April 2017 Books


Movie Love: Complete Reviews 1988-1991, Pauline Kael

Cemented my feelings that this was a totally unappealing era of cinema, but Kael’s reviews are basically fun to read. I’d be curious to see her perspective on earlier eras, both because they might contain more interesting selections of movies and her reputation and style wouldn’t have been as established; this was the last compilation of her reviews, I think, and definitely not the one I would have bought if I had been looking for Pauline Kael on Amazon, but–not much choice when you’re just fumbling around in a not super well-organized used book store.

(Also, man, did Kael happen to have read every single book that would eventually have a film adaptation or did she only review adaptations of books she had already read?)

Selected quote:

He’s made a fifty-million-dollar movie about why he can’t get along with the men who back movies. (It’s because he makes fifty-million-dollar movies about why he can’t get along with the men who back movies.)

(From the review of Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen)

The Waves, Virginia Woolf

First exposure to Virginia Woolf and, well: that sure is a Stylistic Choice. I guess her other books are less experimental? Or maybe experimental in a different direction? Not sure.

Definitely interesting to read from a (super pretentious) celebrity gossip standpoint, knowing who the characters are supposedly based on, but in and of itself, how do I feel about it? I guess: depressed about aging and the distance that grows between people over time–the harder it is to maintain strong, organic connections to people the farther you get from childhood…or something.

The waves interludes didn’t do anything for me other than feel very effortfully “artistic,” but I guess I’m not super receptive to more poetic/figurative language. I don’t think it’s that I’m too literal-minded, but…it seems like they were meant to have more of an impact than making the reader go “hmm, what purpose are these interstitial breaks serving? I guess to show the passage of time?” And it’s a technique that we would probably be okay with and view as natural and effortlessly artistic in a movie, but it annoys us in literature.

Am I too dumb for Virginia Woolf? That may be the case.

Selected quote:

‘You have been reading Byron. You have been marking the passages that seem to approve of your own character. I find marks against all those sentences which seem to express a sardonic yet passionate nature; a moth-like impetuosity dashing itself against hard glass. You thought, as you drew your pencil there, “I too throw off my cloak like that. I too snap my fingers in the face of destiny.” Yet Byron never made tea as you do, who fill the pot so that when you put the lid on the tea spills over. There is a brown pool on the table–it is running among your books and papers. Now you mop it up, clumsily, with your pocket-handkerchief. You then stuff your handkerchief back into your pocket–that is not Byron; that is you; that is so essentially you that if I think of you in twenty years’ time, when we are both famous, gouty and intolerable, it will be by that scene: and if you are dead, I shall weep. Once you were Tolstoi’s young man; now you are Byron’s young man; perhaps you will be Meredith’s young man; then you will visit Paris in the Easter vacation and come back wearing a black tie, some detestable Frenchman whom nobody has ever heard of. Then I shall drop you.’

Polaroids from the Dead, Douglas Coupland

Eh. Coupland’s short stories are not my favorite, but for completionism, this had to be read.

Selected quote:

The car starts.
“Put in the tape. Quick,” pleads Jamie.
“Which tape?”
“Songs about robots—written by cash registers. Anything to counteract that hippie noise.”

New Order saturates the warming car. Erik and Jamie have returned to a future they can live with: spare, secular, coherent and rational—a future reflecting their almost puritanical belief that excess is its own punishment.
Yet while Erik and Jamie are relieved to return to a familiar world, and all too ready to tease the world they have recently vacated, they are also feeling a sense of being let down—as though, however accidentally Erik and Jamie might have arrived at the Coliseum, tonight’s concert offered a promise that was not delivered. They had presupposed that such a radically different Deadhead way of life would offer constructive new hints on how to deal with the new thought-based economy the world is plunging towards. It didn’t.

And did Douglas Coupland at any point say some variation on “what separates humans from animals is our ability to experience time and interpret the events of our life as a story?” Of course he did. Updated the Coupland humans vs animals tracker here.

Heraldry, Ancestry, and Titles: Questions and Answers, Leslie G. Pine

Picked this up at used book store because I felt like I should know more about heraldry. These were…not quite the aspects of heraldry I wanted to know about. It was basically more about the administrative aspects than the artistic aspects? But relatively short and interesting to try to figure out the author’s deal and the intended audience based on the tone (published in 1965 and, according to Wikipedia, the author was also the managing editor of Shooting Times, a British hunting magazine, so.)

Selected quote:

Well then, where do I start and how do I set about it?

You begin with yourself, which is quite natural and right. You start off with your own birth certificate. Then you must determine whether you want to trace father’s or mother’s side. In other words you have to be either a normal person or a feminist. Perhaps it is not quite as bad as that alternative. Seriously if you try to trace both sides of your family you will end in about two or three years with a pedigree of a truly formidable width but of very little depth, for each generation doubles, so that while we have two parents, we have four grandparents and so on.

“Perhaps it is not quite as bad as that alternative.” Lol what?

Why are so many people keen to have Norman blood?

A good point because it does seem strange to want to come from a set of hoodlums, whose only difference from Hitler’s Nazis was that they were more successful. However, there it is, the worship of success is very strong, and most English people want to be with the best people, whether they are alive or dead. Hence the wish for Norman ancestry, though bless the hearts of most of the would-be twentieth-century Normans, they are innocent of any connection with them.

Hoodlums! Jesus Christ, this guy.

Honey for the Bears, Anthony Burgess

This is a weird one, but it’s Anthony Burgess, so maybe that goes without saying. Best to just look up a plot summary.

Selected quote:

He spoke English with a composite accent hard to anatomize: there were shadows of Sydney in it, flashes of Newcastle-on-Tyne, a peppermill-grind of the Bronx. It was as though he had made a pilgrimage in search of an English accent. Paul rather liked his face: the many lines, the fleshy mouth, pale eyes, an Audenesque forelock.


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