Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Violent Bear It Away (1960) by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor hanging out with peacocks, AS ONE DOES.
Book Review
The Violent Bear It Away (1960)
 by Flannery O'Connor

  O'Connor only wrote two novels, The Violent Bear It Away and Wise Blood.  They are equally amazing, and work quite well together.  The Violent Bear It Away almost seemed like a prequel to Wise Blood.  O'Connor is almost synonymous with the genre of Southern Gothic, so much so that you could say that her work epitomizes the genre.  I'm sure O'Connor would take issue with the use of such a broad term to describe her work, but ultimately when you are talking about a genre you are talking about it because there is a large audience for books described as such, not because an artist wrote a book for a specific genre.  As a genre Southern Gothic is weak in terms of the total audience size unless you include "every graduate student of literature" and sales of Anne Rice novels.  Certainly, the HBO Series True Blood is firmly rooted in the Southern Gothic tradition.

  The literary genre of Gothic extends back to the 18th century.  As early as the 1780s and 90s there was an English audience for books described as "Gothic" and these books inevitably involved castles in Southern Europe, supernatural forces and a late medieval/early modern time frame.   In the early 19th century, writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters brought Gothic home with books like Wuthering (Bronte) and Northanger Abbey (Austen).  Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1818, and Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, creating two icons of 19th and 20th century popular culture.

    None of the 18th or 19th century examples resemble the Southern Gothic of Faulkner or O'Connor. 18th and 19th century Gothic is somewhat generic to geography.  Basically, you need a large house/castle in a remote location.  Southern Gothic is obsessed with the geography of the rural south.  Faulkner spent his whole career writing about one county in Mississippi.  Similarly, O'Connor's books are equally more so southern as they are Gothic.  The supernatural plays no part in her work unless you consider Catholicism and Catholic themes supernatural.

   Essentially, by the mid-20th century Gothic became a synonym for weird or outre subject matter and themes.  So, in that sense, The Violent Bear It Away is Gothic but really it's more like Southern Modernism or Southern Grotesque.  

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Billy Liar (1959) by Keith Waterhouse

Billy Liar

Book Review
Billy Liar (1959)
 by Keith Waterhouse

   Here's something I've learned about the music business: The American music industry is filled with Americans who love love English culture and also with the actual English who are often employed by music industry companies that either from England or have offices there.   This fascination typically starts around the time of The Who and runs right through to the present day.  Much of the money in the music industry has to do with making money internationally or taking an artist who makes money in one place and making money with them in another market or multiple markets.

  Thus, if you are a local musician looking to interact with a representative of the music industry itself, you can do worse then leading with something you like about English popular culture.  You get cool points for knowing about English things that these industry types (or actual English people) haven't heard of, which brings us to Billy Liar, which basically a forgotten early salvo in the Teen Age of popular youth culture.
Steve Guttenberg in the short lived sitcom Billy, a version of Billy Liar, the 1959 novel by Keith Waterhouse.

 "Forgotten," is a relative term. Billy Liar was an immediate hit upon its initial publication in England, leading to a play, a tv show, , a musical AND a short lived American television version starring Steve Guttenberg!   Billy is a young guy living in Yorkshire, dreaming of writing comedy in  for a television comedian.  He is prone to flights of magical thinking and misrepresentations, and much of the plot has to do with his actions as he plans to leave town for a vague promise of work in London.   Billy is one of the first characters in an English novel to be recognizable as a member of a youth sub culture.  He actually goes to a fully described record shop, The X-L disc bar that one would describe as "hip"- and this in 1958/59.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A History of Zimbabwe (2015) by Alois S. Mlambo

A map of Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia

Book Review
A History of Zimbabwe (2015)
by Alois S. Mlambo

  Zimbabwe has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the last decade as the sclerotic regime of Mugabe has systemically wrecked the Zimbabwean economy.  You wouldn't know it from the coverage but Zimbabwe didn't obtain majority rule until 1980, after a nearly 15 year long civil war fought between the minority rule state security forces and a variety of rebel groups.  Zimbabwe represents some of the worst excesses of racist minority-white rule with an extremely effective example of economic development and state building by that same terrible government. Zimbabwe was not colonized until 1890, when a literal column of white settlers funded by arch-imperalist Cecil Rhodes wagon trained into the territory that would become Southern Rhodesia and later Zimbabwe.  Many of the colonists were English south Africans who were fleeing what they felt was a South African administration that favored Dutch settlers.
For many years, European scholars refused to admit that the builders of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were white in rather than the ancestors of the African inhabitants of the area.

  Although the white settlers perpetuated the idea that the area was unsettled, Zimbabwe actually had a thousand year plus tradition of multi ethnic states, most notably the Great Zimbabwe from which the modern state would take its name.  Minority white rule manifested itself in most unsubtle fashion.  Africans were systematically pushed off the best land in favor of white owners, who would often let the land lie fallow as a speculative investment.  For years, educated Africans pleaded simply to be elevated to "white" status, only to be rebuffed.  Eventually, the refusal of the white rulers to contemplate incremental transition to majority rule led to Southern Rhodesia declaring independence unilaterally and being treated as a pariah state, even by the similarly racist regime in South Africa.

  Eventually, the minority rule regime saw the writing on the wall, and power was handed over to Mugabe in 1980.  What followed was hardly a model transition to democracy, with continued fighting among native groups for power and massacres of Independence minded ethnic minorities within Zimbabwe.   The related issues of what to do with the former guerrilla fighters and the existing Zimbabwe defense forces led to disproportionate spending on defense.  Fear of the new regime led to an exodus by white citizens and Mugabe developed into a serial violator of human rights.

   Well into the new millennium, the problem of land redistribution continued to plague Zimbabwe, with war veterans expropriating white farms, and those farmers fighting back in the court system.

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