Monthly Archives: December 2009

Excerpts from Legends Of The Fall

This is actually a triptych of novellas, of which the title novella is the last, by Jim Harrison.  It is the second-best in the collection, in my opinion.  But that’s not saying all that much.  I was thoroughly underwhelmed.  Enough so that I quite wading through The Man Who Gave Up His Name about halfway.  Revenge was a pretty prosaic looking at vendetta, and the title novella was of interest primarily because of the movie.

The movie is probably better.

I remember liking the movie pretty well when it came out.  I’d have to watch it again, but this could be one of those very rare cases when the movie is better than the book.

Having said that, there were a couple sections worth dog-earing.

From The Legends of The Fall:

Oddly, and like many men compelled to adventure with no interest in adventure but only a restlessness of the body and spirit , Tristan did not see anything particularly extraordinary about his past seven years.  But he had an extravagantly accurate idea of what the table wanted to hear so he talked on for his father.

From Revenge:

Many old men in Culiacan still spoke of his father and despite Tibey’s great wealth they did not give him remotely equal honor.  Tibey, shrewd as he was, owned an idealistic streak and dreamed in his youth of leading some preposterous insurrection.  He lived as a victim, albeit prosperous, of those dreams he built at age nineteen when all of us reach our zenith of idealistic nonsense.  Nineteen is the age of the perfect foot soldier who will die without a murmur, his heart aflame with patriotism.  Nineteen is the age at which the brain of a nascent poet in his rented room soars the highest, suffering gladly the assault of what he thinks is the god in him.  Nineteen is the last year that a young woman will marry purely for love.  And so on.  Dreams are soul chasers, and forty years later Tibey was feeling cornered.

Kris Kristofferson is awesome and sings my new favorite song

Thanks to the wonders of the radio button on GrooveShark, I have become acquainted with Kris Kristofferson who, unbeknownst to me until very recently, actually wrote a whole bevy of really great country songs.  He sang plenty, too, including “The Best Of All Possible Worlds”, my new favorite song.

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By the way, he is also awesome.  In his early life, besides turning down a gig at West Point being a professor of literature (after he got done being a Rhodes Scholar and doing a tour in Vietnam, mind you), he also landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn to bring him a song he wrote, which, as it turns out, happens to be one of the best country songs ever.

Excerpts from The Pornographer

Some highlights from The Pornographer, the second-best book I read in 2009, by Irish writer  John McGahern.

John McGahern

If you haven’t read this, you should put down whatever else you’ve got to hand and get to it.  Myself, I plan on reading up on the man’s oeuvre at first  chance.

The womb and the grave … The christening party becomes the funeral, the shudder that makes us flesh becomes the shudder that makes us meat.  They say that it is the religious instinct that makes us seek the relationships and laws in things.  And in between there is time and work, as passing time, and killing time, and lessening time that’d lessen anyhow, such as this going to the dance.


For long I had limped by without energy, accepting what I’d been given, taking what I could get — deprived of any idea outside the immediate need of the day.  Once the sensual beat had carried me on, careless of reason.  Now I wanted to pause and turn and pause and stare and pause and idiotically smile.


I had now visited my aunt so often and so regularly in the hospital that the visits had come to resemble those she was so well used to among relatives on Sundays in the country.  Cars pull up outside.  Apologies and cautious smiles ease themselves out of front seats.  A child slams a back door. Having first discerned who has landed from the cover of the back of the living-room, smiles of surprise and delight are wreathed into shape ont he doorstep of the porch.  Little runs and thrills and pats and chortles go to answer on another, till all hesitant discordant notes are lost in the sweet medley of hypocrisy.  Tea is made.  After tea, with folded arms, outside on a good day, the men discuss their present plans for rebuilding Troy with suitably measured gestures.  The visit ends as it began, relief breaking through the trills of thanks and promises and small playful scolds, “And now, be sure and don’t let it be as long until  you come again.  We’ll think bad of you.  Now it’s your turn to visit us next time, you’ve been just promising for far too long.”  And then each family settles down to a solid hour of criticism of the other, the boring visit ended.


“It’s all right.  We can go ahead,” the undertaker said.  He drew back the sheet.  Silently we took hold of her and lifted her from the bed.  Her lightness amazed me, like a starved bird.  The undertaker arranged her head on the small pillow, and looked at us in turn, and when we nodded he put the lid in place, turning the silver screws that were in the shapes of crosses.  There was a brown stain in the centre of the snow-white undersheet where she had lain.

The superstitious, the poetic, the religious are all made safe within the social, given a tangible form.  The darkness is pushed out.  All things become interrelated.  We learn sequence and precedence, shutting out the larger anxiety of the darkness.  There’s nothing can be done about it.  There’s good form and bad form.  All is outside.


“O you’re some lover, I tell you.  But fortunately I know you.  Blacken day with night.  Tell the nodding plants they’ll grow just as well in shade as sun.  It’s all in the sweet quality of the mind, so forget the fucking circumstances, brother.”

The rain had started, the powerful wiper sweeping it imperiously aside as soon as it spotted the shining arcs, sweeping and sweeping.

“You’ve have seen me if you had been paying attention,” she’d once said to me, the night she came towards me across the floor of the Metropole.  By not attending, by thinking any one thing was as worth doing as any other, by sleeping with anybody who’d agree, I had been the cause of as much pain and confusion and evil as if I had actively set out to do it.  I had not attended properly.  I had found the energy to choose too painful.  Broken in love, I had turned back, let the light of imagination almost out.  Now my hands were ice.

We had to leave the road of reason because we needed to go farther.  Not to have a reason is a greater reason still to follow the instinct for the true, to follow it with all the force we have, in all the seeing and final blindness.

Reading for 2010

I’ve started using the tasks link in gmail to jot down books I’d like to read.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.  Also included are books on my Kindle that have been languishing and need some eyeballing.

Any you think I should add to the list?

Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry
V, Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow, ditto
Everyman, Philip Roth
Portnoy’s Complaint, ditto
The Williamsburg Triology, Daniel Fuchs
something by Liam O’Flaherty
more by John McGahern
Morte d’Urban, by JF Powers
Straw Dogs, John Gray
Anathem, Neal Stephenson
Cryptonomicon, ditto
Snow Crash, ditto
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Haruki Murakami
The Kindly Ones, Jonathon Littel
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower
A Gate At The Stairs, Lorrie Moore
Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon
Mistah, Norman Savage
The Beautiful & The Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Defence, Vladimir Nabokov
Look At the Harlequins!, Nabokov (re-read)
The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (half-finished)
Fathers & Sons, Ivan Turgenev
Out of Control, Kevin Kelly (just started)
The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset (half-finished)
A Room With A View, E.M. Forster
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
Nabokov: The American Years, Brian Boyd
The Possibility of an Island, Michel Houellebecq
The Monkeywrench Gang, Edward Abbey
2666, Roberto Bolano
something by Jack Matthews

UPDATE: On Facebook, Marc Horne brought up Michel Houellebecq.  Added.  Thanks, Marc.

UPDATE 2: Robert Nagle suggests I adds some Jack Matthews to the list.  Done.

My Best of 2009

If you’d like to know what a heavy-duty year in reading looks like, head over to the indefatigable Brad Green’s for a list that will knock your socks off.  Donigan Merritt has also gotten into the act, as has Tom Conoboy.

The best book I read in 2009 was Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens.  A morality tale for the ages.  (See my review.)

A close second was The Pornographer, by John McGahern.  This writer is for some reason quite obscure in America.  I can’t understand why.  Read The Pornographer, and you’ll be scratching your head, too.  I won’t be doing a full-blown review on this one, I don’t think, but I will post some excerpts .

In third was the thoroughly enjoyable romp Tokyo Zero, by Mark Horne.  (See my review.)  This “fat-tailed ebook” is a single-handed argument for owning an e-reader.

The best book I re-read was Bend Sinister, by Vladimir Nabokov.

Best nonfiction was a tie between Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams (by Paul Hemphill) and Nabokov: The Russian Years, by Brian Boyd.

Biggest disappointment is a three-way tie between Sanctuary, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and A Good Day To Die.  I’d been looking forward to Sanctuary, by my hero William Faulkner, and Their Eyes, by Zora Neale Hurston, for months.  They were the first two books I planned to read once we got to the USA in March and I would have access to them.  Some plan.  Couldn’t get past the first chapter with either.  And how can a book called with a title as awesome as A Good Day To Die and a quotable quote in the first 30 pages turn out to be so boring I quit halfway through?  I don’t know how, exactly, but I wouldn’t suggest picking this slim tome up to find out for yourself.

“Honorable” mention for disappointments: Give Us A Kiss, by Daniel Woodrell.  I’d been led to believe this book was Cormac McCarthy meets Dashiell Hammet.  It wasn’t.  (Probably it is debatable whether that would even be a good thing. )

The novel is done

Put the manuscript through its final paces last night. It was two continents and two years in the making.  It’s 89,560 words and it’s done.

Next step: have a whisky or two to commemorate.

After that: begin the slog of getting it out into the world.


Straightaway after graduating from college, I spent a month in Hawaii trying to surf.  Emphasis on the “try” – I did way more flailing than surfing.  I did get to see some killer waves up close and personal, though, paddling out into the surf after a friend of mine, a fairly accomplished surfer, Hawaiian-born and raised.  I was born in Montana and raised on a farm in western Nebraska.  I had no business being out in 5-foot Hawaiian swells, none whatsoever.

I’m a pretty strong swimmer, but Hawaiian waves don’t care if you’re a strong swimmer.  I came very close to drowning at least twice, and got plenty pummeled the rest of the time, fighting for oxygen and the primal fear of tons of rushing saltwater.  It was sublime.

Naturally I’ve been fascinated by surfing ever since.  From a distance.

So multiply those waves by 4 and you’ve got the waves at the Eddie Aikau surfing competition recently held at Oahu’s Waimea Beach.  It was the first time in 5 years the waves have been big enough for these psychopaths.  Killer.

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You might want to turn down the volume so as not to be subjected to the music.  Spotted at The Awl.