Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Novel with Cocaine (1934) by M. Ageyev

Novel with Cocaine has cocaine.

Book Review
Novel with Cocaine (1934)
by M. Ageyev

  M. Ageyev is a pseudonym for the unknown real author of Novel with Cocaine.  The original Russian subtitle was "Confessions of a Russian Opium Eater" and that is a fair hint as to the backwards looking perspective of the narrator, a student living in Revolutionary era Russia.  Novel with Cocaine was only translated into English in 1984, and the anonymous writer, once thought to be perhaps Vladimir Nabokov was actually Mark Levi.

  The student narrator is your typical mid century existentialist student hero.  There are a great deal of cool points in the 180 pages of Novel with Cocaine, but nothing that really blows your hair back unless you count the parts where the narrator abuses his elderly Mom.  

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

They Shoot Horses, Don't They (1935) by Horace McCoy

Jane Fonda played Gloria Beatty in the 1969 movie version of the 1935 novel, They Shoot Horses, Don't They

Book Review
They Shoot Horses, Don't They (1935)
 by Horace McCoy

  A misunderstood failure when initially published in America in 1935, They Shoot Horses, Don't They was revived by French existentialists after World War II, part of the larger interest in "film noir" during that period in Paris. Told in a continuous flashback by the narrator, who is facing execution on California's death row after the murder of a woman, the action of They Shoot Horses, Don't They takes place during a lengthy depression-era dance marathon. 

   They Shoot Horses, Don't They is an outlier in 1930s and 1940s crime fiction in terms of the extremely bleak and proto-existentialist attitude of both the narrator and the victim.  The title is what the narrator tells the cops when they ask him why he killed his dance marathon partner, Gloria Beatty.  Gloria is a striking character, who is obsessed with death and the prospect of dining.  Unlike the traditional crime fiction/film noir "femme fatale,"  Gloria is not a hot to trot sex pot, but an aging, fading, wannabe.  Adapted into a film in the late 60s by Sydney Pollack, the idea of a crime drama with an endless dance party as a back drop is a concept that contains vitality even today.  It's not hard to imagine an EDM Of They Shoot Horses, Don't They popping up at Sundance in the near future. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

War & Peace (1869) by Leo Tolstoy

Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia is the subject of much of Leo Tolstoy's epic novel, War & Peace.

Book Review
War & Peace (1869)
 by Leo Tolstoy


   I listened to a free audio book version of War & Peace using the app for the free e book site LibriVox (app and website both called LibriVox) and if you are looking to fuck with audiobooks but don't want to pay ridiculous prices for public domain titles, start with LibriVox.  War & Peace is of course a notoriously long book.  The audiobook I listened to was divided into 18 separate "Books" each with between 15 and 25 chapters, each chapter between five and twenty minutes long.  The first sixteen books are the body of the work, followed by two Epilogues, the first recounting the "Happily Ever After" scenario for the main characters, and the second being a lengthy summary of the "philosophical parts" of the book itself. 

  While War & Peace may not satisfy the modern tenets of academic history, there is no doubt that Tolstoy intended War & Peace to serve as a novel, a history and a work of philosophy.  His main philosophical point is that fate and chance operate strongly on the lives of individual humans but less so on the lives of groups of humans.   The characters of War & Peace are varied and numerous, ranging from Czar Alexander and Napoleon Bonaparte, to nameless peasants and children.  However, the major characters are the younger heirs of the upper aristocracy of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars.

   The two men at the heart of War & Peace are Count Pyotr "Pierre" Kiriliovich Bezukhov and Prince Andrey Bolkonsky.  Tolstoy switches between the perspective of multiple characters besides those two and also employs a third person narrative to handle sweeping historical and philosophical passages which could not possibly be narrated by actual characters from the novel.  The major plot of the Napoleonic wars is deftly intertwined the personal and romantic histories of the major players and their families, who are intertwined through marriage and the dictates of "society." 

  The majestic and aloof historical and philosophical chapters are counterpointed by the various romantic subplots in which Countess Natasha Rostova plays a prominent part.  The romantic/family portions of War & Peace are familiar to anyone versed in mid 19th century fiction but they work as welcome respites from the high drama of the battles and diplomatic maneuvering that dominate the rest of War & Peace.

  However you decide to consumer War & Peace, be prepared for a massive time investment.  It literally took me months to make it to the end.  At the same time, it isn't completely unapproachable for a normal type reader in the way of lengthy modernist classics like James Joyce's Ulysses.  That book experiments with narrative technique, vocabulary and subject matter in a way that is purposefully off-putting to a casual reader.   War & Peace, on the other hand, is simply a very long, ambitious but largely conventional epic novel.  The most challenging part of War & Peace is the length, after that it is smooth sailing (as long you dig other 19th century fiction like Dickens, Trollope, Austen, etc.)

    The time commitment is not to be discounted- it is hard to imagine my friends with children and jobs reading or listening to War & Peace.  Students are unlikely to want to spare the time.  I'm left wondering who, exactly, is reading War & Peace in 2015.  Non working spouses without children?  The long term unemployed?   How can you recommend to someone that they take fifty to a hundred hours out of their entire life simply to read War & Peace.   Unlike Ulysses, or other challenging modernist works of literature, War & Peace is unlikely to change your entire perspective about the universe.

 If anything, War & Peace seems like it would make a great television series for the on demand Netflix era, with the mash up of genres and extreme length.  Perhaps the best recommendation I can make about whether to read War & Peace at all is that the history of Napoleon's ill fated invasion of Russia is enthralling, and sure to be something that the reader will be able to bring up in casual small talk at some point as an example of utter failure. 
 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Auto-da-Fé (1935) by Elias Canetti


Book Review
Auto-da-Fé (1935)
by Elias Canetti

   For any time period within the 1001 Books project I've got a consistent pattern: Start with the easy to find American and English novels, then the foreign language hits, then the more obscure foreign language titles, starting with French and then moving to German, Russian and other.  Right now I'm heavy into the "German, Russian and other" portion of the 1930s, and like other decades I find I enjoy it more than the English and American titles because there is a greater amount of novelty and more counter-cultural content.

  Elias Canetti was a Sephardic Jew whose family moved to Bulgaria.  He spoke and wrote in German, and he won the Nobel prize for literature, but not for his novels (Auto-da-Fe is his only novel) but rather for his work of non-fiction, Crowds and Power.  Auto-da-Fe sits somewhere between Kafka and Musil in the spectrum of 20th century German literature.  You would not call Auto de Fe a work of realism,  but it isn't over the top fantasy either.  Rather, Canetti combines multiple unreliable narrators and a deep understanding of psychological disorders to produce a work that is at once familiar and deeply, deeply disquieting.

  Familiar and deeply disquieting to me personally, because Auto-da-Fe is about a middle aged private scholar who cares about nothing but his books.  On a whim he decides to marry his much-older house keeper, and disaster follows.  Nearly 500 pages in length, Auto-da-Fe is filled with interpersonal conflict but little action.  It is hard to call any of the characters sympathetic or likeable, and the main characters are all essentially insane.

Show Review: Cathedrals @ The Independent

Cathedrals band San Francisco Brodie Jenkins and Johnny Hwin


Show Review:
Cathedrals @ The Independent
San Francisco, CA.
Part of the Noise Pop Festival

  First time at any event tied to the Noise Pop Festival.  I would have thought some band that I worked with would have played there by now but no never.  Instead, my current squeeze is working with Cathedrals, and I'm from the Bay Area, so I jumped at the opportunity to see their sold-out Saturday night headlining set at the Independent.  Cathedrals are based out of SF, the core membership is a duo, Johnny and Brodie.  They work in the space between electro pop and the various sub genres that have spun out of electro pop, their initial break out song OOO-aaa sounds like a take on witch house, and some of their unreleased songs they performed on Saturday night went all the way to top 40/90s rhythm and blues territory.

  Cathedrals has only recently begun performing live, utilizing a four person set up, with Johnny playing guitar, Brodie singing and doing some pedal work from her mic stand and then a drummer and synth/trigger/bassist rounding out the group.  They easily held down the 500+ capacity Independent, aided by the enthusiastic local crowd and competent light and sound work from the venue.  Even if you aren't a fan of electro pop, it's impossible to deny the talent and professionalism of Cathedrals.   All four members were engaged with the audience, and Brodie worked the stage like someone with years of performance experience.

  The hour long headlining set was strong from start to finish, with no loss of Audience attention and a well received two song encore.  Considering this is a "local" band for SF and their first headlining performance (and tenth performance overall)  it's impossible not to be impressed.  They are already well beyond where other successful bands I've watched come up were at similar stages in their career, and Cathedrals look to be poised to make a legitimate assault on national alt-rock radio (certainly alt rock specialty) even before they've inked a record deal.

  Not only do they have a hit already out (ooo-aaa), I heard multiple unreleased songs last night that have the potential to reach beyond the alt rock ghetto into the wonderland of adult contemporary, the true Holy Grail for electro pop artists (see the Passion Pit single took a walk for a similar example.)  Cathedrals will be playing SXSW and then coming back to Southern California to play the Getty Museum and probably the Loft at UCSD later this spring, so if you are the type who likes to say "I saw Vampire Weekend play at the Casbah," you'll want to get on that.

   Watching a band like Cathedrals made me sad for other indie bands who are just kind of flailing around looking for something.  Cathedrals have something, know what that something is, and have managed to successfully capture the attention of the Audience for that something.  Success is bound to follow.  And Brodie Jenkins is not related to the singer from Third Eye Blind.  Oh and only 300 copies of the vinyl were produced and they are still floating around out there- so if you are reading this and see a copy grab that shit.

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