20 December 2016

 Joseph O'Neil, The Dog

     Joseph O'Neil's book is interesting in several respects:  His illustration of Dubai and his characterization of the super wealthy.  Dubai and the super wealthy are, in The Dog, totally compatible and appropriate for one another--vacuous, with no substance.  The character through which we view both, is a commentator, a viewer, a critic living in an environment described as the equivalent of an airport.  Visualize your self waiting for a plane at an airport without any connection to anyone there but a destination.  This is Dubai, a gigantic airport. 

     As the 2016 election recedes behind us, a lengthy quote from the book is apropos.

      "To 'surf' even non-pornographically is to ride one two-foot wave of imbecility after another.".... "I think it's the phenomenon of these commenters--who must be taken to represent the masses, a body from which nobody is excluded--in combination with my new intercontinental perspective, that has left me with a most unfortunate impression that my fatherland--inescapably the United States of America--is, or has become, a strange, gigantically foolish place that sooner or later will be undone by the calamitous mental life of its population, whose bizarre domination by misconceptions is all to well incorporated by its representatives in Washington, D. C."

     The book is worth reading, if for no other reason, that it will depress you once again with the fact that no amount of education can defeat the mass mind.  As to facts, "A fact is where it all starts to go wrong." p. 149 of the Pantheon Books edition. Out national debate this election season has had no relation to the facts; facts are deemed irrelevant and annoying.

     The portrayal of the super wealthy is a portrait of total squander, unconcern for lesser beings, and the requirement that any inconvenience be born by those who serve them.   In  The wealth of Dubai is unseen except for the buildings in the desert, but also the control emanating from unseen sources.    Our protagonist's  job interview is at the Claridge Hotel which happens to be in London at 10:00 the next morning requiring an immediate cab to the Kennedy for a flight to London overnight.  Our man arrives at the Claridge Hotel on time only to see the person who requested his presence speed off in an auto on other business cancelling the meeting of our traveler who then flies back to New York without the interview.  This view of our friends, the super wealthy, who we would all like to emulate does not change throughout the book.

     Hence the name of the book, The Dog, which is what our man is--a pet.

18 December 2016


     I presume that we all have little things that have become large annoyances.  I have two that I endure daily and from the same source.  My immediate family and associates find my annoyance amusing.  This I believe shows a shallow understanding and lack of judgment.  We have a local radio station which my daughter and I listen to on our morning trip to either school or the bus.  The call letters for this station will not be divulged for the protection of the weather person from others who might also be annoyed and would be unable or unwilling to simply express their displeasure verbally.

     I personally find it difficult not to express mine in the car when driving in the morning as the weather guy gives us his version of the current weather and the day's forecast which includes his pronouncement of how I feel as I'm sitting in the car listening to him.  First, the weather person does not know me; he does not know my circumstances; and, he certainly does not know how I feel.  He does presume to know however.

     When describing the weather conditions, he will matter-of-factly relate that the temperature might be 25 degrees for example; but in the same breath and with obvious gusto and pleasure he will then tell me it feels like 10 degrees.  My response to this is no, it does not feel like 10 degrees, it feels like 25 degrees.  He, and many others, apparently have determined that the actual weather is irrelevant; that what I really need to know is how I'm feeling at that moment.  If I were standing outside, clothed or unclothed, I would be aware that the wind is blowing.  It remains the same temperature whether the wind is blowing or not.  I might be standing behind a building out of the wind; I might be in my care with no wind whatsoever; I might be in my garage ready to get into my car.  Under these circumstances, the wind velocity is irrelevant--I don't need to know it.

     All reporters of whom I am aware, find it in their interest to make things seem worse than they are or will be.  This is especially true of meteorologists and other weather people one sees reporting the weather conditions on TV or listening to on the radio.  It must sell.  More people listen, the betters the ratings, the more advertising sold. But, there is a second very irksome habit of this same weather person for which there is no excuse.

     Secondly, it is not suppose to be 30 degrees on the day in question rather than 25 degrees.  Invariably, the weather person in question will tell us, the listeners, that it is suppose to be 30 degrees today.  This is a false statement.  There is no "suppose to be" temperature.  What this man refers to is the average temperature for the day in question.  There is nothing mandatory or required of a certain temperature on a certain day at a certain time-there is an average!  Because one can not predict what the weather will be on a given day with exactness; nor can one determine from year to year what a given day holds, we have averages.  Averages are very useful things: they give an idea of what to expect at any time of the year.  The average temperature may be important to know-in advance-so that if any weather planning is necessary, it can be done.

     These are my two irritants from the same source.  If I ever encounter our local weather person, we shall have a discussion of these items and hopefully I will be able to convey an understanding to said person that how I feel is not his concern and of his misunderstanding of the concept of average.

17 August 2016

A Note on Drop City

     T. C. Boyle has given what appears to be a realistic view of a hippie commune of the 60's and 70's.  Having never lived in one but growing up in the 60's, it has a ring of truth.  The other half of the book is about a character and new wife who live off the land in Alaska.  They become neighbors when the commune's commune is bulldozed by the authorities in California and the financer of the commune's uncle moves from Alaska to Seattle.  The juxtaposition of the book is living in isolation alone or in a pair and the living in a commune where everything is shared.  Two extremes meet; neither one very appealing.

     Living off the land is one of those fond illusions of those who want to play mountain men or pioneers where they do nothing but shoot a buffalo or two and the women do all the actual work.  It works for a few, but an entire country doing it and there are no buffalo to shoot anymore and you may actually have to raise a cow or two to get you through the winter.   There is nothing romantic about raising a garden in Alaska where the mosquitos will carry you away if you stop moving and you have to keep your dogs healthy so they can pull the dog sled through miles of brush checking your traps for protein.

     Then you have the commune where many take no responsibility to keep things together or to do any work, where there is little sanitation and no amenities, where passers-by and gawkers come on weekends to romanticize a life style they know nothing about but think there would be plenty of sex and that would make up for all the other deficiencies. It is clear from the book and our history of utopian settlements that someone has to be in charge. Neither of the alternatives presented by Boyle are very attractive when you get past the idealized version you have in your head about either.

16 August 2016

 A Note on The Beautiful Bureaucrat

     Helen Phillips presents a really bleak existence for Josephine and Joseph moving to the city from a rural life finding jobs, requiring entries into a data base, subletting apartments,  completely unanchored.  The job does acquire meaning when Josephine, the narrator, learns the significance of the entries she makes marking the death of a person when that person becomes her husband.  It is difficult to imagine a more bleak and sinister existence than imagined by Ms. Phillips.  

     I did find the reflection of Josephine interesting when learning she was pregnant.  The thoughts and feelings of a woman first learning she is pregnant is something I had not read previously anywhere.  The trip to the local clinic was well-described and not somewhere one wants to spend a lot of time.

     Other than severe halitosis, her boss is not described other than purposefully not described as a person with no personal characteristics other than bad breath and an insistence that Josephine make her quota of data entries each day in a room with no windows, no pictures, no nothing but a computer for data entry and a stack of files.  Occasionally there is some interaction with other employees in a mostly deserted hallway building with locked doors.  Most of the interaction, what little there is, occurs in the bathroom.

     If a person were to live a life where nothing happens, nothing interesting exists, one's efforts are limited to having enough money to eat and sleep, just about anything is an improvement.   Something needs to happen whether good or bad; it really doesn't matter which.  The entries into the data base made by Josephine presage the death of the person whose name they enter.  When her husband's name appears, it causes her to act.  She initiates action, something is happening.  It doesn't turn out so well, but at least her brain is activated.

06 July 2016

     A quote from Christoper Moore's Bite Me, "working out is narcissistic bullshit".  I do like that thought, not that I haven't ever worked out; that is, if you include jogging as working out.  I have jogged in my lifetime, but I'm trying to think if I ever worked out as in "working out" and I can't remember a single instance.  Now if you are city folk and have no method by which you can obtain proper exercise like mowing the yard, gardening, digging, cutting, etc., then I suspect the temptation to "work out" is strong.  One's body does need a certain amount of activity to function properly and if you sit at a desk all day, you may not get what you need.  However this obsessive "working out" does seem to have an element of narcissism in it.  We need to look buff you know.

      Now I have known a number of inmates who muscle up while in prison, but I expect that is from boredom more than anything; either that or self-protection.  I give them a break.  I wouldn't call that narcissistic but more of a necessity.  In any event, go Christopher.

03 July 2016


     Being a vampire is not what it is cracked up to be.  I mean, really, you can't come out in the daytime which would be a drag for sure.  Yes, you do have super human powers and can live for hundreds of years if you make it the first year.  Apparently not all people who are turned can survive as vampires which is interesting to know.  In Christopher Moore's novel, most of the undead don't make it through the book thanks to some temporary vamps, two cops,  a vampire vigilante squad, and a really short Japanese guy who doesn't speak much English but has a big sword he uses to dispatch vampire cats and an occasional vampire.  

     The Emperor of San Francisco also has a hand in defeating the horde of vampire cats.  The Emperor is a street person who has the inside scoop of where the vampire cats hold up during the day usually with Chet a very big vampire cat slowly becoming human.  All in all, Bite Me, is a little hard to follow with all the characters including vampires, vampire wanna-be's, non vampires, people trying to kill vampires and save San Francisco, vampires turning to mist and intermingling, etc.

     But as the subtitle to the book suggests, it is a love story.

12 June 2016

A Note on The Childhood of Jesus

     J. M. Coetze gives us his version of what Jesus would have been like as a six year old.  He has arrived in a new world without parents but with Simon who takes it upon himself to look after the child and find David's mother.  He finds Inez playing tennis and intuitively determines that she will be the mother of David which is the name given the child in the novel.  Inez decides she will be the mother of the boy against the wishes of her brothers.  So we have a child in a place where he knows only Simon who has taken upon himself to act as father and Inez who has taken upon herself to act as mother with the addition of a small cast of characters that come and go.  Joseph was not the father of Jesus but certainly took on that role.  Coetze must have his doubts about Mary who certainly took the role of mother.

     The child is self-willed, extremely intelligent, and fanciful often speaking in what will become parables as an adult.  The child determines the action of the novel; he is the moving force in the lives of Simon and Inez and at times the other characters of the book with whom he interacts. The story of Jesus at age 12 comes to mind.  The character of David created by Coetze would not hesitate to address the adult world with instruction and opinion.  It isn't quite clear what the attraction the child has to the adults he meets, but the adults of the novel revolve around him and bind them to him.

     Numerous times David asks to be taken to the scene of death so that he may breathe live into them. He is not allowed to go for the simple reason that to the adult world breathing life into a dead person or a dead horse is simply a childhood fantasy.  Coetze does not allow us to see whether the child at the age six can bring back life, but presumably forecasts future events.  The book from which Simon teaches David to read is Don Quixote.

     The Don is real to David and David has a difficult time separating fiction from reality.  It takes some explaining by Simon for David to understand the concept of fiction.  There is nothing in the novel that would cause one to think that David understands a difference as the story ends.  Maybe fact and fiction are one and the same to Jesus.


13 May 2016

A Note on Gone with the Mind

A Note on Gone with the Mind

     Mark Leyner's latest novel, Gone with the Mind, much of which takes place in the food court of a mall where Mark reads his autobiography standing on a table with his mother present to a Panda Express worker and a Sbarro worker on break for a total of three, reflects a person apparently who has accomplished nothing other than accumulating a massive vocabulary and the ability to recollect decades of  TV shows and movies and the actors in them.  Mark, the person presenting his autobiography and presumably the author, has as the two most influential people in his life, his mother and his Imaginary Intern who, while existing for a number of years in Mark's imagination carried on significant conversations with Mark and was, it seems from the autobiography, a constant presence until abruptly disappearing.  

     We do learn that Mark actually had a father, a sister, and a wife.  Even mom, in her introduction which is forty-one pages in length to begin the book, makes little reference to dad, and in any detail to only the sister who died very young.  The autobiography is an internal dialog transcribed, reflecting no accomplishments other than Mark's massive vocabulary which is impressive.  If Mark has had any affect on the world, it is not expressed nor can one infer that his life has much meaning to anyone other than his mother.

     The book ends with him and his mother on their hands in knees in a stall of a woman's bathroom at the mall looking for images of people in the craquelure of the tile on the floor.  The craquelure at home is the origin of the Imaginary Intern who at some time disappeared because Mark could no longer conjure him up from the tiles.  Much of the autobiography is the relation of the Imaginary Intern with Mark and the discussions they have had on various topics. It is unclear whether the many conversations between Mark and the Imaginary Intern are strictly internal or whether Mark has a history of spending his days in verbal displays with his Imaginary Intern to the annoyance of those around him.

     What I take from this book is a waste of a life; a life with no purpose, no accomplishment, and no meaning.  Whether or not Mr. Leyner's intent was to portray this is undetermined.  The blurbs on the cover say the book is hilarious, a moving portrait of a mother-son relationship, dizzingly brilliant, dazzling, heartfelt, singular, wild-ass, fearless, and a work of genius.  None of these are true.  Both Mark and his mother are very singular people obsessed with each other and themselves to the exclusion of others.  Neither would be much of an acquaintance.

03 May 2016

A Note on The Serpent of Venice

Christopher Moore

     The Serpent of Venice if nothing else allows you to think that it would be really nice to have a sea monster eating your enemies at your suggestion whenever the occasion arises.  Fortunato, the fool, escapes fate by the grace of a horny sea monster from China brought to Venice by Marco Polo.  Fortunato unfortunately ran afoul of some wealthy merchants including Iago...yes, Shakespeare's Iago, but luckily is a friend of Othello and Desdemona which helps considerably.  Along with the help of his sea monster who either eats the people who want to kill him or otherwise annoy him or chomps off their heads leaving a decapitated bodies laying about, Forunato works in conjunction with Shylock and his daughter, Jessica, to seek revenge on those who have done them wrong or plan on doing them wrong.

     The Jews are relegated to La Giudecca, an island, separating the Jews from the city of Venice.  Unfortunately, Jessica wants to elope with a goy by the name of Lorenzo who of course wants to marry her for her money and then either kill her or leave her on some desolate coast to be eaten by beasts.  I do like Moore's women; they are matter-of-fact, no nonsense, and rather attractive characters. Shylock is a reasonably likable fellow as well, unfortunately as in Shakespeare, he over reaches a tad.

     As one would expect from a Christopher Moore novel, all is well that ends well which all does.  An enjoyable read-one that I would recommend to those who haven't the slightest hint of who Shakespeare might have been or why one should not consider Shylock a model for modern lending practices. With Genoa thrown into the mix and the impending battles between Genoa and Venice, a  little understanding of Italian history is a good thing.  As with most of Moore's novels, one can't read The Serpent of Venice and make any sense of it unless one has a reasonable education to rely on; for example, know where Venice and Genoa are located and what they were and that they might have some differences of opinion that needed ironing out through naval battles and such. 

26 January 2016

Hans Backen

Hans is not Eichmann

     Hans Backen is the retired warden of Hohenschonhausen Prison, a Stasi prison of East Germany.  Adam Johnson's short story "George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine" answers Hannah Arendt's question posed by Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.  How could Eichmann be so exact, so meticulous, so responsible in ensuring the trains loaded with Jews ran on time to the camps?  Eichmann was a bureaucrat with a bureaucratic job with a boss who had a boss who all had jobs in the organization with the duty to see the trains ran on time.  Eichmann knew what those trains contained; he would know, if he thought of it, the unimaginable suffering experienced not only at the camps, but on the trains by the people who were in the cars packed together so they could not sit without food or water or bathroom.

     Eichmann had a wife and kids. Presumably he loved his wife and kids; they would have been a typical middle class German family attending church on Sundays, visiting relatives on holidays, seeing their kids' programs at school.  So it was with Hans.  Hans with wife and daughter lived their middle class existence  below the prison walls where Hans was a diligent, conscientious, and very able prison warden.  He enjoyed his job and he did it well.  Hans didn't torture anyone; he didn't see anyone being tortured.  He can say now, eighteen years later,  "No one was tortured in my prison." when the fact was that torture can only be the term to describe the stay of those who happened to be chosen.

     True, Hans' prisoners often survived, many didn't, so his prison was not the equivalent of Eichmann's trains, but banality does describe Hans.  To know Hans is not to know evil--he is not the person who tortured, he did not cause the suffering, the unimaginable mental anguish of those incarcerated.  Hans had a good job, a job he did not want to lose, and he did it well.  Did he participate; well, yes he did.  Did he rationalize his position and the job he did; yes he did.  His wife and daughter didn't fare so well; they could not deny as well as Hans.

     "George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine" is a hard piece to get your mind around.  It is easy and difficult; it allows you to understand that the trains and the East German prison will return and they will be operated by people like Eichmann and Hans.  There will always be such people.  The trains and the prisons are inevitable.