Blog about some recent reading

I have a leak in my roof and I’ve canceled my Thanksgiving plans and I’m not sure what to do about the soft coup, but, books—

Top to bottom:

I’m still scratching my head about Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini (translated by Jessica Sequeira). Sneaky strange stuff, prose-poem stuff like elastic concrete, or concrete elastic.

Started Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers last night (on the late David Berman’s recommendation) and really digging it so far. Set at the end of the Vietnam War, it seems to be about a heroin deal going sideways. Maybe the CIA is involved, maybe not. Everyone’s a bit grimy. I guess it comes from the Hemingway tree, or really, maybe, the Stephen Crane tree—Denis Johnson’s tree, Leonard Gardner’s tree, Raymond Carver’s tree, etc. Reminds me a lot of Johnson’s Angels (and, to some extent, Tree of Smoke), but also Russell Banks’s 1985 novel Continental Drift, which I read years ago, hated, and still remember—which means I think it must be a really good novel?

I wrote Top to bottom up at the top, but Leonard Gardner’s Fat City is in line with Stone’s Dog Soldiers—Stone’s losers, I guess. The book is about an “old” boxer (he’s not thirty) on the way out of his career and a young boxer on the rise. (Rise here is a really suspect term.) I really can’t believe I was 41 when I read this. I should’ve read it at 20. I wouldn’t have understood it the same way, of course, and the biggest sincerest compliment I can pin on the novel is that I would’ve loved it at 20 but I know that I would’ve appreciated it more 20 years later. There are plenty of novels that I read and think, Hmm, would’ve loved this years ago, but now, nah, but Fat City is wonderful. It’s a boxing story, sure, but it’s really a book about bodies breaking down, aging, getting stuck in dreams and fantasies. Gardner’s only novel (!) is simultaneously mock-tragic and real tragic, pathetic and moving, and very very moving. Great stuff.

John Brunner’s big fat dystopian novel Stand on Zanzibar frankly overwhelmed me and then sorta underwhelmed me there at the end. This sci-fi classic is a big weird shaggy dog that managed to predict the future in all kinds of ways, and it’s mean and funny, but it’s also bloated and booming, the kind of novel that sucks all the air out of the room. It’s several dozen essays dressed up as sci-fi adventure—not a bad deal in and of itself—but there’s very little space left for the reader.

David Ohle’s lean mean mutant Motorman is a dystopia carved from stranger stuff. Ohle’s cult novel leaves plenty of room for the reader to wonder and wander around in. Abject, spare, funny, and depressing, Motorman sputters and jerks on its own nightmare logic. Its hapless hero Moldenke anti-quests through an artificial world, tumbling occasionally into strange moments of agency, but mostly lost and unillusioned in a broken universe. I loved it.

After I finished it, I made a list with no name of books that are “like” Motorman in their “unalikeness” to other books:

 

John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (Book acquired, 28 Aug. 2020)

I usually allow myself to peruse my favorite used bookstore every other Friday, poking around for weird finds and etc. I had no luck this week—nothing like a Vintage Contemporaries Barry Hannah—but they did have a copy of John Brunner’s 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, which I’d been searching (not-too-hard) for for a few years now. The thing is much longer than I expected (I knew it was long…but it’s long…650 pages). Not sure when I’ll even get to it. It’s supposed to be a cult classic right? Here’s the blurb from my edition:

There are seven billion-plus humans crowding the surface of 21st century Earth. It is an age of intelligent computers, mass-market psychedelic drugs, politics conducted by assassination, scientists who burn incense to appease volcanoes … all the hysteria of a dangerously overcrowded world, portrayed in a dazzlingly inventive style. Employing a dazzling range of literary techniques, John Brunner has created a future world as real as this morning’s newspaper – moving, sensory, impressionistic, as jagged as the times it portrays, this book is a real mind stretcher – and yet beautifully orchestrated to give a vivid picture of the whole.

And here’s an excerpt, via Macmillan’s site:


context (1)

SCANALYZE MY NAME

Stock cue SOUND: “Presenting SCANALYZER, Engrelay Satelserv’s unique thrice-per-day study of the big big scene, the INdepth INdependent INmediate INterface between you and your world!”
Stock cue VISUAL: cliptage, splitscreen, cut in bridge-melder, Mr. & Mrs. Everywhere depthunder (today MAMP, Mid-Atlantic Mining Project), spaceover (today freefly-suiting), transiting (today Simplon Acceleratube), digging (today as every day homimage with autoshout).
Autoshout cue: “It’s happening it’s happening! SCANALYZER SCANALYZER SCANALYZER SCANALYZER SCANALYZER SCANALYZER—”
Stock cue VISUAL: cliptage, wholescreen, planet Earth turning jerk-jerk-jerk and holding meridians for GMT, EST, PCT, Pacific Conflict Zone Time.
Live cue SOUND: “And it’s six poppa-momma for the happening people keeping it straight and steady on that old Greenwich Mean Time—how mean can time get, you tell me, hm? Zee for zero, bee for base, counting down to one after ess ee eks—sorree—ess EYE eks! We know what’s happening happening HAPPENING but that piece of the big big scene is strictly up to you, Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere—or Mr. and Miss, or Miss and Miss, or Mister and Mister, take your pick, hah-hah! Counting down to one after one poppa-momma for that good old Eastern Standard tie-yum, one after ten anti-matter for the Pacific Coast, and for all of you fighting the good fight in lonely midocean one after seven anti-matter—PIPS!”
Clock cue: 5 × 1-sec. countdown pips on G in alt, minute signal on C in alt.
Plug cue: “No time like the present for things to happen in, no better way to keep time straight and steady than by the signal from General Technics’ critonium clock, so accuright it serves to judge the stars.”
Script cue VISUAL: cliptage, splitscreen, excerpts from day’s news.
Live cue SOUND: “And no better way to keep abreast—pardon—than with SCANALYZER!”
Cut autoshout cue. (If they haven’t made it by this time they’ve switched off.)
Plug cue: “SCANALYZER is the one single, the ONLY study of the news in depth that’s processed by General Technics’ famed computer Shalmaneser, who sees all, hears all, knows all save only that which YOU, Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere, wish to keep to yourselves.”
Script cue: the happening world.
the happening world (1)

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