Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Pigeon (1987) by Patrick Suskind

Book Review
Pigeon (1987)
 by Patrick Suskind

   Pigeon is a little existential novella  about a lonely Parisian security guard.  He's been living in the same tiny walk-up flat for the better part of four decades when his routine is a pigeon, incongruously located in the hallway outside.    Like his other 1001 Books entry, Perfume, there is ample evidence of Suskind's skill as a prose stylist, even in translation.  Unlike Perfume, Pigeon is not story dwelling.  The obsessive protagonist resembles various narrators in the novels of Thomas Bernhard, minus the self-conscious intellectualism.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

World's End (1987) by T.C. Boyle

Book Review
World's End (1987)
 by T.C. Boyle

  T.C, Boyle is incredibly prolific for a "serious" novelist.  Since the first edition of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die was published in 2006, Boyle has published five stand alone novels, each of which has remained in print in an evergreen paperback edition.  The editorial language in the listing for this book in 1001 Books calls it Boyle's masterpiece, but without having read any of his other books (Road to Wellsville, anyone?) it seems like there is at least a chance that one of his subsequent novel deserves to replace World's End, which, in my mind, has aged badly, even since the 2006 publication date of the first 1001 Books.

 Set among several generations of the population of the Hudson River Valley in three different time periods:  The late 17th century, the period surrounding the second World War and the "high 1960's."  With the exception of the portion set in the 17th century, Boyle is walking in a well trodden meadow.  One book it recalls in particular is The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow, published in 1971, which also uses The Peetskill Riots as a major plot point.  Those riots were nativist/anti-communist protests of a Peace Concert in the Hudson River Valley by Paul Roebeson.  Like a Woodstock, that was very much ahead of it's time.

  And while there is nothing wrong with two works of 20th century American Fiction that focus on the Peetskill Riots as being emblematic of the American experience in the 1940's, I thought that Boyle's use of Native American characters bordered on the insulting.  There are some subjects where a wry meta-fictional touch isn't appropriate, and personally, I don't see the Native American soft genocide as a topic for a comic novel.  It is different for a writer who is actually Native America- Sherman Alexie, for example, an excellent Native American author who is very funny and not represented on the 1001 Books list.

  It is easy to defend Boyle by saying that he treats his Native American (or part Native American) characters with the same sense of wry detachment that he uses for all his characters, but its hard to imagine him treating enslaved African American characters- who do appear in cameo roles in World's End, with the same attitude.   As it stands, World's End is the first novel that really even discusses the Native American experience in North America- surely a rich vein of literature. A Sherman Alexie book at the least.  Since World's End is Boyle's only core title, it would mean dropping him entirely.  Maybe that isn't fair to Boyle, because World's End is only partially about Native American subjects.

  And, if you are going to start directly comparing books at this point in time- 1987, it's easy for me to say that, a book like Beloved would be one of maybe two or three books to remain on the list, were space needed for new titles.   Whats interesting about the core list is that you've got 700 titles, but those 700 all remained through 2010 and 2012, while the 300 books that were added to the list in 2008 were, I think, replaced entirely in 2012.   In other words, none of the 300 replacement books in 2008 remained after the 2012 revision.   You might also drop The Book of Daniel, since Doctorow has multiple titles on the core list. 

Event Preview: Jamey Johnson & Margo Price @ North Park Observatory Next Week (Tuesday)

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The Stagecoach Spotlight Tour features Jamey Johnson, Margo Price & Bret Cobb
Event Preview
Stagecoach Spotlight Tour (TM)
 Jamey Johnson, Margo Price & Brent Cobb
 @ North Park Observatory
 Next Week: Tuesday, April 25th, 7:30 PM

  I have to hand it to Goldenvoice talent buyer Stacy Vee, she was down with Margo Price from day 1.  Well not really day 1, but who was, really.  But Stacy Vee was at the little industry show Margo Price played in Hollywood, and the Stagecoach offer came in super early.  So when Stagecoach decides to do a Stagecoach Spotlight Tour and asks Margo Price to be on it, she is on it.  That is how things work.   People will criticize Goldenvoice on various grounds, but the fact remains that they (via corporate parent AEG) the only viable alternative to Live Nation.  I mean they aren't an alternative to Live Nation, who can front a monster advance to any artist they please (but usually those who are capable of drawing at a mid size shed venue in any of the top 150 markets in the United States),  but you can structure a solid cycle of American tours around a big Goldenvoice show.

   It's the kind of support that can give rise to the decision to say no to a Live Nation offer.   The trade off for taking Live Nation money is that an artist is forced to work themselves to death to pay back the advance.   Also that it can get an Artist accustomed to the lifestyle that a massive advance can finance but not maintain.  I know these are 1% problems, but they are problems that any American musician achieving viability is going to face.

   The Stagecoach Spotlight Tour covers most of the major western markets:  Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Denver.  The logic behind this tour gets stronger the further you get from the epicenter of the Stagecoach festival itself, which happens in the middle of the two week long tour stints.

    Part of my continuing enchantment with Price's rise is seeing her touring numbers for secondary markets in the south-east.  She can play these locations, sell out theaters and take in a few thousand in merch, night after night, with most of the markets within driving distance of Nashville, an ideal location for a touring musician, geographically speaking.  She is also viable, though as yet unproven, in secondary markets in other geographic regions of the country: The Northeast, the Midwest and the West.   You compare that with the touring profile of a comparably successful indie rock act, and there is no comparison, Margo Price would crush them.

   Generating a certain level of ticket sales in these secondary market (in addition to some previously demonstrated ability to sell out smaller venues in major markets) is the essential pre-condition to generating a virtuous circle of touring activity.   Once that circle is established, all it requires is additional momentum, provided by more touring.   However, absent additional albums and tours, the virtuous circle stops spiraling.

  Tickets are still available for this show, next Tuesday at the very, very, lovely and nice North Park Observatory Theater- owned by the Affliction clothing company owner!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison

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Thandie Newton played the reverant to Oprah Winfrey's Mother character in her movie version of Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Beloved (1987)
by Toni Morrison

  I think any process of canonization which includes works within the last 30 years is suspects.  30 years of consideration should be the rule before any specific work of art is included in any canonical collection.  Before 30 years have elapsed, you really don't have a feel for the true impact of a work of art, particularly for those works which were commercially but not critically appreciated, or vice versa.   Its possible that there are books out there which were written in 1987 that the editors of the 1001 Books list were not aware of when they made the first edition of this list in 2006.

  The core collection of 1001 Books is 700 titles.  Chronologically speaking, 1987 is probably the cut off for that 700 number if you start from the beginning of time.  I would guess that the 300 replaced titles are disproportionately located in the 300 books that remain between 1987 and the 2006 cut off for the first book.  In 2006, they had no idea which books published in 2005 might qualify, and so how can they know which books might have to be replaced?

  I'm bringing this up because I would argue that Beloved, Morrison's 1987 gothic shocker, is a keeper- an obvious inclusion within the core list of 700 books.  Just to compare her to the other 1987 American authors that made the first edition of the 1001 Books list, you've got The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, the collected New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (collected in one edition in 1987) and the Black Dahila by James Ellroy.   Looking at a list of those four entries, and I would cut all of them BUT Beloved.  I understand why the other titles have made it:  The Bonfire of the Vanities was a cross-platform phenomenon for a mildly "important" author,  Black Dahila is a stand out of 80's genre fiction and New York Trilogy is a clever work of metafiction.

  Beloved, on the other hand, is an important book, Morrison has stood accused of overwrought, feverish prose, but who are we to quibble with the style when the results are so august?  When Beloved was published, Morrison was at the top of her game, deploying elements of style to induce deeply felt emotions in the reader. 

Mayra(1986) by Joyce Carol Oates

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A photo of a young Joyce Carol Oates
Book Review
Mayra (1986)
 by Joyce Carol Oates

   You might consider Mayra a Joyce Carol Oates origin story.  Mayra, the title character, physically resembles Oates, shares a similar background and has the same experiences as Oates the writer.  Within the 1001 Books project, Oates is a huge loser.  She starts with four titles in the original edition, and that number is cut to a single title in the first revision.  This reduces Oates from a repeat player of some note to a one hit wonder, for the purposes of the list.  It also points to the way that many, if not all, authors with multiple titles- certainly all those from the 20th century and beyond- were subject to having their contribution halved.

  I'd be inclined to think that Oates was ill served- she is almost certainly an author who deserves more than a single title.  It's likely that she is a victim of both being prolific, still writing and not a major literary prize winner.  Oates is not going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, she hasn't won the Pulitzer Prize.  She's also written non fiction and short stories throughout her career, and flirted with the career of a public intellectual in the television era.

  Like Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, Mayra hasn't aged well, except as it relates to a general up-swell of appreciation for Oates as she ages out of productivity.  Most of Mayra exists within the confines of the academic literature of the 1980's.  Her plight as a white woman, making her way in academia, has only muted relevance to the polyphonic explosion of viewpoints related to class and gender.   At least Oates, unlike Moore, avoids writing from a place of vested privilege.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Parable of the Blind (1986) by Gert Hofmann

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The Parable of the Blind (painting)(1568) by Pieter Breugel, the book is based on imagined evets from 
Book Review
The Parable of the Blind (1986)
by Gert Hofmann

   The Parable of the Blind is a fun little novella about the (imagined) circumstances behind the painting of the same name, created in 1586 by Pieter Breugel.  The idea is that Breugel, unnamed in the book, paid to have models enact the painted scene, again and again, in the same way that one might imagine a Hollywood director having an actor do dozens of takes.  Here, the blind are stumbling into the river, a scene they repeated numerous times, as Breugel sits in his window and paints them.

   The rest of the book describes their attempts to get to the house of Breugel,  The Parable of the Blind is an impressionistic narrative, since the narrators, are blind beggars with no formal education.  To the extent it resembles anything else in literature, the closed comparison is Chaucer, call this "The Blind Beggars Tale."

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