Saturday, June 01, 2019

"Everyone Says You Should Read Proust, But No One Had Ever Told Me That I, Specifically, Should Read Proust"

Reading the first five volumes of Karl Ove Knausgård's My Struggle—the gargantuan Book 6 (The End) waits patiently on my bookshelf (because I thought I'd re-read the earlier volumes so as to consume the entire project at once)—was one of the most exhilarating and addictive and enjoyable reading experiences of my life.

I now want to read Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, to which My Struggle has often been compared, and it is high on my list of future reading assignments. In fact, I am currently reading two biographies of Proust—Benjamin Taylor's slender Proust: The Search and William C. Carter's hefty Marcel Proust: A Life—while trying to figure out which translation would be best.

My attention this afternoon was drawn to an essay by Elisa Gabbert, mentioned in an email from Lit Hub Weekly:
Proust and the Joy of Suffering

One recent Monday evening, I scanned through our bookshelves for an unread classic—I had one last piece to write in this series on revisiting the canon. I considered writing about Moby-Dick, but did not seriously consider reading Moby-Dick. I want to, very much in fact, but I rarely read long books, and moreover feel that I'm saving Moby-Dick for an unclear future experience, some contained and isolating context it deserves—a long sea voyage, my deathbed. Perhaps I could write about not reading Moby-Dick. Then I thought about In Search of Lost Time, another novel people, especially writers, almost brag about not having read, as though admitting you haven't read Proust suggests you've read everything else. I pulled Swann's Way off the shelf, read the first paragraph, and was astonished. Its obsessive attention to memory, time, and the minutiae of experience as it occurs through thinking—it was not just good. It was, as they say, extremely my shit. Everyone says you should read Proust, but no one had ever told me that I, specifically, should read Proust. ...

It was more readable than I'd expected, but it wasn't exactly light reading. That first paragraph was deceptive, in part by virtue of being a paragraph. Later I read that Proust hadn't wanted In Search of Lost Time to have paragraphs at all. He wanted it to appear as one volume, with no sections, chapters, or even margins. It's as though he wanted it to be unreadable, more a gesture than a text. ...

In the winter of 1940, the Polish artist and writer Józef Czapski was in a Soviet prison camp, and he was thinking about Proust. He was among a small group of officers and soldiers who survived the war; thousands of others were executed. In Czapski's words—he writes it twice—those others "disappeared without a trace." To occupy themselves, to keep their intellects sharp, to give "proof that we were still capable of thinking and reacting to matters of the mind," Czapski and his comrades in the camp delivered a series of lectures to one another. "Each of us spoke about what we remembered best," be it architectural history or mountain climbing. For Czapski, who had studied painting in France and been friendly with some of Proust's old friends, that subject was In Search of Lost Time. As the painter and translator Eric Karpeles writes in his introduction to Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp, "A prisoner's constant state of vigilance was surprisingly conducive to the reclamation of memories." It came back to Czapski there, in the freezing ruins of a bombed convent, the way Combray came back to "Proust" when he was dozing off or when he tasted the madeleine dipped in linden tea. He delivered the talks in French because he'd read the novel in French—they say you should study for a test at the same time of day you'll be taking the test, should suck a peppermint during both, so the taste brings the knowledge back. "What Czapski remembered best was the quintessential book of remembering," Karpeles writes. ...

In a brief introduction to the lecture, written in 1944, Czapski speaks of "the joy" of that time in the prison camp, the "rose-colored light" of those hours spent giving and listening to lectures, "where a world we had feared lost to us forever was revived." ...

I am always struck by depictions of happiness in wartime, in the darkest conditions—in Chernobyl, in concentration camps. ... It's a form of resistance, to refuse to have pleasure taken away from you. But I think, too, there's something fundamentally life-affirming about proximity to death. We grow nostalgic for our pain, once it's safely in the past, because pain's intensity makes regular life look banal. ...

Along with his comrades, Czapski found meaning and beauty in the prison camp ("the hours spent with memories of Proust, Delacroix, Degas seemed to me the happiest of hours"), and they survived. Czapski lived to the age of ninety-six. But he had assimilated Proust's indifference to death, which is not the same as an indifference to living. It is, rather, an apprehension of existence so luminous that the threat of death recedes into dim corners.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

May 1: When Most Of New York City Got Up And Moved

Dan Lewis, Now I Know, September 26, 2013:
There are roughly eight million residents of New York City. According to a 2010 article in the New York Times, 70% of them rent. That's about 5.5 million people, each of whom could be moving to a new place once their current lease runs out. Yet despite the incredible number of both apartments and renters, in general, the process of renting an apartment in New York City (and particularly in Manhattan) occurs over a short period of time. Typically, a renter starts his or her search only a few weeks before moving, checks out a dozen or so places over a day or two, and upon finding something suitable, quickly readies an application and bank checks to cover fees. The whole system — to use the term loosely — is a frenetic ordeal which hardly seems like it could be worse.

But until about seventy years ago, it was. Because almost everyone moved at the same time.

Sometime in the 1600s or early 1700s, New York City developed an odd tradition. Leases, across the city, expired at 9:00 AM on the first day of May. The origins of this tradition are unclear. Wikipedia cites to two different sources, one of which references the English celebration of May Day (explained here), another which claims that the Dutch settlers originally came to Manhattan on May 1st, and the tradition is borne out of that. In any event, the cartoon above, from 1856, encapsulates the madness — thousands upon thousands of people taking to the streets, with all their stuff, moving from one apartment to another, all on the same day. Davy Crockett observed the phenomenon in 1834, as retold by Futility Closet:
By the time we returned down Broadway, it seemed to me that the city was flying before some awful calamity. 'Why,' said I, 'Colonel, what under heaven is the matter? Everyone appears to be pitching out their furniture, and packing it off.' He laughed, and said this was the general 'moving day.' Such a sight nobody ever saw unless it was in this same city. It seemed a kind of frolic, as if they were changing houses just for fun. Every street as crowded with carts, drays, and people. So the world goes. It would take a good deal to get me out of my log-house; but here, I understand, many persons 'move' every year.
All in all, this "moving day" was a terrible idea.

Being an informal one, and a custom at that, it should have been an easy one to change. And it wasn't universal. That is, not everyone's lease ended on May 1, so it should have been pretty easy for landlords or renters to demand a different date if given that one by the other. But the tradition persisted, to the point that in 1912, Harper's Weekly imagined a world with automated, flying "moving stations," as seen here. Moving Day was entrenched in a city which to a person, with few exceptions, hated it.

It quite literally took a world war to end the practice. When the United States mobilized its citizens in World War II, it created a shortage of able-bodied men stateside, making it nearly impossible to find someone to help you move on "moving day." Tenants stayed on past their leases and the practice of relocating on that date began to erode. And then, in 1945, the end of the war dealt "moving day" a death blow. As the New York Times reported in October of that year, troops returning from abroad created a major housing shortage in the city, which "turned 'moving day' into a myth."

Bonus fact: "Everybody moves!" days aren't a lunacy unique to New York of lore. July 1 in Montreal has the same thing happening. The operative word there is "has," because (as of 2013) it's still a thing there.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Jason & The Scorchers: Live 1984-2016

Ladies and Gentlemen ... Jason & The Scorchers!

Both Sides Of The Line - The Palace, Los Angeles, CA, 1984

Great Balls Of Fire - The Palace, Los Angeles, CA, 1984

The Race Is On - Roskilde Festival, 1985

Can't Help Myself - Roskilde Festival, 1985

Absolutely Sweet Marie - Roskilde Festival, 1985

If Money Talks - Roskilde Festival, 1985

Tear It Up (with Link Wray) - Roskilde Festival, 1985

Harvest Moon - Cat's Records Outdoor Show, 1985

White Lies - The Conan O'Brien Show

Shotgun Blues / Ghost Town - "After Hours" (Nashville Channel 5's late night variety show), 1986

Golden Ball and Chain - "After Hours" (Nashville Channel 5's late night variety show), 1986

White Lies - Farm Aid, Austin, Texas, July 1986

Broken Whiskey Glass - Farm Aid, Austin, Texas, July 1986

Absolutely Sweet Marie - Fairview Park, Normal, Illinois, July 4, 1987

I Can't Help Myself - Fairview Park, Normal, Illinois, July 4, 1987
[Jason sings the song while helping fans cross a small creek to get closer to the stage!]

Sing Me Back Home - Fairview Park, Normal, Illinois, July 4, 1987

White Lies - Fairview Park, Normal, Illinois, July 4, 1987

Great Balls Of Fire - Fairview Park, Normal, Illinois, July 4, 1987

If You've Got The Love - Lafayette Club, Bloomington, Illinois, April 1993
[First show in 6 years!]

Shop It Around - Lafayette Club, Bloomington, Illinois, April 1993

Golden Ball And Chain - Lafayette Club, Bloomington, Illinois, April 1993

Drugstore Truck Drivin' Man - Rock Temple, Kerkrade, Netherlands, April 30, 2010

Broken Whiskey Glass - The Garage, London, England, August 5, 2010

White Lies - The Garage, London, England, August 5, 2010

Somewhere Within - The Berkeley Cafe, Raleigh, NC, January 2011

Take Me Home Country Roads - Helsinki, Finland, July 2012

When The Angels Cry - Manchester Academy, July 3, 2015

Self Sabotage - Music City Roots Live, The Factory, September 2015

Absolutely Sweet Marie - Bluegrass Underground, Cumberland Caverns, McMinnville, Tennessee, April 1, 2016

Shop It Around - Bluegrass Underground, Cumberland Caverns, McMinnville, Tennessee, April 1, 2016

Harvest Moon - Bluegrass Underground, Cumberland Caverns, McMinnville, Tennessee, April 1, 2016


Capitol Theater, Passaic, New Jersey, November 22, 1985

Lost Highway
Help, There's A Fire
Are You Ready For The Country
Last Time Around
Shop It Around
Broken Whiskey Glass
I Can't Help Myself
Harvest Moon
If Money Talks
Still Tied
Change The Tune
I Really Don't Want To Know
White Lies

Piedmont Park, September 4, 1995

MTV, The Cutting Edge, 1984

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Paperback Art of Robert McGinnis

J. Kingston Pierce, Crime Reads, February 1, 2019:
It's possible that you don't immediately recognize the name Robert McGinnis. But if you are even remotely interested in vintage crime, mystery, and thriller novels, you've certainly spotted his artwork. After all, he's spent the last 60 years painting exceptional covers for those sorts of paperback yarns, most of them by still-familiar authors (Erle Stanley Gardner, Brett Halliday, Ruth Rendell, John D. MacDonald), though others came from writers whose popularity has since waned considerably (Carter Brown, Edward S. Aarons, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Harold Q. Masur, and the like).

Over the course of his career, McGinnis—set to celebrate his 93rd birthday this coming Sunday [February 3]—has produced more than 1,000 unique paintings employed on American paperback book covers. His works are distinguished by their precise use of color, the artist's preference for portraiture over depicting story scenes, and especially the lithe and luscious women who are so often the focal point of his canvases. ...

"[T]here's nothing like a McGinnis woman," raves Charles Ardai, the editor at New York publishing house Hard Case Crime, which specializes in vintage-style paperback fronts and has made plentiful use of this artist's output over the last decade and a half. "Leggy, serene, aloof, unruffled, coiled, and deadly or enigmatic and sensuous, Bob's women are like otherworldly creatures, breathtaking and perfect." ...

"One thing I've noticed on the crime novels especially," says [Art] Scott [who in 2014 co-authored (with McGinniss) The Art of Robert E. McGinnis], "is how brightly lit most of his images are—rather unexpected, given how many of those books fall into the 'noir' genre. Together with his clean lines and uncluttered layouts ... he never missed a chance to work the light-and-shade angle and did it brilliantly."
Pierce edits The Rap Sheet and runs its companion blog Killer Covers. (In May 2018, he highlighted 12 exceptional cover artists.) In this recent article, he includes 39 McGinnis covers, but my favourite (of the ones I have seen) is not among them.

I also love certain editions of the Michael Shayne books, with the detective's head in a circle at the top of the cover.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

47 Years Ago, I Caught A Really Big Fish

Sunday, February 13, 1972: I went ice fishing with my father and caught a walleye that we measured as 24 inches long (and 5½ pounds). I was eight years old - and I've never caught a bigger fish.

I love this next photo. I have done nothing to remove the various imperfections, which along with the dull grayness of both the snow on the frozen lake and the sky, gives the picture the feel of some doomed Arctic expedition from the 1910s.

We would get out on the ice around dawn. My father would drill 12-15 holes in a straight line, maybe 30 feet apart. Looking at the space between (what I think is) me in the middle of the frame and the "tip-up" in the foreground gives you an idea of the distance between the holes. (My father built his own tip-ups by hand. I never thought about the name of these things when I was a kid. For all I knew, it was my father's (or a regional) term. Looking online now, tip-up seems to be the general name.)

Having them in a long row made it easy to keep an eye on all the lines. When a fish grabbed the bait, a minnow usually a few feet above the bottom of the lake, it triggered the release of a bright orange flag (which was bent and on a hook of some sort). When you saw a flag had sprung up, or someone else pointed it out, you knew something was going on. And you'd run to the hole.

On exceptionally cold and/or windy days, running to the very end of the row was not fun - though the exercise did warm you up a tiny bit. You often had to break the thin film of ice that had formed over the hole before you could begin pulling up the line (and, hopefully, the fish). You tossed your gloves aside and quickly brought up the cold line with your bare hands. When it was time to re-set the tip-up, the small pile of wet line beside you had usually frozen and it took time to untangle it all. My fingers were often completely numb by the time I could put my gloves back on.

The smaller fish below look like perch.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

French Readers and American Noir

Interesting comments from several authors, quoted in Gabino Iglesias's CrimeReads article, "Why Do The French Love American Noir?"

Jake Hinkson:
I think the French are fascinated with American noir because they're fascinated by America. They view noir as a body of literature that is critical and revealing of American culture. ... [T]hey've always had a fascination with ... the "real America" ... That's why the French were the first ones to the recognize the artistic merits of things like jazz and gospel. It's why they embraced regional artists like Faulkner. And it's why they were the first ones to recognize that guys like Thompson and Goodis weren't just failed pulp writers but rather authentic and unique literary talents.
William Boyle:
They know that American noir presents a true portrait of this country, that it doesn't hold back or hide things, that it isn't afraid to search the dark corners. I think they know that noir has always told the truth about America—they were the ones who first sensed that. Also, they're not turned off by unlikeable characters or unhappy endings.
David Joy:
In my experience, French readers tend to be a braver lot. I think the thing about good noir that's hard for some folks is that it forces you to go to uncomfortable places and to confront uncomfortable things and a lot of readers just aren't willing to do that. I think that's particularly true of American readers. ... For the most part, what moves in this country are airplane books—something I can pick up in a terminal, read on a flight, and toss in the trash before I catch a cab. It's something to fill time more than it is something to challenge beliefs. I hear people say, "Well, I didn't relate to the characters." I'm sorry, but I don't believe relatability is a requirement of good literature. In fact, I believe the opposite. I believe good literature allows us to walk in the shoes of someone we might otherwise dismiss. For me, that statement about not relating to characters boils down to a refusal to venture into uncomfortable ground. That's not something I've experienced with French readers. They tend to still want books that are challenging. They seem to still view literature as an instrument of critical thinking and change.
Benjamin Whitmer:
Books just matter more. Somebody over there once told me that the difference between their politics and ours is that we could never elect a politician who didn't profess to believe in God, and they could never elect a politician who didn't read. It's baked into every part of their life. Reading and books are afforded an entirely different weight in France.
Reading in France is a national obsession. It's a wholly different culture than the States. ... At book events, writers don't read their work, they just discuss it with the audience. And the questions aren't "Where do you get your ideas?" or "What time of day do you like to write?" It's graduate-school level discussions of character and theme. It's probing and personal. And, I mean, these questions are coming from regular people. Americans have always been suspicious of intellectuals. The French just...aren't. They respect intelligence and expertise. ... For a writer, it's extremely exciting.
For starters, the French consume more books. You look at the statistics and the French are always in the top ten well-read countries in the world. They're typically somewhere around number seven. The U.S., on the other hand, we're lucky to make the top 30. People just don't read here. In this country, one third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Forty-two percent of college graduates never read another book after college. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. Seventy percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. That's staggering.
To be honest, I'm not sure it's especially a French thing. I think people all over the world read noir, read tragedy. The only place where there is no place for noir or tragedy is America. As David Vann said, "We have the idea in America that a book should have likable characters and make us feel good by the end. This is a new and idiotic idea and erases 2,500 years of literary culture." No other culture is dumb enough to believe that. That takes a specifically pathological self-concept and denial of reality.