Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2015) by Sven Beckert


Book Review
Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2015)
by Sven Beckert

    Sven Beckert, a Professor of History at Harvard University, won the Bancroft Prize in 2015 for Empire of Cotton: A Global History, which explores the role of the cotton industry in the advance of what we call "global capitalism."   Beckert is a Professor of International History, the study of history that crosses temporal and geographical barriers ("American History," "19th century history.") to provide a larger perspective on global events through a focus on international forces like capitalism, colonialism and communism/socialism.   It's both economic and social history, and it owes something to the "Annales School" of French history which focuses on normal lives and larger trends at the expense of the traditional "great man" school of biographical history. 

   Beckert is himself not clearly a socialist, though he describes capitalism in terms derived from that world.  He is clearly not a fan of "free market" capitalism of the Chicago school, and if the Empire of Cotton stands for anything, it is to refute the idea that global capitalism somehow exists independent of state power.  Quite the opposite, as Beckert shows again and again, the cotton industry could not have expanded in the western United States (United States government expropriated Native land) or Central Asia (Russian military invasion) or China without the heavy handed and direct intervention of Western military power.

   Empire of Cotton: A Global History is a must read for fans of the history of international capitalism and economic development.  I listened to the Audiobook, and it was a good fit- I've seen reviews mentioning the density of the text, but as an Audiobook it was an easy listen, even at double speed.  

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fado Alexandrino (1990) by Antonio Lobo Antunes


Book Review
Fado Alexandrino (1990)
by Antonio Lobo Antunes

Replaces: At Home of the End of the World by Michael Cunningham


  I'm going to have to protest the replacement of At Home of the End of the World, an excellent gay coming of age story by a talented American writer, with Fado Alexandrino, the ponderous (500 pages!) meandering tale of five Portuguese soldiers, united by their service in the Mozambique Liberation War, catch up and tell each other stories about their lives in the intervening years.

  Fado Alexandrino makes for extremely difficult reading.  The narrative, which is largely but not entirely stream-of-consciousness veers between different narrators and time and place with minimal breaks in the text.  There are parts and chapters, but each chapter mostly eschews paragraphs, meaning that the reader is basically forced to read at least one chapter at a time, and the chapters are usually 20 plus pages of one or two or three paragraphs of text, written as a stream-of-consciousness and no guide to who is speaking, when it is occuring or why it is occuring.

  I would refer you to the suspiciously excellent Wikipedia page for further details.  Fado is one of those books where everyone who reads it must feel compelled to hail it's genius, because it sure is not fun to read in any way, shape or form.  I mean, it took me a solid month plus of keeping this book on my nightstand to finish.  Just horrific.

The Line of Beauty (2004) by Alan Hollinghurst


Book Review
The Line of Beauty (2004)
 by Alan Hollinghurst

Replaces:  The Light of Day by Graham Swift

  The "little library" down the street has proved valuable supplying me both with this book and a paperback copy of Infinite JestThe Line of Beauty was an addition to the 2008 edition of the 1001 Books list, replacing The Light of Day by Graham Swift.    It won the 2004 Booker Prize, beating out The Master by Coim Toibin and The Cloud Atlas, both shortlisted.   It's fair to say that Hollinghurst is the "best" writer on the gay life (for well-educated, if not necessarily wealthy white guys) in the UK.  He's shown some progress in this area in his recent novel, The Sparsholt Affair, which departs from the "Sloane Ranger" milieu in terms of time and place, but The Line of Beauty represents an apogee of this highly succesful period in Hollinghurst's career, where he ascended to the heights of literary fame, at least in the UK, on the strength of his smartly constructed portraits of modern gay life in the UK.

  Compared to his earlier books, The Line of Beauty is an epic- 400 pages in the UK edition paperback I found in the little library.  It tells the story of Nick Guest, an upwardly mobile gay university graduate who attaches himself to the troubled household of a rising conservative MP Gerald Fedden via his son and Nick's Oxford classmate, Toby.   Told in three parts: 1983, 1986 and 1987, it covers the triumph of the Thatcher era conservative party- with a cameo by "The Lady" herself, and the consequences: notably AIDS and public scandal.  Cocaine and gay sex are prevalent: Don't call Hollinghurst and English prude!

   There is a little diversity in the characters of Nick's lovers- Leo, a black guy who lives with his Church going mother, and Wani, the urbane, sophisticated son of a Lebanese millionaire who made his money "combining the grocery store with the corner store" and prominent conservative donor.  Wani is also closeted, complete with a "fiance" on the payroll of his mother, and Wani and Nick spend most of the book snorting cocaine and fucking in the bathroom.  So, I guess it's a satire, at least that is what people seem to think, like the comedy category at the Emmy's, I think sometimes satire is a category for drama that makes the viewer especially outrageous through the unconventional behavior of the characters, and The Line of Beauty is that no doubt.

  The Line of Beauty replaces The Light of Day by Graham Swift- which was not his Booker Prize winner (Last Orders 1996) and represents a conventional updating of priorities in terms of viewpoint diversity.

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