What are you reading?

This topic contains 530 replies, has 60 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 1 month, 2 weeks ago.

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  • 14 Jul 2017 at 12:11 pm #9705

    Richard L.

    This is good, Sam Shepard on his time at the Santa Fe Institue:

    Shepard had access to an office within the nonprofit research institute and was encouraged to share ideas with the institute’s researchers and scientists. Shepard joked about the kinds of highbrow conversations he had with some of these scholars. The person he spoke to most often was actually novelist Cormac McCarthy, who is a trustee of the institute.

    “I have a real difficult time having dialogues with writers,” Shepard admitted, adding with a laugh that with McCarthy their conversations had “mostly to do with dogs or cunt.”

    Kind of an amazing quote, this from the new book, SAM SHEPARD: A LIFE (2017) by John Winters. There are a lot of other things here that surprise. For instance, Winters devotes a chapter to Shepard’s devotion to the ideas of Gurdjieff, which makes me wonder if he ever discussed that with Cormac McCarthy.

    There’s a lot of stuff on Patti Smith and Jessica Lange, his one-time life partners, and lots of other movie and musical tidbits. Recommended.

    24 Jul 2017 at 3:50 pm #9729

    Richard L.

    Re: “mostly to do with dogs or cunt…”

    Perhaps that was misheard, and thus a misprint. Maybe what he said was “mostly to do with dogs or quant,” as in quantum physics.

    Dogs, certainly, as in the disappearing dog in THE ROAD. We’re now in the midst of the pre-halloween season, for my money–the Dog Days.

    Reading now, recently read, or soon to read:

    MYSTERIES OF POE’S RAVEN: A STOREHOUSE OF DELIGHT FULLY EXPLAINED by H. Alois Biedy (1936). Back when I was a kid in the 1950s, they relegated Poe–along with Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson–to the YA literature section. Of course we know now that these authors were geniuses.

    This author interprets “The Raven” astrologically and enthusiastically if not brilliantly, and the map of the signs of the zodiac are included. This is one of those rare books I saved from being towed to Half-Price Books, though its days are numbered, as are mine.

    I see that Ken’s Occult McCarthy blog still exists, as does mine, drifting through the ether like a couple of abandoned starships. Ken was the first to argue that McCarthy’s 117 does not refer to a time or a book of the Bible but to a month and year. I think he’s right. McCarthy is deeply and intuitively concerned with cycles, as was Poe.

    Our blogs will one day soon be cleaned out like last winter’s cobwebs, but new McCarthy obsessives will arise.

    PRACTICAL ASTROLOGY: THE LANGUAGE OF THE STARS by Comte C. de Saint-Germain (1901). Another first edition I saved for now. The frontispiece is “the sculptured zodiac on a ceiling in the perfectly preserved Temple of Hathor in Denderah Upper Egypt built 700 B. C.” The author is, hummm, legendary.

    SIRIUS by Olaf Stapledon (1944). Don’t laf, I’m sirius. This novel even has its own Wiki page:


    And there must be some reason that so many different cultures associated this piece of sky with the dog and his relatives:



    THE DOG STARS by Peter Heller (2014). I love this book, a light-hearted sequel to THE ROAD if there ever was one or could be one. Absolutely grand. I think I’ve had more fun with this book than any other published in this century. Or close to it.

    RADIOMEN (2015) by Eleanor Lerman. Not on sirius radio, as you might think. I stopped on this several times and switched from my Kindle to the audiobook, which is just right. This novel is about an encounter with the Dogon Dog Star people and I highly recommend it for its humorous voice and choice mythology. Lerman also writes doggone good poetry.


    THE NEWGRANGE SIRIUS MYSTERY by E. A. James. There’s a sequel and a whopping bibliography that looks interesting to this reader.

    GHOST MONTH by Ed Lin (2012). A fine genre mystery set in Taiwan, where their ghost month straddles July/August and is our dog days.

    Study Guide to Kafka’s Metamorphosis by John P. Anderson (2016). I started this but got swayed off to a reread of the author’s THE POLTERGEIST IN FAULKNER’s LIGHT IN AUGUST. That light must be from the Dog Stars. Anderson writes tremendous crit-lit.

    24 Jul 2017 at 9:08 pm #9734

    Rick Wallach

    I suspect that when Sam Shepherd says “cunt,” he means cunt. He’s been around enough of them to know the difference. Or perhaps we can strike a compromise: he might have been referring to “queynte,” as Chaucer uses it in “The Miller’s Tale.”

    Anywaaayyyyy, I am currently reading Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo, a history of the 1916 great white shark attacks along the Jersey shore that Peter Benchley used as his inspiration for Jaws. There’s a line in the movie wherein Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) is questioning the ichthyologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) over dinner about the history of shark attacks on humans, which goes something like “and isn’t it true that before people began swimming for recreation and sharks didn’t know what they were missing, most attacks went unreported?” And Hooper smiles and nods. That is a pretty direct reference to the 1916 hysteria, which kinda fell from memory because the US plunged into WWI shortly afterwards.

    The book is beautifully written and Capuzzo does a great job of evoking the gilded age, which he pretty much thinks was upended by the Jersey shore great white even before we entered the war. It’s a great read.

    29 Jul 2017 at 2:44 pm #9746

    Richard L.

    Re: Rick Wallach, June 13th last, “I’ve just been re-reading Harold Bloom’s The American Religion in connection with my presentation on Whales and Men, Moby Dick and “The Kekule Problem” in Austin.’

    “Aside from having concluded that the best chance Whales and Men has of ever being widely read is for it to remain unpublished, it’s been twenty five years since I read American Religion as a young boy of 42 (time plays tricks on your self-assessments) and I didn’t realize at the time just how hilarious it was. It makes Donald Trump and his evangelical remoras look even dumber and more clueless than they did a couple of days ago. I grant you that’s not some Olympian feat but still, this is a terrific book. If you haven’t read it or, like me, haven’t read it in a geological epoch, please, have another look at it. Doing so might make me sound coherent in September.”

    Well, I just now finished THE AMERICAN RELIGION for the first time. It is indeed hilarious in places, as if Bloom is talking in a Professor Corey voice, being not just funny but outrageously Falstaffian.

    He discusses the Dogon religion, which of course I had just been reading about in association with the Dog Stars, but he makes no mention of Sirius but sticks to those facets which best correspond to the Gnostic inner “spark” or “pheuma”–which is what Bloom really wants to talk about here, you can tell.

    Bloom cherry-picks Gnosticism too, all but leaving out the rigmarole and rituals noted by Jonas and and other scholars of history. Bloom rather takes it up from Leo Daugherty’s BLOOD MERIDIAN essay, “Gravers False and True.” Sometimes it is identical to arguments made here by posters over the years.

    Bloom doesn’t even mention that the Gnostics (as in Cormac McCarthy’s work) believe that the world is dark and it is light that has fallen and is alien here, always a fugitive. He doesn’t mention that Christians believe that God’s Creation is the Light and that it is dark evil that came down to corrupt it.

    As much as Bloom goes on about Emerson, he makes no mention at all of the New England Unitarians or Transcendentalists. The “orange squash of New Agers” he dismisses seem to carry the same mix of religious ideas that he does, to judge by his other arguments. They cherry-pick other religions while not identifying with them, a little of Gnosticism, some of Buddhism without the rigmarole, and kindness from wherever they can find it–Judaeo-Christian plus here and minus there.

    The book is good, it’s high comedy, and I like it. But I wish that Bloom would read biochemist Nick Lane’s works on the nature of that vital spark, which we seem to carry with us in our mitochondria, which is something of an alien which has attached itself to our earthbound human DNA. Truth is just as strange as fiction, and sometimes just as absurd.

    Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life Paperback – December 11, 2006
    by Nick Lane.

    The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life Audio CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
    by Nick Lane.

    29 Jul 2017 at 4:20 pm #9747

    Rick Wallach

    Richard – yeah, the more often I refer back to it, the funnier it sounds. I attended some of Bloom’s lectures at NYU back in the late 80s and he was really sockin’ it to Evangelical literalists.

    FYI I’ve decided to postpone my Whales and Men paper until next fall when I hope to present it in Monterrey, MX at the conference we’re just beginning to plan there. I need more time to think about and write this thing than I have had/will have by Labor Day. More on Monterrey after Austin.

    In Austin, I’ll be doing an expanded version of my paper on McCarthy’s southwest and the Vietnam War I gave jointly with Wallis Sanborn in Laredo last week at the International American Studies Association conference, which was a terrific assemblage of scholars from all over the planet. Wallis will again be joining me in Austin. Should be fun.

    I’m now taking a break to indulge my early years of baseball passion and am just starting to read Fall from Grace: The Truth and Tragedy of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson by Tim Hornbaker. Too soon to report.

    My true love and I head for the Mother Country on Monday. Two weeks and change in London and we’ll be back just in time for me to polish my paper for Austin. Hope to see as many of you there as possible.

    29 Jul 2017 at 6:42 pm #9748

    Richard L.

    Re: Whales And Men

    Coincidentally, after reading Peter Heller’s fabulous take on McCarthy’s THE ROAD world, THE DOG STARS, I decided to pick up Heller’s other works, including THE WHALE WARRIORS, in which he takes a trip much like McCarthy’s sojourn with Roger Payne. He doesn’t mention Cormac, but he does interview Roger Payne and quotes him in a whales-and-men-like diatribe.

    Fortunately, Heller is not one of those who mimics Cormac McCarthy’s style. His use of the leaping trout owes as much to Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River as to THE ROAD. But there is a nice semblance in the dystopian world. For instance:

    Night of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.


    And this from THE DOG STARS:

    They said at the end it would get colder after it gets warmer. Way colder. Still waiting. She’s a surprise, this old earth, one big surprise after another since before she separated from the moon who circles and circles like the mate of a shot goose.

    But mostly THE DOG STARS simply wowed me, as it did significant reviewers as you can see in the review excerpts at Amazon:

    “The Dog Stars creates a delicate balance between post-civilization wish fulfillment and the deep human need for connection. . . . Heller writes like a kind of latter-day Hemingway or McCarthy. . . . Our current uncertainties can’t hold a candle to nuclear war or a devastating plague, but in the end, the remedy for our fears remains the same: love and connection.” —Clay Evans, Boulder Daily Camera

    “[The Dog Stars] gripped me—it’s the real deal. Heller’s voice is extraordinary and his narrator’s toughness seems to hide a beautiful and aching restlessness. One of those books that makes you happy for literature.” —Junot Díaz, Wall Street Journal

    The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a heavenly book, a stellar achievement by a debut novelist that manages to combine sparkling prose with truly memorable, shining, characters. It contains constellations of grand images and ideas, gleams with vitality, and sparkles with wit. And for a story of this ilk, it is also—a rarity—radiant with hope. Despite the many terrible events threatening to engulf our heroes, The Dog Stars never falls into the black hole of hopelessness common in many post-apocalyptic fictions. . . . Luminous with bright ideas . . .

    The Dog Stars is the story of Hig’s conversation with his faith, with his humanity, with his former life. By turns moving, articulate and, exciting, it is also one of those stories that remains with the reader long after the book is closed. It contains all of the lyricism of Cormac McCarthy at his best—Hig fights for ‘things that have no use anymore except as a bulwark against oblivion. Against the darkness of total loss.’ And he reaches for the stars. For the constellations of his memory. He looks up and not down.” —A. J. Kirby, New York Journal of Books

    “By putting us in the worst of all possible times, literature can allow us to experience the best side of humankind, where instead of giving up, we struggle desperately in the ruins for love, connection and hope. And that brings us to Peter Heller’s ravishing doomsday novel, The Dog Stars. . . . An indelible core of kindness beats like a heart within [Hig]. . . . The supreme pleasure of this book is the lovely writing. Hig talks to himself, and to us, in a kind of syncopated rhythm that’s as intimate as a conversation, with pauses and clipped words. . . . In the midst of all the devastation, Heller shows us the stunning beauty of the natural world. . . . The pages of The Dog Stars are damp with grief for what is lost and can never be recovered. But there are moments of unexpected happiness, of real human interaction, infused with love and hope, like the twinkling of a star we might wish upon, which makes this end-of-the-world novel more like a rapturous beginning. . . . Remarkable.”—Caroline Leavitt, San Francisco Chronicle

    Terrific . . . With echoes of Moby Dick, The Dog Stars . . . brings Melville’s broad, contemplative exploration of good and evil to his story; he tells it in the spare, often disjunctive, language of Beckett. Heller’s vision, however, is not as dark as that of his literary antecedents. . . . With startling lyricism, Heller’s accomplished first novel rises above the inherent darkness of a world stripped bare by disease, climate change and violence” —Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness

    “In the tradition of postapocalyptic literary fiction such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse, this hypervisceral first novel by adventure writer Heller (Kook) takes place nine years after a superflu has killed off much of mankind. . . . With its evocative descriptions of hunting, fishing, and flying, this novel, perhaps the world’s most poetic survival guide, reads as if Billy Collins had novelized one of George Romero’s zombie flicks. From start to finish, Heller carries the reader aloft on graceful prose, intense action, and deeply felt emotion.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

    “Take the sensibility of Hemingway. Or James Dickey. Place it in a world where a flu mutation has wiped out ninety-nine percent of the population. Add in a heartbroken man with a fishing rod, some guns, a small plane. Don’t forget the dog. Now imagine this man retains more hope than might be wise in such a battered and brutal time. More trust. More hunger for love—more capacity for it, too. That’s what Peter Heller has given us in his beautifully written first novel. The Dog Stars is a gripping tale of one man’s fight for survival against impossibly long odds. A man who has lost nearly everything but his soul. And what’s so moving about Heller’s book is that he shows us how sometimes a big soul is the only thing a man needs: the keystone, the center pillar, the hunk of masonry upon which all else will rise or fall.” —Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins

    “The Dog Stars is a giant of a novel that goes about its profound business with what looks alarmingly like ease. For all those who thought Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the last word on the post-apocalyptic world—think again. Peter Heller has dark and glittering news from the future, and delivers it in prose that stops you like a wolf in the snow. Make time and space for this savage, tender, brilliant book.” —Glen Duncan, author of The Last Werewolf and Talulla Rising

    And a lot more. And I’m telling you, it deserves the hype.

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 3 weeks ago by  Richard L..
    30 Jul 2017 at 11:20 am #9750

    Richard L.


    A lot of Bloom’s jibs at Bush are dated, and would be funnier back then than now–when we have a different clown in the White House. My Kindle download is off the newer edition, which has a new afterword.

    It needs to be heard, not in Bloom’s actual voice, but in one that contains considerably more gravity–Alfred Hitchcock, say, in his TV prime. Imagine Alfred Hitchcock looking soberly into the camera and slowly explaining this with his deadpan gravity:

    Yet Gnosticism, if we are to consider it a religion, or at least a spiritual stance, is anything but nihilistic or hopeless, which may be why it is now, and always has been, the hidden religion of the United States, the American Religion proper.

    Peculiar as this must sound, all any among us need do to begin to understand Gnosticism is to ask ourselves: What do I actually regard my innermost self as being? In that secret place, Ronald Reagan and the characters of Thomas Pynchon’s fiction blend together…

    The arch villain for the Gnostics was the Demiurge, a creator god whose name parodied the Demiurge of Plato’s Timaeus, where he is portrayed as an artisan, world-maker, who does the best he can at imitating the true Forms of Eternity. But for the Gnostics the Demiurge is the Yahweh (and Elohim), the Hebraic vision of the creator god in Genesis, a god taken by the Gnostics to be at best a botcher or ignoramus, or at worst a spirit of malevolence.

    The high god of the Hebrews is not the alien or true God of the Gnostics, who indeed was identified by many Gnostics with the primordial Abyss, the void and deep from which the Hebrew god or Demiurge stole or displaced the stuff for his false creation.

    Few people could say that aloud and pull it off. But for those of us versed in BLOOD MERIDIAN crit-lit, it is old hat.

    That would be one of the two hats on the bar next to the Judge.

    31 Jul 2017 at 1:18 pm #9751

    Richard L.

    Yeah, I know, hardly anyone else is here or cares, but today Sam Shepard, whose biography we were just discussing, has died at age 73. Here’s a good link:


    Earlier this month, according to a poster on my old blog, author Don Pearce died at age 88. Pearce was the author of COOL HAND LUKE, among others. Using Google, I have not yet been able to confirm this report.

    RIP, I say, to those new voices lost. We need to start sending out QSL cards.

    06 Aug 2017 at 3:05 am #9759


    I have been locked-out or unable to get on the Forum with any of my previous user names or passwords so I had to reregister. Any one else with these issues?

    In anticipation of the upcoming season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, I decided to reread a few of Roth’s Zuckerman novels and rewatch the Zuckerman-esque Larry David seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm. While at it, I finally decided to read “Sabbath’s Theater”. I don’t have time during the school year to read long novels, so I decided to give Sabbath a read. It has been since my first reading of Suttree that a novel has made me laugh out loud and share passages with my friends via text. Sure, Sabbath is a tragic character in the most serious manner, but Roth does it with ribald humor, wit, and literary/jazz history like I haven’t read before. Sabbath’s Theater and Blood Meridian are the only two novels that I could pick up and reread again as soon as I finished the last pages. I’m still overflowing with enthusiasm for Sabbath’s Theater, so I can’t put too much into words; I need some more time to ponder before I say anything worthwhile about the novel. But, I have to say it is as good as any American novel that I’ve ever read. American Pastoral and Sabbath’s Theater and Blood Meridian are that great. I have both Claudia Roth Pierpont’s book and Roth’s essays soon to be release from LOA on the way from Amazon.
    Anyone read Sabbath’s Theater? Any thoughts you could share?


    07 Aug 2017 at 3:28 am #9760


    The more I think about it, I think Roth may have “out-Sutreed” McCarthy with Sabbath’s Theater. Very surprised no one has written anything reading the books side-by-side.


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