Based on a recommendation by Stephen Elliott, I downloaded and checked out Goats Head Soup by The Rolling Stones.  It holds up well.  I was never a huge fan of “Angie” – it always struck me as overly pathetic beta, even before I knew what that meant – but I had forgotten how good “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (heartbreaker)” is.

One of the better pieces of film criticism I have read in a long time.  But, is it too scathing?  Now I kinda want to see SATC2 just to see if it is the trainwreck made out to be.  Of course it is.

Speaking of scathing…Brian Spears gives it to Keillor on the (emerging) state of publishing.  The real gem of the piece:

as a general rule, things were never better in the past, not even if you were a white male.

I’m thinking of a particular instance where the general rule does not hold true and I’m stumped.  I guess that’s the nature of our real pre-lapsarian world.  Yeah, yeah, it’s post- and not pre-lapsarian.  Whatever.  A debate for another day, when I actually care about the opinions of those that believe in The Fall.

Life has been slow lately.  Friends from all over are coming into town for a conference and the past few days have been about re-acquainting with them and reminding my liver of the halcyon days of grad school.  I asked out a woman once, “let’s go punish our livers together.”  She said yes.  And the weather has been great.

The Plot Against America
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I had not been to the local used bookstore in a while and since I leave for my first tournament of the season to-morrow I decided it was a good time to hit up the clearance section (no title was more than $2).

Scott Turow, editor.  The Best American Mystery Stories, 2006.

I am a sucker for this series.  I am also a Scott Turow fan.  Most law school graduates that write turn to legal writing, but he didn’t.  Of those, he is easily the best.  I am not a huge mystery fan, so much so that when my beloved Cold War fictions are placed in the mystery section I tend to find employees and lecture them as though I am an old man and they have some ability to care.  If it had not been in clearance then I would have never seen it and never have paid the money for it.

Iain Pears.  An Instance of the Fingerpost.

I remember this book being hot hot hot when I was working at Barnes & Noble.  A mystery (sigh) set in Victorian England (I think) and yet not a mystery but more a tour of theory and the history and thought.  Or so I remember one of my managers telling me as a reason why she thought I’d be perfect to read it.  Looking back, she wanted me to read it and review it for the Staff Recommendations section.  Maybe if it was free.  But, alas, modern businesses require their employees to spend their wages for their own marketing.

Ursula K. Le Guin.  The Eye of the Heron.

I have never read any Le Guin, but I am constantly coming across her name as an important literary figure.  And not just in science fiction circles.  I had never even heard of this book, but: 1. the author is important,  2. it is a tiny thing, I can get through something this size in less than a week, and 3. I have been on a science fiction kick lately.

Speaking of which, I am currently working on season 1 of Mad Men so I can see what all the hype is about.  Episode 4 and Draper is revealed to have been someone else before the war.  Now I am really intrigued as the story turns to be more inline with sci-fi circles than just a cultural criticism.  A TIRED cultural criticism, at that.

Duncan Heath & Judy Boreham.  Introducing Romanticism.

I am also a sucker for the precise genre.  Complex ideas simplified and then put into comic book form.  How can it not be worth a few bucks?

David Zane Mairowitz & Alain Korkos.  Introducing Camus.

I probably would not have bought this book had I not turned to the Camus chapter in the Sturrock book earlier to-day.  I am still not too sure that I care about him, but I am curious enough to drop a few bucks to find out.  And, it is also a precise book.  One of these days I will get some scratch together and commission my friends to write a precise pour moi.  Ursa can do some Spinoza.  I am not too sure what Nate would do, but I do not doubt I would learn something.

Philip Roth.  The Plot Against America.

Philip Roth.  Alternate history.  Philip Roth.  I almost bought this book several times when it was a hardcover on the bestseller list.  How this ever made it to the clearance rack I will never know.  I know Minnesotans read the wrong stuff, but this is ridiculous.

Phil Hellmuth, Jr.  Play Poker Like the Pros.

This is his serious book.  It was not on clearance, but I am curious to see what he has to say.  Poker writing fascinates me because the players are often engaging in some rather sophisticated communications theory without even knowing it.  The pain of reading these books is seeing them skate around methodologies and terminology.  They are almost quite there but I suspect there are editors or publishers delimiting the thought so the book remains available to the masses.  To the future poker writers out there: be brave, the audience will come along and appreciate it if the writing is good!

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I love Cold War fiction.  I mean that very precisely.  Some people think I mean espionage literature and that is not the case, because something is lost in the current crop of espionage thrillers.  The enemy is not as cunning and when they are it feels arbitrary and forced.  What I just said might be taken to border on some racism or negative stereotype: Arabs as a backwards and stupid people vis a vis us sophisticated folk.

My take is close to this but not because of anything intrinisic to the enemy.  The enemy is behind us in intelligence gathering capabilities as well as in motivation, they are after all still involved in an internal struggle for the future of their society whereas we are the outside intervention looking to mold them into our image.  That is a very different story to the classic Cold War espionage thriller and I am sad to see the genre shift.  I will outline a classic of Cold War fiction and hopefully the differences are easily seen.

I recently finished reading one of the classics, had there been enough time I am sure it might have become a touchstone of the genre, by one of the classic writers: Nelson DeMille’s Talbot Odyssey.  If you are a fan of the werewolf genre then you might also enjoy this story – yes, Talbot is that Talbot.  Not as well written as LeCarre’s novels, but it resonates like LeCarre does: as a Western.  All the familiar tropes are there: lethal environment (in this book set inside a hostile shooting Cold War), one man alone, a stunning and impossible achievement of the masculine image, narrator’s cultural criticism and the obligatory surprise twist.

The most important quality is probably the idealized masculinity because the rest of the book is informed and is a backdrop for this image.  I will provide for you a couple of places where DeMille drops these images in this book.

“As the Duke of Wellington said when asked to impart a piece of enduring military wisdom, ‘Piss when you can.'” (338)

The necessary self-sufficiency to survive is an important aspect of these thrillers.  Without resourcefulness and a willingness to disregard societal norms the hero is sure to fail and be sucked into the maelstrom that is eating away at the very society he is trying to save.

He remembered a favorite line from Thoreau: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” (81)

Never forget though that self-sufficient man is indebted to his predecessors and hence the self-sufficient man is well-read, an ubermensch.  It is not a far stone’s throw to see DeMille writing about a man making a horseback trip across the wild west, camping at night over a fire, can of beans and reading a book with a pistol in his lap.  The clothes on his back are all that he brought for the trip, saving more important space for more important things.

Now we come to the ubermensch’s approach to the modern environment, namely the social environment:

There are basically five ways to hunt – baiting, trapping, stakeouts, beating the bush, and decoying.  it depends on the animal you’re after, the season of the year, and the terrain.  With the human animal, you can use all methods, or combinations of methods, in any season and terrain.  Just keep in mind that when the human animal approaches, he may take any form, including the guise of a friendly animal.  He may wave a cheery hello, or ask for a cigarette.  But you must relaize you ar ebeing attacked, and in that split second of realization you have to act, becasue a second later it’s too late. (260)

It’s hard to miss the romantic ideal of fighting and always being on guard DeMille longs for in this piece.  I am also seduced by these images.  The few months after being hit by the car I would wander the streets and was always imagining an immanent fight.  It was warming to imagine that I can be vigilant enough to save myself.  It restored a sense of purpose and control.  It’s how I suspect people who cut themselves are trying to reassert a sense of control over their bodies.  Iggy Pop’s slow suicide is how Lester Bangs describes that reclamation of control.  And yet we know the world is no longer like that, which is precisely why people write and read these thrillers.

All of the above are ways these books serve to idealize a certain image of man.  Those images then give way to cultural criticism, often a very silly and tired form of criticism.

Its ceiling beams and oak paneling still gave it the flavor of a hunting lodge, but the mounted animal heads and horns were gone, replaced by oversize canvases of proletarian art: smiling, well-muscled men and women working in the fields and factories.  The early capitalists, reflected Abrams, mounted animals they probably never shot, the ruling Communists displayed pictures of happy workers they probably never saw.  The noble and idealized creatures of the earth were destined to wind up as wwall decorations for the elite.  in a just and orderly world, perhaps, capitalists would shoot, stuff, and mount Communists, and vice versa, leaving the wildlife and working people in peace. (321)

DeMille is smart enough to be a cynic but does he not realize that this ubermensch, the man above ideology, is like the wildlife and like the happy proletariat nothing but a fiction?  A mythical beast wandering the world in search of a home.  DeMille’s vision smacks me like McCarthy’s does.  My frst thought is always: the world is not this hard.  But that seems to be the issue, they wish the world were that hard because that hardness is what weeds out the chaff from the wheat.  Deep down they are romantics and environmental hardship is their antiseptic for the world’s over-developed sense of sociality.

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