What are you reading?

This topic contains 530 replies, has 60 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 1 month, 3 weeks ago.

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  • 12 Mar 2017 at 8:35 am #8908

    Richard L.

    Thanks for that, Rick.

    This incarnation of this thread (and this incarnation of this forum) is coming up on its fifth anniversary. Frankly I’m amazed that I’m still here when so many others have gone. Amazed and grateful, I suppose, though the ivy twines around the fallen column and the place echoes lonely with voices lost.


    Reading now:


    First, this novel was first published in 1993 and I’ve loved it since I first read it, probably in 1996 or thereabouts. I absolutely abhor the current subtitle and all such corporate subtitles that describe the book as “riveting” or otherwise, a modern trend that is a part of the dumbing down of America.

    I had to read TONY AND SUSAN again after watching the movie DVD based upon it, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016). The book is much, much better than the movie, but the movie is well-cast, with Amy Adams as Susan, Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony/Edward and Michael Shannon as Andes. Writer-director Tom Ford’s interpretation of the book is different than my own.

    I sometimes mention TONY AND SUSAN when discussing Cormac McCarthy’s OUTER DARK (1968), because of the dark triune that exists in both novels, parlayed back to Joseph Conrad’s VICTORY (1915) and a multitude of other literary renderings of the furies as a trinity.

    TONY AND SUSAN is a novel within a novel, the inward novel being called NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. In Cormac McCarthy’s OUTER DARK, of course, the inner darkness of Cullen’s psyche is the outer darkness. And so with Joseph Conrad.

    The outer novel in TONEY AND SUSAN is basically this: Susan is happily married to Joseph, even though he drops out of college to become a writer. She supports him while he struggles to get published. She reads and criticizes his work, ever trying to be helpful. Her job supports the two of them, while he is away a lot, seeking his muse. After putting up with this for years, she finally decides to dissolve her marriage and change her life.

    Well, let me stop right her and say that I see the above as Cormac McCarthy’s story too. Cormac McCarthy and Annie Delisle. He was a writer’s writer, but years went by and his books sold very few copies. He would refuse money to speak at some college function and meanwhile they lived on beans.

    Edward wrote this book, not expressly for Susan, but rather to expunge and explain his behavior in abandoning Susan for his muse. The parallel with McCarthy is the writing of OUTER DARK wherein the father abandons his son, the father given the real life son’s name, Cullen. The section in SUTTREE where the mother-in-law and Suttree get into it is likely in the same transfigured autobiographical mode, and Jay Ellis wrote about this in NO PLACE FOR HOME.

    Back to TONY AND SUSAN, twenty-five years go by and Susan, now forty-nine with a family, receives NOTURNAL ANIMALS in the mail with a note from her former husband requesting that she read it and tell him what it is missing. He says he thinks it is good but missing something, and she was always his best critic.

    We are given chapters of the novel with inserted sections of Susan’s reflections and her reevaluations and revisions of her history and current situation. The writing is gorgeous and the insights and asides show how we make our own narratives and alter them as we will. It is full of existentialism. Edward makes it a point to name Tony’s neighbor Husserl and near the end of the novel Susan points this out with a rhetorical question.

    In the bonus section of the movie DVD, Tom Ford opines that Edward wanted to show Susan the value of holding on to love. That we must fight to hold on to those whom we love. Well, yes, that’s the movie, but the book is so much more than that.

    26 Mar 2017 at 9:08 am #8928

    Richard L.

    Recently read, reading now, or about to read:

    Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (2016). I mentioned this earlier in this thread when discussing the book on Edward Hopper’s painting, NIGHTHAWKS, and David Foster Wallace’s remark that we read to be less lonely. Laing goes into considerable depth discussing the artist and his painting. It is surprisingly good here, and ofttimes later as well.

    Stephen Dobyns is 76, so sometimes I fear that age or disease might have taken him and that we’ve seen the last of his books. So I was delighted to see that he now has a new funny novel out in the Charlie Bradshaw/Victor Plotz series, and what’s even better, a new collection of poetry which contains some of his best ever.

    The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech is the title and like BLOOD MERIDIAN or the Evening Redness In The West it concerns issues of life and death, and often with a wry and knowing smile.

    …to be continued.

    26 Mar 2017 at 12:53 pm #8930

    Richard L.


    From Stephen Dobyns’ wonderful new collection of poetry and poetic parables, as mentioned above: He can express grief, as in the sonnets about the recent death of his wife, but he can also be seriously light, as in the parable below:

    Parable: Poetry

    It was hot. At night the penguin dreamt of the Antarctic.
    That’s how it began. He bought a fan; he bought
    ice cubes. He bought an old Ford convertible and let
    the wind riffle his feathers. He rushed all over town.

    It’s my duty to be happy, he told himself. His life
    took on new meaning. He hung yellow rubber dice
    from the mirror, tied a raccoon tail to the antenna.
    He sang along to country on the radio. He waved

    at pretty girls. But soon his car began to cough,
    as when a bit of steak goes down the wrong tube.
    It shook all over like a kitten in winter.
    The vehicle prepared to die.
    Luckily, a garage lay straight ahead.

    The mechanic was busy, but said,
    Return in an hour and I’ll know better.
    So the penguin strolled to a diner
    just next door where he ordered
    apple pie a la mode.
    By far his favorite.
    Then he hurried back to the garage.

    The mechanic was stretched out beneath the hood,
    his face smeared with grease.
    Engine parts lay scattered across the floor.
    You got real problems,
    said the mechanic. Your fuel pump’s busted,

    your generator’s shot, your carburetor’s rusted
    and it looks like you’ve blown a seal.
    Nah, said the penguin, wiping a drop from his bill,
    It’s ice cream.
    Freeze this moment. The penguin wore a benign

    and self-satisfied expression. The mechanic’s
    expression showed confusion and rising distaste.
    Then bit by bit the two swapped how they looked.
    The penguin showed hesitation and the mechanic

    had the critical demeanor of a man ready to correct
    the other. Isn’t this how it is with poetry?
    Both had examined a creation with multiple meanings
    as mystery moved from perplexity to possibility

    to discovery. The mechanic with neither patience
    nor learning again showed disgust; the penguin
    revealed revelation. Where would we be without
    language? The perception of one and confusion

    of the other could easily be expressed in a sonnet.
    Sad to say the mechanic hated poetry.
    As for the penguin, stuck to his brain
    with the nail of surprise was a sense

    of the human condition
    which let him see himself afresh,
    and only arose after he’d worked to attain
    a modicum of meaning. Didn’t this explain his silly grin?

    As for the mechanic, his brain was blank,
    apart from intense revulsion: an emotion
    that lessened his chance
    for a humanistic vision. He didn’t get that poetry

    offers the opportunity to see the world
    through a pristine lens; and maybe, just maybe,
    if he stared hard enough,
    he might find himself staring back.

    27 Mar 2017 at 8:50 am #8932

    Richard L.

    The news is that Cormac McCarthy has authored a non-fiction piece for an upcoming issue of Nautilus Magazine, published in association with MIT press. Not knowing what it is about leads me into wild speculation of what it could be about:




    I could go on and on.

    Meanwhile, I’m reading:

    KEEP IT FAKE: INVENTING AN AUTHENTIC LIFE by Eric G. Wilson (2016). The author approaches his subject with an extended use of Bill Murray, Cary Grant, and the philosophy of William James. Fun.

    THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE COEN BROTHERS edited by Mark T. Conard (2009). There is a nice selection of essays in here, including a section on existentialism.

    28 Mar 2017 at 9:34 pm #8944


    I just ordered the Nautilus issue. I can’t remember if we’ve ever discussed Benjamin Fondane, Existential Mondays, Richard. Highly recommend it.

    31 Mar 2017 at 5:22 am #8962

    Richard L.

    Always good to see you here, Clem.

    I’ve downloaded EXISTENTIALIST MONDAYS and will be reading it and commenting upon it in due course.

    For those following the KekulĂ© thread–one of the more interesting threads to ever appear in this forum–you might also be interested in:

    Image and Reality: Kekulé, Kopp, and the Scientific Imagination
    by Alan J. Rocke (2010)

    Writers Dreaming: 26 Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process by Naomi Epel (1994)

    Dreaming by the Book by Elaine Scarry (2001)


    Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
    Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein (2009)

    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    by Malcolm Gladwell (2007)

    Thinking, Fast and Slow By Daniel Kahneman (2011)

    02 Apr 2017 at 3:01 am #8973

    Richard L.

    Re: Benjamin Fondane, Existential Mondays

    Interesting essays. Sarah Bakewell, in her recent AT THE EXISTENTIALIST CAFE (2016), doesn’t even mention Fondane, but she should have covered him too.

    There are many fine ideas in the book, but what I found most striking at the time I was reading it was the “I is an other” argument, and the idea that the yoke of logic could be overthrown. While it is true, as Cormac McCarthy famously says, that the naming of things is not the things themselves, and that language creates but a false narrative, the thread in the maze that we put there so that we can find our way in the pattern of things. And. . . while the subconscious is older than language, as McCarthy told Oprah, it is not older than mathematics, which is not a human invention but a human discovery of something that has always been around.

    As many scientists have now pointed out, language is nothing but equations and metaphors, and complicated language merely complicated math. Logic and language straitjacket reality, true enough, but recent studies of animals who have no language reveal a kind of counting that works in similar ways. You can get away from words but you cannot get away from math, because it is the foundation of existence, which always precedes essence, which is but more complicated math.

    See, just for example, James Geary’s I IS AN OTHER: THE SECRET LIFE OF METAPHOR AND HOW IT SHAPES THE WORLD (2012). But one of the books I’m always turning back to is SYNC: HOW ORDER EMERGES FROM CHAOS IN THE UNIVERSE, NATURE, AND DAILY LIFE by Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University.. Even fireflies pick up the count from the beat of the universe, the music of the spheres.

    04 Apr 2017 at 2:49 am #8980

    Richard L.

    Last year. when I was reading Booker-contender HIS BLOODY PROJECT, I also picked up Thomas Hardy’s classic FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, thinking that there were like patterns in the pastoral shepherd of the respective novels. As it turned out, HIS BLOODY PROJECT owes more to Melville’s BILLY BUDD than to Thomas Hardy.

    But something that struck me as being wonderful was Hardy’s romantic use of the night sky in the passage below, reminding me of the way that Cormac McCarthy uses the night sky in the “They rode on” section of BLOOD MERIDIAN:

    The sky was clear and the twinking of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse. The North Star was directly in the winds eye, and since evening the Bear had swung round it outwardly to the east, til he was now at a right angle with the meridian.

    Notice that Hardy’s narrator saw a counting, a beating pulse in the heavens, at a right angle with the meridian, moved by the Great Bear. Beautiful stuff. http://www.cormacmccarthy.com/topic/old-ephraim/

    Hardy continues:

    A difference of colour in the stars–oftener read of than seen in England–was really perceptible here. The sovereign brilliancy of Sirius pierced the eye with a steely glitter, the star called Capella was yellow, Aldebaran and Betelgueux shone with a fiery red.

    To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude. But whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding.

    Riding along indeed.

    04 Apr 2017 at 9:46 am #8981


    As you hold to a compass course too, on a boat or ship, the sky arcs across over time, with the mast being the steady reference. You can see the precession of the heavens also, one night to the next.

    Love those sailing references: remember in BM, or was it The Crossing, when the earth sailed under bare poles? I’d quote it but I’m far from home and my books.

    13 Apr 2017 at 7:22 pm #9120

    Richard L.

    Reading now, recently read, or about to read:

    THE VOICES WITHIN: THE HISTORY AND SCIENCE OF HOW WE TALK TO OURSELVES by Charles Fernyhough. Among many other valuable things, the author quotes Hilary Mantel’s hard-to-find essay, INK IN THE BLOOD:

    Mantel wrote autobiographically about the relations between voices, illness, and writing in her essay which was inspired by a hospital stay characterized by psychotic experiences: “My internal monologue is performed by many people. There is a breathless void inside me and it needs to be filled.” She sees this as necessary to the creative process: “Only the writer and the medium are licensed to sit in a room by themselves with a whole crowd of imaginary people, listening and responding to them.”

    Crazy? Perhaps. But I certainly found her interesting enough to revisit BEYOND BLACK as well as her funny memoir.

    To my mind, the prologue to Cormac McCarthy’s SUTTREE is one of the best in all of literature. While I have never read any to equal it, I do often read good ones, and I have read several that brought SUTTREE to mind. I used to post about them in some thread or other, now no doubt vanished into the ether.

    For what it is worth, here’s the opening of Hilary Mantel’s BEYOND BLACK. It seems to have many similarities to the Prologue to Suttree in my opinion. A lot of similar words. I love it.

    “Travelling: the dank oily days after Christmas. The motorway, its wastes looping London: the margin’s scrub grass flaring orange in the lights, and the leaves of the poisoned shrubs striped yellow-green like a cantaloupe melon.

    …Messages from the dead arrive at random. You don’t want them and you can’t send them back. . .A sea=green sky: lamps blossoming white. This is marginal land: fields of strung wire, of treadless tires in ditches, fridges dead on their backs, and starving ponies cropping the mud. It is a landscape running with outcasts and escapees, with Afghans, Turks and Kurds: with scapegoats, scarred with bottle and burn marks, limping from the cities with broken ribs.

    The life forms here are rejects, or anomalies: the cats tipped from speeding cars, and the Heathrow sheep, their fleece clotted with the stench of aviation fuel. . .In the back seat, something dead stirs and begins to grunt and breathe. The car flees across the junctions, and the space the road encloses is the space inside her: the arena of combat, the wasteland, the place of civil strife behind her ribs.

    A heart beats, tail-lights wink. Dim lights shine from tower blocks, from passing helicopters, from fixed stars. Night closes in on the perjured ministers and burnt-out pedophiles, on the unloved viaducts and graffitied bridges, on ditches beneath mouldering hedgerows and railings never warmed by human touch.

    Night and winter: but in the rotten nests and empty setts, she can feel the signs of growth, intimations of spring. This is the time of Le Pendu, the Hanged Man, swinging by his foot from the living tree. It is a time of suspension, of hesitations, of the indrawn breath. It is a time to let go of expectation, yet not abandon hope; to anticipate the turn of the Wheel of Fortune. This is our life and we have to lead it. Think of the alternative.

    A static cloud bank, like an ink smudge. Darkening air.

    It’s no good asking me whether I’d choose to be like this, because I’ve never had a choice. I don’t know about anything else. I’ve never been any other way.

    And darker still. Colour has run out from the land. Only form is left: the clumped treetops like a dragon’s back. The sky deepens to midnight blue. The orange of the streetlights is blotted to a fondant cerise. In pastureland, the pylons lift their skirts in a ferrous gavotte.

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