Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)

I’ve been on a movie watching binge lately.  Yesterday I watched Wild Strawberries, which was very very good, and today I saw The Last Picture Show , also very good.  The other day I watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which disappointed me.  I guess I’m not much of a Jack Nicholson fan, although I think Roger Ebert is right when he calls him the perfect male sprite.

The Last Picture Show, though.  I need to re-watch it, the better to let it sink in–just like I need to re-watch every other good movie I’ve ever seen and re-read every good book I ever read.

(Lately I’ve been slowly re-reading Madame Bovary, and every day I’m gobsmacked by how much is going on in that novel that I didn’t notice or don’t remember noticing the first time I read it.  For instance: who is the titular character?  The obvious answer is Emma, but Charles’ mother and first wife are called Madame Bovary more often than she is.  My impression of Emma herself is different this time, too.)

Next, I’ll watch The Seventh Seal or The Lady Vanishes or Run! Bitch Run!*, depending on how I feel.

*From the Netflix Watch Instantly Description:  “After drug dealers rape and leave her for dead in the woods, beautiful door-to-door religious-tract peddler Catherine (Cheryl Lyone) trades in her prayers for a pump-action 12-gauge and sets out for payback against the men who attacked her. But once she gets a taste of holy vengeance, Catherine’s thirst for blood becomes insatiable.”

Too bad someone wasn’t around to alert the filmmakers that “Run, Bitch! Run!” makes much more sense than “Run! Bitch Run!”


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Nicholas Sparks knows! This interview with him is awesome.

Sparks says: “I’m going to interrupt you there. There’s a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion. It’s a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it’s very rare that it works. That’s why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It’s all drama. I try to generate authentic emotional power.”


“I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by AeschylusSophocles and Euripides. They were called the Greek tragedies. A thriller is supposed to thrill. A horror novel is supposed to scare you. A mystery is supposed to keep you turning the pages, guessing ‘whodunit?’

“A romance novel is supposed to make you escape into a fantasy of romance. What is the purpose of what I do? These are love stories. They went from (Greek tragedies), to Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet, then Jane Austen did it, put a new human twist on it. Hemingway did it with A Farewell to Arms.”


Asked what he likes in his own genre, Sparks replies: “There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do.”

UPDATE:  Roger Ebert is wonderful:

To be sure, I resent the sacrilege Nicholas Sparks commits by mentioning himself in the same sentence as Cormac McCarthy. I would not even allow him to say “Hello, bookstore? This is Nicholas Sparks. Could you send over the new Cormac McCarthy novel?” He should show respect by ordering anonymously. But it seems unfair to penalize Miley Cyrus fans, Miley herself, and the next Peter O’Toole for the transgressions of a lesser artist.

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You lost me at “clothed”

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Like schadenfreude, but better

Literary gnat Lori Gottlieb has resurfaced, this time with a book and a fucking movie deal spreading her cause célèbre, which is that women should settle for men they don’t love.*

And, oh, who wrote that endorsement on the cover?  Diablo Cody, that’s who. If you can’t read the fine print, she says:

What Lori Gottlieb is saying isn’t subversive–it’s smart.  A thoroughly entertaining reality check, it will make single women laugh and squirm and married people appreciate their spouses even more.

I always knew I disliked her.

* I really hope Gottlieb gives instructions for how to placate your “good enough” boyfriend when he inevitably discovers this book hidden in the back of the closet or under the mattress.

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I recently dug up my old copy of The Second Sex, and because I feel guilty for never having read it all the way through, I started reading at the beginning a few days ago.  I’m so glad I did; I’d forgotten what an amazing tour de force it is.  Not only is De Beauvoir obviously brilliant–she references everyone from Aristotle to Merleau-Ponty with ease–she’s able to lead the reader coherently through the disparate fields of biology, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and history without ever getting muddled or losing sight of her topic.  Of course, she’s not without philosophical biases, and some aspects of the book, particularly the sections dealing with female hysteria and mental illness, are dated.  Overall, though, it’s incomparably good.

I was really struck by the first chapter on biology.  It seems especially relevant now, when religious creation myths have largely been discarded in favor of evolutionary just-so stories that conveniently justify rigid gender roles in the name of science.  De Beauvoir has little patience for scientific reductionism.

Once we adopt the human perspective, interpreting the body on a basis of existence, biology becomes an abstract science; whenever the physiological fact (for instance, muscular inferiority) takes on meaning, this meaning is at once seen as dependent on a whole context; the “weakness” is revealed as such only in the light of the ends man proposes, the instruments he has available, and the laws he establishes.  If he does not wish to seize the world, then the idea of a grasp on things has no sense; when in this seizure the full employment of bodily power is not required, above the available minimum, then differences in strength are annulled; wherever violence is contrary to custom, muscular force cannot be a basis for domination.  In brief, the concept of weakness can be defined only with reference to existentialist, economic, and moral considerations.

The chapter on psychoanalysis articulates my problems with Freud better than I ever could:

Not being a philosopher, Freud has refused to justify his system philosophically; and his disciples maintain that on this account he is exempt from all metaphysical attack.  There are metaphysical assumptions behind all his dicta, however, and to use his language is to adopt a philosophy.

More to come as I continue reading!

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Shirley Jackson update

I found The Haunting of Hill House at the used book store this weekend.  Like everyone else, I’ve read The Lottery, and while I enjoyed it at the time I don’t remember being particularly affected by it.  Maybe I was too young.  Anyhow, I’m pleased to report that Hill House is utterly captivating.  At once lovely and terrifying, it is not only a good ghost story, it’s also a meditation on the darker aspects of female friendship, on loneliness, and on mental illness.  And the writing is wonderful, as evidenced by the opening paragraph:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Eleanor Vance, the main character, is one of those heartbroken spinster types (Agnes Moorehead, anyone?) who doesn’t know what to do with herself, her own adulthood, or other people.  She is, however, just young enough to be hopeful.

Don’t do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it; and the little girl glanced at her, and smiled a little subtle, dimpling, wholly comprehending smile, and shook her head stubbornly at the glass.  Brave girl, Eleanor thought; wise, brave girl.

Whether Eleanor herself is already trapped is, of course, a question you have to read the book to answer.  I’ll only add that it really is scary, and that it’s subtle and psychological in a way most supernatural horror stories are not.

I really need to track down the 1963 screen adaptation with Claire Bloom and Julie Harris.  (Hill House was also used as the loose basis for a 90s horror movie with Catherine Zeta Jones, which I have seen; it sucked.)  And then I want to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is supposed to be excellent, and from what I gather, more psychological and less supernatural than Hill House.

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The third stroke

I’ve been re-reading Dubliners, and it’s wonderful.  This time I find myself identifying very strongly with the characters, which is probably a sign of pathology since they are all paralyzed, angry drunks.  Oh, well.  After this, I will read Ulysses and perhaps blog about it.  And maybe I will blog about Dubliners, too, after I’ve thought about it some more.

Today I ordered the following used books:

Nicomachean Ethics,  because I’ve been craving Aristotle, and because I lost my old copy of The Basic Works. And by “lost,” I mean someone I didn’t know THREW AWAY a box of my books for no reason.  I am still angry about it.

On the Genealogy of Morals I haven’t read it, and I thought it would be interesting to compare to the Nicomachean Ethics.  Although I should probably re-read The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals in between.  Going straight from Aristotle to Nietzsche might be too much of a mindfuck.

The Theory of the Leisure Class I am very excited to read this.  It is so timely!  Plus, I’ve wanted to read it forever, and now that I know things about economics it’ll be even better.

And just for fun, I might go to Half Price books and look for some Shirley Jackson novels.

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