman-beating in it, which are things Hemingway likes to put into his books, I've noticed. Anyway, I'm not sure that it's worthy of the list. We'll call it borderline.

Also, this book reminds me vaguely of The Pearl, by Steinbeck, and I'm not sure why. The prose is similar, I think. It could also be the setting, but I suppose it's mostly the fact that they're both about the endless pursuit of something that is, in the end, ruinous to your life. The themes aren't really the same, but they're tangential to each other, which just makes me think that you could arrange a college topics course about stories of the consuming need to conquer and own. Oh, wait. We just call that Western literature. (Zing!)


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