Literary Passings: Denis Johnson (Jesus’ Son)

All Denis Johnson books here. 

From this obit:

Denis Hale Johnson was born on July 1, 1949, in Munich. His father, Alfred, worked for the United States Information Agency and was variously posted to Manila, Tokyo and Washington. His mother, the former Vera Louise Childress, was a homemaker.

Mr. Johnson, who studied under the minimalist writer Raymond Carver at the University of Iowa, counted Dr. Seuss, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot and the guitar solos of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix among his influences, primarily for poetry.

He was sensitive to the “language of people jammed together, like in the military and prisons,” he told the Santa Monica radio station KCRW’s “Bookworm” podcast.

 

 

 

The Debunkers: Pro-Science, Anti-Mystical Resources

Bending spoons with your mind. ESP, ouija boards, telekinesis, psychic surgery, and alien artifacts. These are some of the magical beliefs that some people claim have been ” proved.”

Ahem.  I started thinking about this the other day when I saw this article in Slate featuring the Amazing Randi –  the original Mythbuster. Randi was a professional stage magician who delighted in exposing frauds such as psychic spoon-bending Uri Geller.

Following in the footsteps of the Amazing Randi were several pro-science, anti-magical thinking public figures.

Here are some further resources for you:

Skeptical Inquirer.

Featured Author: Abraham Verghese, Medical Nonfiction Writer

All Abraham Verghese books here.

I first became aware of Abraham Verghese through his best-selling book, My Own Country, which chronicled the AIDS epidemic in a small Tennessee city (which also happens to be my hometown). Dr. Verghese wrote the book based on his own experiences, and I can tell you that it is completely accurate.

Since then, Dr. Verghese has gone on to write nonfiction about losing a tennis partner to addiction as well as fiction. Dr. Verghese currently works at Stanford University.

Read more in this biography

 

Passings: Robert Pirsig (Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance)

Link to this obituary:

Robert M. Pirsig, whose novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” became a million-selling classic after more than 100 publishers turned it down, has died.

Pirsig’s publishing house, William Morrow, announced that he died Monday at his home in South Benwick, Maine. He was 88 and had been in failing health.

“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was published in 1974 and was based on a motorcycle trip Pirsig took in the late 1960s with his son, Chris. The book was praised as a unique and masterful blend of narrative and philosophy and was compared by a New Yorker critic to “Moby Dick.” Pirsig, a native of Minneapolis, also wrote “Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.”

All Pirsig books here.

Featured Author: Jim Thompson (The Grifters, The Getaway)

All Jim Thompson books here

Jim Thompson wrote a lot of dark crime thrillers set in the southwest.  They are classic American noir: doomed characters, cheap hotels, lonely towns – the works.  Since you are living in San Marcos, you should know that one of his most famous novels – The Getaway – was made into a classic film that was partially filled right here in San Marcos!

From Contemporary Popular Writers

The Getaway (1959) provides a telling example of just how Thompson can alter the boundaries of normal crime fiction; it begins as a relatively orthodox big caper novel about the usual daring and capable crook who plans a perfect crime that inevitably goes awry. He takes the premise much further, however, when the criminal mastermind, Doc, must escape by, among other difficulties, being buried alive and tunneling through excrement–a characteristic Thompson touch–before ending up at the perfect hideout, an expensive resort designed especially for crooks on the lam. Once there, however, Doc realizes that he has descended into a version of Hell itself, truly a last resort.

Some of Thompson’s titles, like A Swell-Looking Babe (1954) and A Hell of a Woman (1954), suggest the rather quaint raciness and directness of his pulp antecedents; others, like The Killer inside Me (1952) and The Nothing Man (1954), neatly sum up the perversity and emptiness of his vision. Like the later Pop. 1280 (1964), which it resembles in plot, narrator, and murder-by-murder progression, The Killer inside Me details the virtually motiveless violence of a pure psychopath, a man who is almost beautiful in his entirely conscious, unsullied madness. The narrator-protagonist, Deputy Lou Ford, beats women for his (and sometimes their) sexual pleasure, commits a series of brutal murders, and, most horribly, enjoys conversing in a series of exaggeratedly idiotic platitudes that mock his listeners, readers, and perhaps even himself. His thoroughly insincere harangue about sending black people back to Africa, as well as his reiteration of sentiments about clouds with silver linings, heat and humidity, rain bringing rainbows, and so forth, betray his cunning madness and his wholesale hatred better than all his terrible violence. Even worse than the banality of evil, for Thompson, is the conscious banality of its utterance.

Extending its despair even further than The Killer inside Me, The Nothing Man may serve as the best example of Thompson’s vaunted nihilism. Its protagonist, a newspaperman named Clinton Brown, who talks occasionally like Lou Ford, has suffered essentially the same war wound as Jake Barnes; his lack of a penis defines his nothingness and impels him to destruction. He drinks, scorns, hurts, and kills, but is so much a nothing man that he cannot even get himself blamed for the crimes he commits; his doom is to continue his life as a nothing man.

Although his style often breaks down into the mixture of urgent pacing and heavy facetiousness of too many pulp writers, and his dialogue seems less acceptable than his narration, Thompson’s characters, actions, and themes underline the originality of his achievement. Within a narrow and violent world his work attains a special and most disturbing originality; some of his peers write better, but none, like it or not, attains so bleak a vision of human emptiness.

Featured Author: Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)

All Martin McDonagh Books and films here.

Did you enjoy the film In Bruges? Discover the world of Martin McDonagh.

From this interview

Thinking about being Irish only came into my life when I decided to write Irish plays. Before that I tried to write a few re-workings of Irish fairy tales, or myths I’d heard growing up. But none of them were specifically Irish at that point. The whole history of Irish storytelling didn’t really come into it, and has only come into it in the last two or three years. So I couldn’t say that it had any kind of influence at all. It’s interesting when I hear it said about the stuff I do, but honestly I couldn’t say there is an awful lot of truth in it. If I was Italian or Luxemburgian, they would be the same stories. It depends on the way you see the world, to me anyway, more than the way you’ve been brought up or your history of storytelling. I suppose most of my storytelling influences weren’t Irish, they were mostly American films. Novel-wise, and short-story-wise, mostly American or, like Borges, South American. I didn’t read many Irish books or short stories when I was younger, I read what my brother had, and they were mostly American books. So Irish stuff didn’t have any kind of influence really, certainly not when I was growing up. Now it’s become a bit more clearly defined, but even now, I’m more aware of the idea of Irish storytelling, the tradition, but I still haven’t studied it or taken enough time out to actually see what it’s all about. Although I am interested in the general myth of the Irish storyteller and I’ve just finished the third play in the trilogy that begins with The Cripple of Inishmaan. It isn’t as good as the other two but it’s all about the Irish storytellers, the seanchais. I find it interesting to play around with that from a fictional point of view. And it’s interesting to play around with it. Now that I am an Irish storyteller, I’ve told Irish stories. It’s interesting to come back and see things with that perspective, knowing that there were Irish storytellers in the countryside telling the myths, the stories, the legends. I think that was the spark that gave me the idea for The Banshees of Inisheer. But it would be phony of me to say I have anything to do with Irish storytelling. The plays are Irish stories, and I hope someday they’ll be recognized as Irish stories . . . But for me, now, I feel kind of phony. Maybe I’m just having a bad morning. I hope someday they’ll be regarded as true Irish stories, I don’t think they are at this minute. It will take a long time for the baggage of me being a Londoner to be in the past.

Discover Robert Aickman, Suspense Writer

All Robert Aickman books here.

Robert Aickman was a master of the “strange story.” His style is related to MR James and the ghost stories of Henry James, but Aickman has his own voice. Enigma, vibe and alienation are some of his hallmarks.

Literature Resource Center sums up one Aickman story:

In “The Inner Room,” collected in Sub Rosa (1968), a woman narrates the story of an incident from her early childhood in a struggling family that later splits apart. She receives as a birthday gift an enormous dollhouse that contains a mysteriously inaccessible inner room. Later in life, she visits what is apparently the actual house on which the dollhouse was modeled and comes close to discovering a nameless horror in the inner room, which signifies the hidden life of dream–or rather dream as reality, which creates emotional peril when repressed.

Staff Picks: Matt Taibbi, Financial Journalist for Rolling Stone

All Matt Taibbi.books herre.

Matt Taibbi makes the world of finance and Wall Street accessible, profane and funny.

Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia is a good place to start to understand how many believe that derivatives and lack of regulation is damaging our financial system. Especially if you like your economic explanations to come with four letter words.

Taibbi – a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone – chronicles our national transition into a casino, where financialization of the economy takes precedence over allocating capital and actual work.

The result? Higher prices for food and oil, government officials paid to look the other way, and a towering edifice of credit and collateral debt swaps supported by a tiny amount of actual capital.

(By the way, that real capital has been sold and leased a hundred times over, so real ownership is unclear at best).

Features a great chapter that explains collateral debt swaps, and the musical chairs aspect of this form of financial insurance.

There’s also a chapter about the ideology of the elite, and its growing influence in what is supposed to be a democracy under rule of law.

Highly recommended.

Featured Author: Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash)

All Neal Stephenson books.

Futurist and groundbreaking author focusing on what we now call the net, computer viruses, globalization, and virtual reality.

Review/plot of Snow Crash (Hoo-boy, this isn’t for everyone!):

In Neal Stephenson’s cyberspace, called the Metaverse, the 120 million richest people in the world conduct their pleasure and business blithely unaware that L. Bob Rife, the owner of the fiber-optic network they all use, is plotting their domination. Meanwhile, Hiro Protagonist, a hacker who wrote some of the earliest software for the Metaverse, prowls about looking for intelligence to sell in an information-overloaded age. Hiro has a debt to pay: He owes the Mafia-run CosaNostra, the twenty-first century version of Domino’s Pizza, the cost of a new delivery car. Before he can repay his debt, he is swept up into a larger adventure. At the urging of his still-intriguing former lover Juanita, he begins investigating a new drug, Snow Crash, that has rendered his former partner, Da5id, brain dead. The ominous part about Snow Crash is that it affects the brain when administered in the Metaverse; in a twist on the typical relationship, the virtual determines the real.

With the help of Y.T., a Kourier who meets Hiro on the fateful night he wrecks his car, Protagonist steps on the trail of Snow Crash in both real and virtual life. In the former, he traces the path of Raven, an atomic-bomb-toting Aleut who seems to be the source of Snow Crash. In the latter, he employs a nearly omniscient virtual librarian to investigate the drug’s extensive history. He discovers that Snow Crash is not a drug at all but a modern manifestation of an ancient metavirus that provides access to deep structures in the brain that control individuals. Prior to the fall of Babel, all people spoke a language that used this infrastructure and thus lived in a static culture. The Sumerian priest Enki released humanity from the metavirus by uttering an incantation, or nam-shub, that reprogrammed the brain so that people could no longer understand the deep language. Consequently, multiple languages developed.