Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Port Hardy, After One Week

One of the most amazing things about Port Hardy (or our little part of it) is the silence. Walking out the back door onto the deck with Diego, turning right and going along the garage and down the driveway to the street, I would hear absolutely nothing. Except for some bird calls. The silence has a real presence. When there is no sound, you believe you can hear the utter quiet; the term "deafening silence" refers to something real. There is a weight to it, a heft.

No passing cars, no honking, no traffic on nearby streets, no machinery, no planes overhead, no bus announcements, no trains, no yelling. Two days ago, I heard a noise, which I determined was a ferry departing down on the bay.

We arrived at 9435 Mayors Way last Tuesday evening. It was a little dusky as we drove north from Campbell River. Port Hardy was 2.5 hours away. In addition to the dark, it began raining, so we saw nothing of the endless scenery of the trip's final 230 kilometers (143 miles). The landlord's agent was waiting - with a fire in the fireplace - to welcome us and give us keys. Later, we put a comforter down on the floor and had some dinner.

We knew we would be arriving at night and the house would be empty, so we had the movers in Mississauga load our mattress and a futon (and several boxes of necessary supplies) at the back of the U-Haul. When we took these items out, I noticed that several boxes were sopping wet on the bottom, the cardboard falling away in pieces. I immediately feared that the U-Haul had a leak somewhere and (considering the days of rain we had traveled through) a lot of our stuff was now ruined. I tried putting it out of my mind, figuring that another 12 hours would not matter if the boxes already had been in water for a week or more.

Four local men came by at 10 AM the following morning and quickly unloaded the U-Haul. I quickly saw that my fears about water damage were unfounded. My brother-in-law, who had driven the U-Haul across the country, surmised that two large jugs of water at the back of the truck had frozen. The plastic containers had then expanded and cracked and some melting ice had leaked out. It turned out that the water was really only in one area and nothing was damaged - other than the many things broken or damaged by the incompetent movers back in Ontario. (I wish the Port Hardy guys had been able to pack the truck.)

We spent the rest of Wednesday and Thursday unpacking, hooking up computers, putting legs back on tables, filling bookshelves with books, storing the flat boxes and bubblewrap in the garage. We had two great meals in town - including perhaps the best fish-and-chips we have ever had - which was tremendously encouraging.

Because Laura would be driving south to Nanaimo on Sunday for two weeks of job training (and her brother and his wife were returning the U-Haul in Campbell River before continuing on to Nanaimo, where they would take a ferry back to the mainland), we decided to explore the town a bit on Friday and Saturday. We drove down to Tsulquate Park (maybe three minutes from our house) and walked along the water, passing a playground, the ferry dock, and a large wooden carrot.

Laura also spotted two bald eagles high in the treetops, scanning the water.

My happiness over this move and our new situation has been a pleasant (and somewhat strange) surprise. The house, rented for several hundred dollars less than our 19th-floor Mississauga apartment, the outdoor space of a deck, the remoteness of the town, the ability to work from home ... it is striking how every single aspect of this resettlement has gone smoothly and wonderfully.

Yesterday I drove into town, thinking I would go to the library and the Port Hardy Museum (which are part of the same building), but I forgot they are both closed on Monday. I walked into Cafe Guido because there is a book store off on one side (The Book Nook), in a semi-lower floor, with some used books among the the new ones. In a craft store upstairs, I met an adorable golden-haired young dog. I bent down to pet him and he poked his nose towards my jacket pocket, where there were bits of Diego's peanut butter crackers. The dog followed me around the store before giving up and walking back by the register and laying down.

I bought a tea and walked past the library (a sign on the door: "No Bathroom - Key Went Missing") and found the Ministry office for which I had once hoped to work (before my law firm suggested working  remotely). Back on the main street, one business was closed, the owner having added an explanation ("More Medical Procedures!"). I saw the post office down one street, so I went and picked up our mail.

I sat out on the deck reading for a bit, with Diego on the stake in the side yard. Our neighbour in the house beyond the deck came over and said hello to Diego. She and her husband are retired and they travel a lot in their massive RV (Arizona, Florida, and "down island"). They apparently are famous (relatively speaking, of course) for having the most Xmas lights on their house, but they are behind schedule this year. A pizza delivery guy asked her over the weekend, "So where are the lights?" She wanted to know if she could come into our yard to string lights on the fence separating our yard and their driveway because there are plants and whatnot on her side. I said sure. (There are some lights up now, but I don't think she will top the houses I saw in Brooklyn decades ago.)

There has been a lot of frost on the grass every morning, with the temperature around freezing. The snow/ice crystals on the top of the fence posts and the car roof are pointy or fuzzy.

The smoke from chimneys tells me that many people have wood stoves or fireplaces going in the mornings. The morning quiet and the smell of wood burning is exquisite. We will need to purchase some firewood, which I believe one of the movers said he chops and sells.

It's hard to tell for sure after only one week, but Port Hardy seems to be the right amount of town for me. At age 55, the basics are pretty much all I need. Everything is a mere 3-5 minutes away and there is neither traffic nor crowds (as long as I avoid the grocery store on the weekend or late afternoon). I also really like the uniqueness of every single house. I hope to drive around soon and take more photos.

And while it was raining on the night we arrived, I don't think it has rained at all since. On Monday and today, it reached 10 degrees C (50 F).

I love being so close to the water. In the first picture below you can sort of see a road in the middle of the picture going off to the left. There is another slight curve and then it goes down a hill and Queen Charlotte Strait is visible.

Today, I got a library card. When the librarian looked at my Ontario drivers license, she asked what brought me to Port Hardy. I told her my wife was the new librarian in this branch. She knew someone had been hired, and we talked for a bit.

I also drove out of town to take a picture of the Welcome To Port Hardy sign we half-saw in the dark last week.

I want to learn about this area and the various small towns.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

At Long Last! "Blood On The Tracks" Is The Focus Of Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series: Volume 14

In September 2012, Bob Dylan released an alternate take of "Meet Me In The Morning" (from Blood On The Tracks) as the B-side to "Duquesne Whistle". At that time, it was reported that "Meet Me In The Morning" was a track from the soon-to-be-released Volume 12 of Dylan's Bootleg Series.

However, that did not happen. Volume 12 ended up being devoted to The Basement Tapes. Volume 13 was an overview of Dylan's "Christian Period" (1979-81).

It was announced last week that the Blood On the Tracks set - which must have been mostly completed and ready to go six years ago - will be released on November 2 as Volume 14! More Blood, More Tracks will include six discs comprising "every surviving take" from the New York sessions, including false starts and "studio banter".

For fans of what many people (including myself) regard as Dylan's greatest album, this confirmation is still stunning news - because it was never clear what would be released. Would it be everything, as was done with The Cutting Edge, an 18-disc set of everything recorded for Dylan's mid-60s masterpieces Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde On Blonde? Or would it be a sampling, as was done with the gospel sessions for Trouble No More? And would there be anything included that was previously unknown?

More Blood, More Tracks will feature over 70 previously unreleased recordings, though they are all songs, either from the official album or the two outtakes released in more recent years. But there is no possible way this set will not be riveting because it is impossible for Dylan to sing a song the same way twice. Even in successive takes, he will emphasize different words, perhaps also changing the lyrics slightly. The personal nature of these songs only heightens that aspect of his performance. Also the recordings for this album were done solo, with a full band, and with a partial band.

The music will no doubt be a revelation, but then there is this: the accompanying book will include "a complete reproduction of one of Dylan's legendary handwritten 57 page notebooks", in which he wrote and revised the album's 10 songs. (There are also at least seven songs written at the same time but not recorded.*) There are stories about the infamous "red notebook", but there were actually two or three notebooks. This is Holy Grail stuff! The original notebooks are currently held in a museum in New York City and are not available to researchers until after Dylan's death.

I see "Idiot Wind" scrawled at the top of the second page and the song spills over to the third and fourth pages. I also read "Blame it on a simple twist of fate" near the bottom of the first page. In March 2016, The New York Times published an article about Dylan's archives is Tulsa, Oklahoma, and included close-ups of three other notebook pages:

While Dylan's shopping lists ("hot dogs") or to-do lists ("hook phone back up") are interesting, I hope there are not too many of them in MBMT.

*: The unrecorded songs, according to Clinton Heylin's The Recording Sessions 1960-1994: "Bell Tower Blues", "There Ain't Gonna Be Any Next Time", "Where Do You Turn (Turning Point)", "It's Breakin' Me Up", "Don't Want No Married Woman", "Ain't It Funny", and "Little Bit Of Rain".

The recording history of Blood On The Tracks is slightly irregular. A test pressing was compiled from the New York sessions and sent to a few journalists in late 1974. As the legend goes, Dylan played this test pressing for his brother David around Christmas and, based (perhaps) on his brother's feedback, decided to re-record five of the songs, making the final album a mix of the two sessions. It wasn't long before bootleg copies of the test pressing began circulating and Dylanologists have been arguing which version of the album is "better" ever since.

Unfortunately, the multi-track masters of the five re-recordings are all that survive from the two Minneapolis sessions. Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard, in A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks, offer a fuller accounting of what was played. This information most likely comes from interviews with the various musicians. (Odegard was one of the Minnesota musicians.)
December 27, 1974, Sound 80 Studio, Minneapolis, Minnesota
1. Idiot Wind (Rehearsal)
2. Idiot Wind
3. Idiot Wind
4. Idiot Wind
5. Idiot Wind (Released on Blood On The Tracks)
6. You're A Big Girl Now
7. You're A Big Girl Now (Released on Blood On The Tracks)

December 30, 1974, Sound 80 Studio, Minneapolis, Minnesota
1. Tangled Up In Blue (G version)
2. Tangled Up In Blue (partial A version, rehearsal)
3. Tangled Up In Blue (Released on Blood On The Tracks)
4. Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts (rehearsal)
5. Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts (Released on Blood On The Tracks)
6. If You See Her, Say Hello (rehearsal)
7. If You See Her, Say Hello (Released on Blood On The Tracks)
Bob Dylan / More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Volume 14

[The information in italicized brackets comes from Michael Krossgaard previously-published research. While he had access to recording logs and files in the archives of Columbia/Sony Records, the information may not be entirely accurate. Also, the information included in MBMT may not be completely correct, as noted below.]


A&R Studios, New York, September 16, 1974
1. If You See Her, Say Hello (Take 1) – solo
2. If You See Her, Say Hello (Take 2) – solo – previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3
3. You’re a Big Girl Now (Take 1) – solo
4. You’re a Big Girl Now (Take 2) – solo
5. Simple Twist of Fate (Take 1) – solo [incomplete]
6. Simple Twist of Fate (Take 2) – solo
7. You’re a Big Girl Now (Take 3) – solo
8. Up to Me (Rehearsal) – solo [not included by Krossgaard]
9. Up to Me (Take 1) – solo
10. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (Take 1) – solo [not included by Krossgaard]
11. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (Take 2) – solo – included on test pressing [listed as Take 1 by Krossgaard]


A&R Studios, New York, September 16, 1974
1. Simple Twist of Fate (Take 1A) – with band
2. Simple Twist of Fate (Take 2A) – with band [incomplete]
3. Simple Twist of Fate (Take 3A) – with band
4. Call Letter Blues (Take 1) – with band
5. Meet Me in the Morning (Take 1) – with band – edited version included on test pressing and Blood on the Tracks
6. Call Letter Blues (Take 2) – with band – previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3
7. Idiot Wind (Take 1) – with bass
8. Idiot Wind (Take 1, Remake) – with bass [incomplete]
9. Idiot Wind (Take 3 with insert) – with bass [listed as Take 4 by Krossgaard]
10. Idiot Wind (Take 5) – with bass [incomplete]
11. Idiot Wind (Take 6) – with bass
12. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Rehearsal and Take 1) – with band [incomplete]
13. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 2) – with band [incomplete]
14. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 3) – with band [incomplete]
15. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 4) – with band
16. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 5) – with band
17. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 6) – with band
18. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 6, Remake) – with band [incomplete]
19. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 7) – with band [incomplete]
20. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 8) – with band


A&R Studios, New York, September 16, 1974
1. Tangled Up in Blue (Take 1) – with bass [incomplete]

A&R Studios, New York, September 17, 1974
2. You’re a Big Girl Now (Take 1, Remake) – with bass and organ
3. You’re a Big Girl Now (Take 2, Remake) – with bass, organ, and steel guitar – included on test pressing and previously released on Biograph
4. Tangled Up in Blue (Rehearsal) – with bass and organ [not included by Krossgaard]
5. Tangled Up in Blue (Take 2, Remake) – with bass and organ [listed as Take 1 by Krossgaard]
6. Spanish Is the Loving Tongue (Take 1) – with bass and piano [listed as "?" by Krossgaard]
7. Call Letter Blues (Rehearsal) – with bass and piano [listed as "Blues (incomplete)" by Krossgaard]
8. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 1, Remake) – with bass and piano
9. Shelter from the Storm (Take 1) – with bass and piano – previously released on the Jerry McGuire original soundtrack
10. Buckets of Rain (Take 1) – with bass
11. Tangled Up in Blue (Take 3, Remake) – with bass
12. Buckets of Rain (Take 2) – with bass
13. Shelter from the Storm (Take 2) – with bass [listed as "slow" by Krossgaard]
14. Shelter from the Storm (Take 3) – with bass [incomplete; listed as "fast" by Krossgaard]
15. Shelter from the Storm (Take 4) – with bass – previously released on Blood on the Tracks


A&R Studios, New York, September 17, 1974
1. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 1, Remake 2) – with bass [listed as "slow" by Krossgaard]
2. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 2, Remake 2) – with bass [listed as "fast" by Krossgaard]
3. Buckets of Rain (Take 1, Remake) – previously released on Blood on the Tracks [not listed by Krossgaard]

A&R Studios, New York, September 18, 1974
4. Buckets of Rain (Take 2, Remake) – solo [incomplete; listed as Take 1 by Krossgaard]
5. Buckets of Rain (Take 3, Remake) – solo [listed as Take 2 by Krossgaard]
6. Buckets of Rain (Take 4, Remake) – solo [not listed by Krossgaard]

A&R Studios, New York, September 19, 1974
7. Up to Me (Take 1, Remake) – with bass [incomplete]
8. Up to Me (Take 2, Remake) – with bass
9. Buckets of Rain (Take 1, Remake 2) – with bass
10. Buckets of Rain (Take 2, Remake 2) – with bass [incomplete]
11. Buckets of Rain (Take 3, Remake 2) – with bass [incomplete]
12. Buckets of Rain (Take 4, Remake 2) – with bass – previously released on Blood on the Tracks
13. If You See Her, Say Hello (Take 1, Remake) – with bass – previously included on test pressing
14. Up to Me (Take 1, Remake 2) – with bass [incomplete]
15. Up to Me (Take 2, Remake 2) – with bass
16. Up to Me (Take 3, Remake 2) – with bass
17. Buckets of Rain (Rehearsal) – with bass
18. Meet Me in the Morning (Take 1, Remake) – with bass – previously released on "Duquesne Whistle" 7-inch single
19. Meet Me in the Morning (Take 2, Remake) – with bass
20. Buckets of Rain (Take 5, Remake 2) – with bass


A&R Studios, New York, September 19, 1974
1. Tangled Up in Blue (Rehearsal and Take 1, Remake 2) – with bass [incomplete]
2. Tangled Up in Blue (Take 2, Remake 2) – with bass [incomplete]
3. Tangled Up in Blue (Take 3, Remake 2) – with bass – included on test pressing and previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3
4. Simple Twist of Fate (Take 2, Remake) – with bass [false start]
5. Simple Twist of Fate (Take 3, Remake) – with bass – previously released on Blood on the Tracks [Krossgaard lists 3 takes for this date]
6. Up to Me (Rehearsal and Take 1, Remake 3) – with bass [incomplete]
7. Up to Me (Take 2, Remake 3) – with bass – previously released on Biograph
8. Idiot Wind (Rehearsal and Takes 1-3, Remake) – with bass [incomplete]
9. Idiot Wind (Take 4, Remake) – with bass
10. Idiot Wind (Take 4, Remake with organ overdub) included on test pressing and previously released on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 [Krossgaard says overdub recorded on October 8]
11. You’re a Big Girl Now (Take 1, Remake 2) – with bass
12. Meet Me in the Morning (Take 1, Remake 2) – with bass
13. Meet Me in the Morning (Takes 2-3, Remake 2) – with bass [Krossgaard lists 6 takes: 3 incomplete and 3 false starts]


A&R Studios, New York, September 19, 1974
1. You’re a Big Girl Now (Takes 3-6, Remake 2) – with bass [not mentioned by Krossgaard]
2. Tangled Up in Blue (Rehearsal and Takes 1-2, Remake 3) – with bass [incomplete]
3. Tangled Up in Blue (Take 3, Remake 3) – with bass

Sound 80 Studio, Minneapolis, MN, December 27, 1974
4. Idiot Wind – with band – previously released on Blood on the Tracks
5. You’re a Big Girl Now – with band – previously released on Blood on the Tracks

Sound 80 Studio, Minneapolis, MN, December 30, 1974
6. Tangled up in Blue – with band – previously released on Blood on the Tracks
7. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts – with band – previously released on Blood on the Tracks
8. If You See Her, Say Hello – with band – previously released on Blood on the Tracks

Notes on Disc 5:

The notes state that "Tangled Up in Blue (Take 3, Remake 2)" from September 19 was included on the test pressing and released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. However, the booklet included with The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 states the song was recorded on September 16. (But that cannot be correct if there was only one incomplete take done that day.) Also, "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Idiot Wind" on the test pressing are not the same takes that appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.

More - though certainly not all - will be revealed on November 2.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Death Of Truth

Michiko Kakutani was a book critic at The New York Times for more than three decades. She has written The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump.

Bridey Heing, Longreads:
[I]n this tight volume [160 pages], Kakutani teases out seemingly disparate strands of cultural and political developments in the United States and weaves them together into a thorough yet readable narrative of how America grew into a place where truth is subjective, and a reality TV star can become its leader. ...

This work is interested less in the fanaticism of true believers than in the complicity of the average citizen, and the ways in which the entire system shifted away from factuality to subjectivity over the past sixty or so years.

[H]er analysis of cultural trends and the rise of subjectivity adds most to the conversation — and is perhaps the most controversial of her targets. ... "The postmodern argument that all truths are partial (and a function of one's perspective) led to the related argument that there are many legitimate ways to understand or represent an event...[I]t's also been exploited by those who want to make the case for offensive or debunked theories, or who want to equate things that cannot be equated." ...

She quotes Newt Gingrich, the architect in many ways of the Republican party we currently have, from a 2016 interview in which he makes false claims regarding crime rates. When called out for claiming FBI statistics were only "theoretically true," he responded, "What I said was equally true. People feel it."

That attitude — that an opinion, if deeply felt, can stand counter to a fact — is likely all-too familiar at this point. ... The Trump administration, with their alternative facts, is speaking the language of a society that leans more heavily on opinion than objective reality and has become more reliant on personal narrative than fact for understanding the world around them. ...

As a result, opinions that are not backed up by facts are given airtime and normalized by a mass media that does not know how to navigate a surreal world they, in part, helped build — perpetuating the cycle rather than breaking out of it.
A lengthy excerpt from the book was published by The Guardian.
If a novelist had concocted a villain like Trump – a larger-than-life, over-the-top avatar of narcissism, mendacity, ignorance, prejudice, boorishness, demagoguery and tyrannical impulses (not to mention someone who consumes as many as a dozen Diet Cokes a day) – she or he would likely be accused of extreme contrivance and implausibility. ... But the more clownish aspects of Trump the personality should not blind us to the monumentally serious consequences of his assault on truth and the rule of law, and the vulnerabilities he has exposed in our institutions and digital communications. It is unlikely that a candidate who had already been exposed during the campaign for his history of lying and deceptive business practices would have gained such popular support were portions of the public not blase about truth-telling and were there not systemic problems with how people get their information and how they've come to think in increasingly partisan terms.

With Trump, the personal is political, and in many respects he is less a comic-book anomaly than an extreme, bizarro-world apotheosis of many of the broader, intertwined attitudes undermining truth today, from the merging of news and politics with entertainment, to the toxic polarisation that's overtaken American politics, to the growing populist contempt for expertise. ...

For decades now, objectivity – or even the idea that people can aspire toward ascertaining the best available truth – has been falling out of favour. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s well-known observation that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts” is more timely than ever: polarisation has grown so extreme that voters have a hard time even agreeing on the same facts. This has been exponentially accelerated by social media, which connects users with like-minded members and supplies them with customised news feeds that reinforce their preconceptions, allowing them to live in ever narrower silos. ...

Orwell wrote that "political chaos is connected with the decay of language", divorcing words from meaning and opening up a chasm between a leader's real and declared aims. This is why the US and the world feel so disoriented by the stream of lies issued by the Trump White House and the president's use of language to disseminate distrust and discord. And this is why authoritarian regimes throughout history have co‑opted everyday language in an effort to control how people communicate ...

[Trump's] personal assault on the English language. His incoherence (his twisted syntax, his reversals, his insincerity, his bad faith and his inflammatory bombast) is emblematic of the chaos he creates and thrives on, as well as an essential instrument in his liar's toolkit. His interviews, off‑teleprompter speeches and tweets are a startling jumble of insults, exclamations, boasts, digressions, non sequiturs, qualifications, exhortations and innuendos – a bully's efforts to intimidate, gaslight, polarise and scapegoat.

Precise words, like facts, mean little to Trump, as interpreters, who struggle to translate his grammatical anarchy, can attest. Chuck Todd, the anchor of NBC's Meet the Press, observed that after several of his appearances as a candidate Trump would lean back in his chair and ask the control booth to replay his segment on a monitor – without sound: "He wants to see what it all looked like. He will watch the whole thing on mute."

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Real Question: "How Many Brown People Can Live In America And It Still Be America?"

The Southwest Political Report, June 20, 2018
Donald Trump isn't anti immigrant. He's a White Supremacist. This isn't about immigrants. Melania Trump is an immigrant. This is not about the children of immigrants. Ivanka Trump is the child of an immigrant. Eric Trump is the child of an immigrant. Donald Trump Jr. is the child of an immigrant. Joe Arpaio is the child of immigrants. ... The Klansman Fred Trump was the son of immigrants. ...

This is not about immigration. This is not about the law. This is about the fear of a Brown America. ... [H]ow many Brown people with Spanish last names can live in America and it still be America? This is the question that animates this so called immigration debate. It is the driving force behind it. This is what is meant by infestation. This is what is meant by animals. This is what is meant by drug dealers and rapists. This is what is meant by bad hombres. This is what is meant by calling El Salvador a shithole. This is what drives for the call for a wall. This is what is meant by saying Mexico will pay. ...

The theme of Brown people as a threat to White standards, civility and safety is an old trope in US politics. ... Trump did not make these politics up. But he picked them up and ran with them in a way we have not seen for generations. ...

[This] is about the fear of becoming. This fear of White people being forced to assimilate to a growing population that in regions of the country already outnumber them ...

This isn't about immigration. It never has been. It is about the changing face of America. ...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book 6 Of My Struggle Will Be Published On September 4!

Amazon and Penguin Random House say September 4. (Penguin UK says August 30.)
The final installment in the long awaited, internationally celebrated My Struggle series.

The full scope and achievement of [Karl Ove] Knausgaard's monumental work is evident in this final installment of his My Struggle series. Grappling directly with the consequences of Knausgaard's transgressive blurring of public and private, Book Six is a troubling and engrossing look into the mind of one of the most exciting artists of our time. Knausgaard includes a long essay on Hitler and Mein Kampf, particularly relevant (if not prescient) in our current global climate of ascending dictatorships.
My Struggle is a series of six autobiographical "novels" in which Knausgaard reveals the banalities and humiliations of his life, his private pleasures, and his dark thoughts (as Wikipedia puts it). Knausgaard, who is Norwegian, published the six books from 2009–2011. The English translations began appearing in 2013.

I have no idea how I missed about 97% of the hype, but I did. It wasn't until December 6, 2016, that I opened Book 1. I was immediately addicted, and read all five books - a total of roughly 2,700 pages - in one month. It was (with perhaps one exception) the most enjoyable and astounding reading experience of my life*. And I want to re-read the five books right before diving into Book 6 (which is reportedly 1,264 pages!).

*: Evan Hughes of The New Republic said the books are "like opening someone else's diary and finding your own secrets". Zadie Smith admitted, at one point: "I need the next volume like crack."

In 2013, the Guardian stated that My Struggle "deserves to be called perhaps the most significant literary enterprise of our times":
A man in his 30s, married and living in a pleasant city in Norway, with his first novel just published to much acclaim, Knausgaard suffers from an indefinable malaise: his writing feels obstructed and forced, and its motivations uneasily egotistical; his personal and domestic life seem to constrict him while being unarguably the fruit of his own free choices. ...

What unfolds is a painstakingly detailed account of mid-life, as Knausgaard documents his meeting and relationship with a new partner in Stockholm, their progress into marriage and parenthood, their construction of domestic space and social life, the evolution of their familial relationships and the changing politics of their own bond. These are the universal themes from which My Struggle draws its abundance, and since there is no narrative requirement to attenuate them, Knausgaard finds himself in the position of being able to write about modern middle-class private life with a compendiousness and precision that are entirely singular and new.
One month later, the Guardian noted that in Book 2,
Knausgaard is brutally, painstakingly, viciously truthful – or at least appears to be – about his relationship with his wife and children. Linda is mostly presented as a stubborn, lazy, self-obsessed depressive, while his children are often seen as inconveniences, ignored and abandoned, or used as weapons in domestic disputes.
That is all true, but (a) there is much more in that book and (b) Knausgaard is at least every bit as "brutally truthful" about himself, sometimes to a shocking degree.

Book 3 concerns his childhood from ages 7-10 and Book 4 details his time as an 18-year-old teacher in a tiny fishing village in northern Norway. Book 5 finds Knausgaard in Bergen in his twenties, struggling to become a writer. (He supposedly wrote Book 5 - 550 pages - in only eight weeks.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Stephen King: Under The Dome (2009)

The genesis of Under The Dome dates back to Stephen King's earliest years as a writer. In 1972, King began work on a novel entitled Under The Dome. (1976 and 1978 have also been given as possible starting dates.) He returned to the idea in 1982, retitled it The Cannibals, but eventually abandoned the manuscript.

"I've got about four-hundred-and-fifty pages done and it is all about these people who are trapped in an apartment building," King said at the time. "Worst thing I could think of. And I thought, wouldn't it be funny if they all ended up eating each other? It's very, very bizarre because it's all on one note. And who knows whether it will be published or not?"

(In September 2009, King posted a 61-page excerpt from The Cannibals (the first four chapters of the original typescript) to his website. An additional 63 pages were posted the following month. These pages are still available for download.)

King has said these two unfinished works "were two very different attempts to utilize the same idea, which concerns itself with how people behave when they are cut off from the society they've always belonged to. Also, my memory of The Cannibals is that it, like Needful Things, was a kind of social comedy. The new Under the Dome is played dead straight."

From the very beginning, I saw it as a chance to write about the serious ecological problems that we face in the world today. The fact is we all live under the dome. We have this little blue world that we've all seen from outer space, and it appears like that's about all there is. It's a natural allegorical situation, without whamming the reader over the head with it. I don't like books where everything stands for everything else. It works with Animal Farm: You can be a child and read it as a story about animals, but when you're older, you realize it's about communism, capitalism, fascism. That's the genius of Orwell. But I love the idea about isolating these people, addressing the questions that we face. ... We have to conclude we're on our own, and we have to deal with it.
King, on UTD's politics:
I was angry about incompetency. Obviously I'm on the left of center. I didn't believe there was justification for going into the war in Iraq. And it just seemed at the time, that in the wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration was like this angry kid walking down the street who couldn't find whoever sucker punched him, and so turned around and punched the first likely suspect. Sometimes the sublimely wrong people can be in power at a time when you really need the right people. I put a lot of that into the book. ... The [Bush-Cheney] administration interested me because of the aura of fundamentalist religion that surrounded it and the rather amazing incompetency* of those two top guys. I thought there is something blackly humorous in it. So in a sense, Under the Dome is an apocalyptic version of The Peter Principle.
On an otherwise normal October afternoon, the small Maine town of Chester's Mill is thrown into chaos when some type of barrier cuts it off from the rest of the world. The barrier (or force field, perhaps) conforms to the exact boundaries of the town. It rises to a height of five miles, while also extending at least 100 feet into the ground. No one can come in or leave - and that includes deliveries of food and medicine.

This sounds promising, but the book (well, as much of it as I could stand) is a huge bore. King takes his time introducing the various characters and how they relate to each other. The narrative moves way too slowly - and there is no need for this book to be more than 1,000 pages long.

Big Jim Rennie is a town selectman, who yearns to run Chester's Mill his way. When the chief of police is killed on what becomes known as Dome Day - he stands too close to the dome and his pacemaker explodes - Rennie sees his chance to grab control.

Dale Barbara, a former Iraq War vet, had been working in the town and was about to leave when the dome appeared. As the US government takes an interest in the Chester's Mill situation, Barbara becomes the government's point-man inside the dome, much to Rennie's dismay.

I gave up after page 250 or so when it seemed like King was determined to explore the secret life of every single person in town, in minute detail. There are a couple of murders early in the book and we learn that Big Jim has been both embezzling from the town and running a meth lab (with the consent of one of the town's pastors).

When I looked online to see how the story was resolved, I was very glad I quit when I did. The New York Post's review noted that Under The Dome's finale "pales to the buildup. King is better at characters and situations than causes and reasons." And John Dugdale of The Sunday Times echoed the thoughts of other reviewers when he stated that readers deserved a more satisfying payoff for staying with King for 1,000 pages:
King's inability to raise his game—to relinquish the methods of his more straightforward tales of the paranormal—prevents you taking his socio-political vision seriously. The simple division of characters into goodies and baddies, the use of magic, the homespun style, the sentimental ending, the vital role played by a dog in defeating the forces of evil—all of these belong in fiction for older children, not the grown-up novels he's bent on emulating.
*: How can King (or anyone else, for that matter) think that the Bush administration was incompetent? Those motherfuckers did just about every legal and illegal thing they wanted to do - and no one stopped them. When you look at things from their point of view, their time in power was an enormous success. And then Obama continued and expanded their inhumane plans for another eight years. Mission Accomplished!

Next: Full Dark, No Stars.