Monday, January 27, 2003 :::
"I offered up to the people Michael Skakel or Ted Bundy, and Verily They Chose Ted Bundy..."
I don't give out, I don't give in, I don't give up, and I'm only up to March 2002 in this punishing slog through every book I read (now last) year.....
REVISIONIST VIEWPOINTS: ESSAYS IN A DISSIDENT HISTORICAL TRADITION by James J. Martin. Largely forgotten American historian of how the intelligentsia reacted to international affairs and the rise of the warfare state between, during, and after our past century's great warsI. A hint as to where he was coming from can be found in the book of his most likely to be read today (though I’m pretty sure they are all out of print): MEN AGAINST THE STATE, still after nearly 50 years the definitive history of American individualist anarchists.
This essay collection has occasional unpleasant flashes of that tendency to presume that, if the Allieds weren’t as grand as standard victor’s history has judged them, then maybe we ought to “rehabilitate” the reputation of the Nazis (he is openly weary of all that tired harping on the crimes of Hitler, for example, not a winning attitude in an anarchist or any human being, really). Still, it is on the whole bracing and at times excellent and has lots of seemingly well-documented information regarding World War II both on the home front and abroad that should surprise most SAVING PRIVATE RYAN viewers, all in the direction of questioning whether both soldiers and the garrison at home were really as chin-up gung ho about the whole operation as later histories of the Good War might lead us to think. The history of homefront war opposition both here and in England was especially educational. Decent historical essay on how the American press treated Stalin during and immediately after WWII, though the fact that the country as a whole was able to turn violently on Good Ol’ Uncle Joe immediately thereafter raises questions Martin doesn’t grapple with too well about how much meaning and emphasis we should even place on that propaganda if its half life was so damn short. Or maybe his point was the Orwellian one that the state propaganda machine is so powerful that it can turn the direction of the juggernaut of our loyalties and enmities on a dime. At any rate, flaws and all, you just don’t find much history taking this viewpoint anymore. You can judge if you care about that yourself.
THE 101 BEST JAZZ ALBUMS: A HISTORY OF JAZZ ON RECORDS by Len Lyons. Will I ever sate this appetite to idly read this mental comfort food pabulum, dozens of different takes on the same basic canon, list of names and records and standard opinions about them? I haven’t yet. By focusing on then-available LPs in the early ‘80s, and being (mostly intelligently) selective, this is one of the best actual buying guides for anyone blessed enough to live in a town like L.A. with the greatest vinyl selection around, you better believe it baby. Not snobby either; canonizes Return to Forever along with Ellington, Mahavishnu with Mingus. Learning to love jazz has been of immeasurable help in giving me new excuses to hang out in record stores, spend all my money, and clutter my life, and I will be forever grateful.
A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge. This science fiction mind blowing my God what a concept the interstellar distances it covers the wealth of imaginative planetary and alien recreations and oh wow isn’t it awesome took a long time to achieve traction in my brain but when I make myself think about it again, I recollect it in quiet tranquility with some pleasure even though its central conceit (whole zones of the galaxy where technology just don’t work) is, if I recall, unexplained and pretty inexplicable any way I can think of it. The gestalt wolf-like creatures are a great feat of imagination, as are the plants-on-rollers, and Vinge did a good, big job for which much applause is due, if you like that sort of thing. I knew I used to, and past page 150 or so he reminded me I still did.
ESCAPE FROM HEAVEN by J. Neil Schulman. Libertarian science fiction guy comes back playing with God and heaven and talk show hosts and an ancient lovers quarrel between Jesus and Satan, and manages to make most of his intellectual heroes heaven’s holy hosts. I read the whole thing in a day—Schulman has breezy-thoughtful down pat, that’s for sure, though the theology might be more for those still troubled by those questions. Anyone still ready to be blown away at first exposure to, say STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND would be apt to dig it—not that it is as grand or touching an achievement in the end as STRANGER, but the intent seems similar, and given Schulman’s love for Heinlein I’m sure it was.
RAZOR’S EDGE: BOB DYLAN AND THE NEVER ENDING TOUR by Andrew Muir. Standing at the train station, watching Dylan concerts go by, one madman Scot sees a lot of European Dylan shows in the '80s and '90s and our glorious New Millennium and makes a mini-biography out of them, including the always grimly fascinating (mostly because, like watching photos of Dracula, nothing really coherent in terms of a solid character ever seems to develop) tale of a fan encounter with Dylan as Muir presents the Man with copies of his Dylan zine. How valuable is this book? Muir is no Paul Williams, alas, whose own book on these same years in Dylan’s performing life is still in the works. Valuable only for those like me who stand on the train platform, nobody in sight, watching books about Dylan go by, our hearts beating like pendulums swinging on chains.
::: posted by Brian at 11:20 PM