Friday, May 29, 2009


Tin House #38

The Club Dumas, Perez-Reverte. The book that became The 9th Gate.

Richard III, Norton Critical Edition.

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Potocki.

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second; The History of Henry the Fourth; The Second Part of Henry the Fourth; The Life of Henry the Fifth; The First Part of Henry the Sixth; The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster (2 Henry VI); The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (3 Henry VI). The Norton Shakespeare. Good vacation reading.

The Fall of Carthage, Goldsworthy.

Dido, Queen of Carthage; Edward the Second; Tamburlaine The Great, Parts 1 and 2. Marlowe, Penguin Classics. Equally good reading on the, er, second vacation.

Eclipse, John Shirley.

The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot: His Wonderful Love and His Terrible Hatred, Vallgren.

Respected Sir, Mahfouz.

Almost Transparent Blue, Murakami. Pointless junkie-narrative.

The Wrestler's Cruel Study, Dobyns.

American Psycho, Ellis. This was as much a delight to read, having seen the film, as Fight Club was a disappointment.

No Limits, No Control

Jarmusch's latest is a throwback to his early, pre-Ghost Dog days. You remember -- back when his films were worth watching.

Sure, it's a two-hour meander, following an uncommunicative character around Spain in a series of amusingly repetitive spy-movie encounters. Plot and character are superfluous: one gets the impression that Jarmusch is speaking directly to the audience through the various set-pieces, rather than trying to capture an elusive mood or idea.

What violence and crime (or is it politics?) there is remains completely stylized. And not stylized in an unconvincing, "I've never seen a real fight" Fassbinder way. Stylized in a "you get the idea, we don't need to show it" way.

Slow. Pointless. Clever. Enjoyable.

* * * R A T I N G * * *

The Limits of Control (IMDB)

Wince : [**___]
Flinch : [*____]
Retch : [*____]
Gape : [***__]

Beerequisite : [*____]
Pornability : [***__]
Obscurity : [*____]
Explicability : [**___]

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


n+1 #7

The Death of Virgil, Broch. Covered elsewhere.

The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club, Slavin. Surprisingly dull and unsurprising stories, given the subject matter.

The End of Mr Y, Thomas. This one really sounds like a fun ride: a cursed book whose readers die mysteriously, dimensional travel, communication with spirits and the afterlife, a literary mystery. So why is it such a horrible read? It just comes across as unconvincing. Even quite-probable details like the promiscuity of the main character come across as tales told by a chronic liar, when handled by this author. And the giant mouse spirit guide who's kept alive by a group of schoolkids running a webpage -- come on, that's just silly.

Vital Speeches of the Day, Jan '09, Feb '09

Emerson: Mind On Fire, Richardson. A mighty tome, containing everything there is to know about the life of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Lapham's Quarterly, Vol 1 #3: "Book of Nature"

The Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral, Francis Bacon.

Anthony and Cleopatra, The Oxford Shakespeare.

Time Famine, Olsen. Quite disappointing, given how long I've been trying to find a copy of this book. Perhaps I should have read it when it came out back in the 90s, before I got critical of writing styles where every noun has its adjective (if not a family of them), where descriptive sentences tend toward the comma-delimited run-on, and where the generally fun use of proper nouns as adjectives becomes redundant, even oppressive.

Autobiography and Other Writings, Benjamin Franklin (Oxford)

Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman.

The Atlas, Vollmann. Essays of travels to the third world (and, uh, San Francisco) that would be much more enjoyable if Vollman could either go all the way with his attempts at stream-of-consciousness, or abandon it altogether. And if the subject of every story wasn't in some way or other about Vollman getting laid, trying to get laid, or failing to get laid. The only thing more disturbing than the number of times he tells a woman with whom he shares no common language "I love you" is that he may be simple enough to believe it himself.

Lapham's Quarterly, Vol 2 #1: "Eros"

The Tempest, Norton Critical Edition.


Ah yes, the vagina dentata. Feared foe of virile young men since... some time ago when they spoke Latin.

The story is straightforward, as one would expect: girl is born with two sets of teeth, reaches adolescence, and every boy with less than pure intentions gets emasculated with extreme prejudice. Yawn.

Good script, good visuals, and some jabs at abstinence-only education end up making this film a lot more enjoyable than it would seem. The vagina dentata itself does not, alas, make an on-screen appearance, which is a bit disturbing given the number of dismembered members bouncing around the floor, but understandable once the director has explained that his mentor was Camille Paglia.

* * * R A T I N G * * *

Teeth (IMDB)

Wince : [***__]
Flinch : [****_]
Retch : [***__]
Gape : [**___]

Beerequisite : [*****]
Pornability : [**___]
Obscurity : [**___]
Explicability : [****_]


A cab driver obsessively records his sightings of a hallucinatory woman, who he ends up having sex with, and who turns out to be his own mind, the (truly) inexplicable result of his mother having drunken sex with him and then killing herself. This (the sex with the woman, that is, his own mind) pisses off the guardians of the galaxy (or dimension or plane or whatnot), ostensibly because he is not facing his trauma (but is instead shagging it?), so they start killing off his friends/acquaintances/former employers in order to make him "face his trauma" (this is the only clear part, as it is repeated ad nauseum towards the end), which he does at the end (by remembering his mom having sex with him) just in time to save his ex-girlfriend, patch up his relationship with her, and mail off his manuscript (which is undoubtedly the screenplay for the film).

That about sums it up. The film starts off well, good psychosexual-thriller or whatever it calls itself, but unravels horribly when it attempts to explain what is going on. Everything but the kitchen sink gets thrown in by the end, in an apparent attempt to impress the viewer with the sheer number of concepts introduced. Tough to imagine the chemical cocktail that drove this screenplay, though the tendency of each scene to ignore the entire rest of the movie argues against anything they give the kids for ADD.

* * * R A T I N G * * *

Mindflesh (IMDB)

Wince : [*****]
Flinch : [***__]
Retch : [***__]
Gape : [*****]

Beerequisite : [********...there's not enough beer in the world.
Pornability : [****_]
Obscurity : [****_]
Explicability : [**___]

Notable visuals: Maggot crotch.

Goodbye, Dragon Inn

When a director like Ming-liang Tsai produces a personal ode to the bygone days of theatergoing, you know you're in for a long, slow ride -- and Goodbye, Dragon Inn does not disappoint.

It's hard to describe this film as bad: it is beautifully shot, well-acted, and exudes quality craftsmanship. At the same time, it is pretentious garbage: nothing happens, there is no real story, it is entirely a mood piece. The first line of dialog is about 45 minutes into the film, and the end features an overlong (roughly 10 minutes) shot of the empty movie theater. The film is hard to love, and hard to hate.

The DVD, however, has a nice extra: The Skywalk Is Gone, which serves to link What Time Is It There and The Wayward Cloud (including the audition of Hsiao-kang for his first porn film).

* * * R A T I N G * * *

Bu San (IMDB)

Wince : [*____]
Flinch : [_____]
Retch : [*____]
Gape : [**___]

Beerequisite : [**___]
Pornability : [_____]
Obscurity : [***__]
Explicability : [*____]

Best running gag: The unlit cigarette.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ben Franklin, dolphin eater

Friday, Sept. 2.
This morning the wind changed; a little fair. We caught a couple of dolphins, and fried them for dinner. They eat indifferent well.
Wednesday, Sept. 7.
The wind is somewhat abated, but the sea is very high still. A dolphin kept us company all this afternoon; we struck at him several times, but could not take him.

Friday, Sept. 9.
This afternoon we took four large dolphins, three with a hook and line, and the fourth we struck with a fizgig. The bait was a candle with two feathers stuck in it, one on each side, in imitation of a flying-fish, which are the common prey of the dolphins. They appeared extremely eager and hungry, and snapped up the hook as soon as ever it touched the water. When we came to open them, we found in the belly of one a small dolphin, half digested. Certainly they were half-famished, or are naturally very savage, to devour those of their own species.
Saturday, Sept. 10.
This day we dined upon the dollphins we caught yesterday, three of them sufficing the whole ship, being twenty-one persons.

Ben Franklin's Journal: Voyage

Friday, January 30, 2009

Death of Virgil

It would be remiss not to devote an entire post to a book that took nearly a year to finish.

The work in question is Herman Broch's The Death of Virgil, which is much less a novel than it is a weapon of last resort developed in concentration camps for use against the Nazis.

The book is written in stream of consciousness fashion -- think Finnegan's Wake with half the cleverness and twice the pretension. Bosch attempts to capture the complexity of a classical symphony in language: recurring themes, exaggeration of tempo, and so forth. What this boils down to are highly repetitive sentences of amazing length -- some so many pages long that they have to be broken up arbitrarily into paragraphs, probably due to some publisher's equivalent of the Geneva Conventions.

It is this grandiose goal which proves the downfall of the novel, for it has quite good things to say about the nature of art, the duty of the artist, and the philosophy of death, as it were. Barring the exceedingly distracting hallucinatory episodes, there is a compelling portrait of Virgil and his times. With some restraint, either limiting the too-clever-by-half use of language, or leaving it to another (hopefully shorter) work, this could have been quite a powerful novel.

In the end, it is a prime candidate for the Emersonian technique: skim the book lightly and quickly, letting your eyes discover for themselves what they may, rather than attempting any deep or thorough immersion in the text.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy, Honan. Good, but a bit too academic for the casual reader.

Nothing Like The Sun, Burgess. Shakespeare considered as a protagonist. Enjoyable, especially in tandem with the above.

Electric Church, Somers. Truly painfully-written first novel in the cyberpunk vein; I damn near developed a tic in the first chapter, I was wincing so often. Good idea-fiction, though, and by the end of the novel I was enjoying myself immensely.

Tin House #37

On Writing, King. A short biography and a short reminisce on the trade of writing by the only man who can be said to truly understand it. Highly, highly recommended, and not just for aspiring writers.

Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, Home. I generally like Stewart Home and his de Sade style of porno-philosophic writing: Red London, Slow Death, and 69 Things To Do With a Dead Princess were all excellent. Down and Out, with its Orwell-inspired title (but not theme, unfortunately), was quite a disappointment.

In Praise of Folly, Erasmus. I can't recall what made me read this again, but it was mostly as bad as the first time. There are 10 or 20 good pages about 50 pages in, but for the most part it is only of historical (read: academic) interest.

The Moon and Sixpence, Maugham. One of the best books there is about a misanthrope.

The Productive Programmer, Ford. Tips on being a more productive programmer. If you need to read it, then you definitely should.