Motherless Brooklyn

I’m seduced by the first sentence, as always. Only this leads me further into seduction, with the first few sentences drunkening me to love this work:
“Context is everthing. Dress me up and see. I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster. I’ve got Tourette’s. My mouth won’t quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I’m reading aloud, my Adam’s apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek, the noise suppressed, the words escaping silently, mere ghosts of themselves, husks empty of breath and tone. (If I were a Dick Tracy villain, I’d have to be Mumbles.)”
Now finished and I loved it all the way through. EatmeBailey!
Lionel Essrog has Tourette’s, and likens everything to the disease. Wheels within wheels. Frank Minna the neighborhood hood, loosely connected to the mob, who grabs the 4 white boys from the orphan home and makes them into Minna Men. Frank gets killed while Lionel is providing backup, listening to the bugged conversations, and Lionel goes on a mad search for the killer, the giant. The author tips his hat to Ross MacDonald toward the end, but I’d have to say that Ross never made me laugh like Lethem did. Good writing, good story, what’s not to like?

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American Vertigo

Rambling observations from the Frenchie on the US, following the example of Democracy in America. His thoughts on San Francisco only covering the Power Exchange and the inherent contradiction of “The Castro” being named after Fidel when it’s the gay capital. Alcatraz also detailed, by way of a boat ride where his guides only focus on the non-escapability of the island. Berkeley touched on via mention of’s founders residing there and creating the idea for MoveOn out of the Clinton/Lewinsky-gate. The 2 cities where he admits he could move: Seattle and Savannah. He rails against the museumification of everything– the fake history of Cooperstown, the fake Indian graves in the west. The cop who let him go (public lingering) after hearing about his quest to follow Tocqueville.
Hard to read, but was this a function of the fact that Levy wrote the book twice– once in French and once in English?
Heard about this one from Moira Gunn’s podcast interview with Levy, where they flirted merciliessly and she promised to teach him to drive (he got driven around the country– pshaw!).

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Meet You In Hell

Historical lookback at the partnership of Carnegie Steel and Frick Coke. Paints both men as ruthless businessmen with outside interests (Carnegie’s interest in giving away his massive wealth, Frick’s art interest which survives today in the Frick gallery in NYC). Quite a few chapters focused on the Homestead strike where Frick brought in 200 Pinkerton men to protect the plant, and the striking workers engaged in battle. This strained relations between the men, since Carnegie felt it was too much violence– that they should have just closed the plant and waited. The final blow between the two occurred when Frick came to Carnegie with a false offer to purchase Carnegie Steel, which Frick would profit $5M by for finders fee. Carnegie eventually sold to JP Morgan, and the combined company became US Steel.

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Pattern Recognition

Somewhat gripping tale of Cayce Pollard’s journey to London, Tokyo, Moscow and beyond, unravelling the mystery behind the footage (video footage released in pieces on the Internet, by an unknown director, of unknown actors, in unknown locations). Cayce’s unhealthy reactions to certain logos and symbols (Michellin Man, Prada).
The notion that the soul catches up with the body days later after long plane flights still sticks with me. Soul-less bodies wandering around.

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Bukowski on Writing

“I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer. I did most of my reading at the downtown L.A. Public Library, and nothing that I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me. It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on. It was a comfortable contrivance, a very slick and careful Word-Culture. One had to go back to the pre-Revolution writers of Russia to find any gamble, any passion. I pulled book after book from the shelves. Why didn’t anybody say something? Why didn’t anybody scream out? I tried other rooms in the library. The section on Religion was just a vast bog to me. I got into Philosophy. I found a couple of bitter Germans who cheered me for a while, then that was over. I tried Mathematics but upper Maths was just like Religion: it ran right off me. What I needed seemed to be absent everywhere. I saw quite a number of other bums in there, most of them asleep on top of their books. I kept on walking around the big room, pulling the books off the shelves, reading a few lines, a few pages, then putting them back. Then one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was. I stood for a moment, reading. Then like a man who had found gold in the city dump, I carried the book to a table. The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me. I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing. The book was Ask the Dust and the author was John Fante.”
– Charles Bukowski

To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever

The last chapters of this left me with a worse impression of the book than the rest of it– good sportswriting overall, but why weave in so much maudlin father-son stuff? Also enjoyable recounting of Southern life, Bojangles, BBQ, the cynicism underlying all that southern sweet talk. Blythe (a TarHeel) naturally gives a lot more attention to life on the UNC side, but as promised, it does have occasional unbiased info on Duke. Melvin Scott and his Baltimore crew get a lot of attention (not sure why?!). Lucky for Blythe, he picks the year UNC wins the NCAA championship (2005) to conduct his research on the rivalry.

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Looking for Alaska

For some reason, this is also classified as a “Teen” book– I guess because the main characters are all juniors in a high school boarding school in Alabama. Well-written, broken into 2 halves “Before” and “After”, with each subsection denoted by days before or days after the big event. Pudge, Alaska, the Colonel, Lana, Takumi all part of the prank crew at the school, drinking smoking screwing etc. Pudge’s obsession with memorizing famous Last Words. (Rabelais: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Simon Bolivar (allegedly, according to Gabriel Garcia Marquez): “Damn it. How will i ever get out of this labryinth!”)
Recommended by Ellen

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The Shadow of the Sun

Published in Poland as Heban, this version was translated by Klara Glowczewska. Kapuscinski is a Polish journalist who spent 4 decades reporting on Africa. This is a collection of his thoughts and stories from that time. As I am dripping with sweat and feeling like a foolish gringo in the tropical heat of Belize, the stories ring true; the importance of shade, how people just shut down as they are waiting waiting eternally waiting for something to happen, how weak the Europeans are in the African climate. The concept of one Africa laughable, as there are thousands of tribes and clans within the arbitrary nation boundaries carved out by European powers. Adventures throughout the continent, from Ruwanda to Mauritana to Uganda. Places I’ve never dreamed of. Lying on mats in the choking heat of a clay hut. The beauty of dawn and dusk as the sun fades away. How life stops at noon and everyone lies still. The concept of community and no one being an individual but part of a bigger whole; sharing what you have; giving gifts and the obligation to reciprocate. The prolonged greetings– clapping each other and laughing. One meal per day, if lucky. Greedy government powers and the extreme gap between their riches and the poverty everywhere else.

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Liar’s Poker

Decent work by Lewis, but nowhere near as engaging as Moneyball. Maybe it would have been better if not a beach read; I’ve been devouring books beachside in Belize and this wasn’t quite the pageturner I was looking for. But good nonetheless.
“Alexander insisted at our farewell dinner that I was making a great move. The best decisions he has made in his life, he said, were completely unexpected, the ones that cut against convention. Then he went even farther. He said that every decision he has forced himself to make because it was unexpected has been a good one. It was refreshing to hear a case for unpredictability in this age of careful career planning. It would be nice if it were true.””

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