Reading All Quiet on the Western Front made me not only appreciate our (more or less) peaceful present here in Europe, but it also made me wonder about WW1 in general. Although I am from Austria, the country which had a finger in both World War pies, I have to admit, that I am frightfully uninformed about this section of history. In school we somehow tend to briefly mention that WW1 happened because of the assassination of the Habsburg heir in order to focus the rest of our history classes almost exclusively on WW2.
After reading what Remarque had to say about the Western Front, I wanted to know what the other side of the story looked like in the French trenches straight across No Man’s Land, because when it comes to history, nothing is worse than a one-sided view. Since Barbusse’ novel Under Fire appeared in 1916, it was one of the first non-propaganda books about WW1 and although Barbusse and Remarque had similar aims and viewpoints, their novels differ considerably.
Under Fire basically tells the reader about the common soldiers’ everyday life in the French army, therefore not focusing so much on fighting action, but mainly on hopes and dreams, boredom, physical strains, angst and chaos. It is at the same time more humane and universal than Remarque’s novel, but in comparison doesn’t do such a good job at conveying the deep personal struggles of the protagonists.
Although Under Fire was a huge-ass success when it was published, I can now understand why All Quiet on the Western Front is completely overshadowing it. Barbusse’ writing style is something to get used to – it is partly realistic, yet extremely expressionistic and overly symbolic. Also, the many episodes of the novel are somewhat disconnected from each other in terms of time as well as space (=setting) and it as hard as it is annoying to try to follow the disjointed snippets of different conversations which are interrupting and overlying each other all the time.
I hoped that Barbusse’ novel would be as easy and exciting to read as Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, but no. So far, definitely no.
I haven’t written anything in quite a while, because I fell ill and, of course, it was the worst time possible to be sick, because I had so much work to do which just kept piling up and had to be done. So, reading had to be halted for a couple of days as well. Also, my head hurt.
So, hi there! I am back again.
The most striking feature of Player Piano so far is the writing stlye. Since this is Vonneguts first novel, he clearly hasn’t found his distinctive style yet.
This is Steadman’s take on our dear old Sigmund Freud and his book Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. Even though this is by no means a scientific accurate book, you can still pick up some facts about Freud here and there – and if you are into psychoanalysis, you can probably learn a lot about Steadman through his drawings.
It is great to see some of Steadman’s art that is not Gonzo style and to really appreciate him as the superb artist he is. I could never take Freud seriously and I have been wondering for a long time if anyone in 2018 still does. Well, even back in 1981 Steadman obviously didn’t.
Btw, I bought this book for the art, not the text, because I simply adore Steadman’s work, therefore I was in no way disappointed. The text itself is okay and if you are seriously interested in Freud this is not the book you would pick up anyway.
Hey there! I hope everyone had a fantastic start into 2018!
I always like to take the first days of January to look back and recap what I read in the past year – which books did I love, which ones did I like ok and which ones did upset or disappoint me. So here we go – quick and dirty!
Books I loved
There were a lot of books which I really liked in 2017, so I wrecked my brain to distil the three absolute best of the best for you:
My favourite book must have been The Letters of Herman Melville – interesting, well written and as an highlight I recommend reading the letters he addressed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Another one of my favourites was A True Novel by Minae Mizumura which I binge read in 11 days despite the sheer amount of nearly 900 pages. And last, but definitely not least was the mother of all dystopian novels We by Evgenij Zamjatin.
Books I was disappointed in
Luckily, in this category there were not that many books to choose from. The biggest letdown and as I can remember also the most exhausting one to read must have been The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, which is sad, because I expected so much more from this classic. What the Hell did I just read was no favourite of mine neither, although this did not come as a surprise, because David Wong’s books are gradually declining in quality. And since I mentioned We as one of the best books, I have to admit that 1984 wasn’t really a good one, despite its status as the dystopian novel par excellence.
And some honourable mentions
Сердешна Оксана as the first (and so far only) book I read in Ukrainian, So long a letter as a fascinating account of the life of African women and both books written by Oscar Zeta Acosta (The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and The Revolt of the Cockrach People), because Acosta proves that even lawyers can be amazing writers and fight for what is right.
Who indeed. There is so much I didn’t know about Tom Baker, but reading his autobiography has made me appreciate him so much more.
What an odd fellow he must have been in his youth, growing up in a labouring class environment in Liverpool, always feeling a bit dissatisfied and out of touch with his fellow human beings. As much as I was trying, I just cannot picture this goofball as a monk (even less after reading about the thoughts he had during that time).
One marriage, two sons and a quite remarkable number of odd jobs here and there later and he finally stars in different theatre and movie productions (with various amounts of success). In this time he also befriends people like Anthony Hopkins – just imagine those two staggering out of a pub and wobbling down the street together, uniting those mighty voices!
Before becoming the Doctor, Tom Baker had quite a roller coaster life and luckily he survived a lot of suffering, self-doubting and states of depression. Naturally, his autobiography features quite a bit on Doctor Who, but less than one might think. It was especially those parts that brought tears to my eyes though, because reading about how happy it made him being the Doctor and bringing as much joy to children as he possibly could is heart warming beyond anything.
Some other parts were quite bitter and my heart sank while reading how disillusioned and frustrated he is concerning some parts of life like religion, friendship and relationships with women, despite the fact that he disguises his retrospective with a thick coat of irony.
Additionally, Tom Baker swears a lot and is quite occupied with his dick.
Even though most of us probably know him as two hearted gallifreyan Time Lord from another time and space, the man behind this role is so incredibly human! Throughout most of his life he had a sense of confusion and simply did not know what and how and why to which I can relate to more than I would like to admit.
After all, this is his autobiography and the way he wants to be remembered. For me Tom Baker made it quite clear, that he is way more than the fourth Doctor and that his life still has so much more to offer. A great last book of 2017.
I am so incredibly excited right now, I have to share this with all of you!
I recently ordered Tom Baker's autobiography at my trusted used book-selling place, it arrived today, I opened it to examine the book’s condition and what do I see at the title page? It is signed by Tom Baker himself! TOM BAKER!
WHO would have guessed…
The amazing Ralph Steadman and his book on Freud.
[The picture does not require any analysis. The artist rather does.] Indeed.
This was tough, but, unlike the war itself, absolutely worth it.
Normally, I can take a lot of gore and cruelness in books and in movies, but there were days when I just couldn’t read more than a couple of pages, because it was too much. Especially all scenes involving animals deeply upset me, because people killing people is one thing, but people hurting innocent animals, be it horses, geese or rats, is something else entirely.
Remarque does some very straightforward storytelling and he does an amazing job in describing the madness and arbitrariness of war, as well as the ordinary soldier’s helplessness in it. WW1 brought inconceivable terrors I cannot and do not want to imagine even partly. As a text it also demonstrated in an impressive, yet very depressing scene the striking contrast between the intellectual approach to warfare and the actual fighting. While the „smart old men“ sit at home and debate over what areas should be conquered next, in reality the young soldiers are fighting endlessly over a hundred metres in senseless but brutal static battles.
The inevitable transformation that goes on in young men who are sent right from school into the war is shown in an incredibly skilful and touching way. Yet, at the same time this is linked to the only criticism I have on All Quiet on the Western Front – for me the central point of the lost generation is stressed a bit too much and too explicitly – kind of like Orwell in 1984 with his constant rambling about what it means, when the past is always altered.
And as a sidenote: is it just me or did anyone else catch some homoerotic vibes between Paul and Kat?
Moby-Dick is a huge part of my life and despite my deep love for all creatures living in our oceans – the whales, sharks, the little fish, the big fish, deepwater fish, basically all of them – I can still enjoy Melvilles fiction, because at least no animals were harmed in the making of this novel.
I can imagine, that many use this book as a sort of reading companion to Moby-Dick, but I didn’t. I don’t like using reading companions in general. This is probably the rebel inside of me speaking, but I don’t want others to impose their interpretations, understandings or visions on me, before I have made up my own mind about it. When I read, I often don’t understand some parts or I overlook connections or details, but so what? In the end, I want the freedom to create my own images and my own interpretations while reading and this book would have simply overwhelmed me and my own understanding of Moby-Dick with Kishs way of seeing each and every page.
I really like his approach to turn away from the anonymous and super clean digital art we are so much used to at this point and go back to the old way of creating with your hands, not worrying about getting them dirty in the process. The outcome may sometimes be a bit messy and not as clean-cut and perfect looking, but it’s the imperfections that make it special and that is exactly what makes his art stand out for me. The fact he mostly uses some found sheets of paper kind of reminds me of the Russian Avantgarde, where the medium, on which the art was created was seen as an essential part of the whole artwork. And since whaling is a hand-on business, this is the way to go if you want to illustrate Moby-Dick.
Talking about avantgardish art – I find it absolutely fascinating how Kish depicts the whalers and the whales alike as machines made out of steel – cold and impenetrable at the same time. I have never looked at Moby-Dick this way before.
This book includes the three basic utopian texts and a little bit of an explanatory appendix (all in German btw). After diving into some dystopian fiction in October, I was interested to see what the optimistic viewpoint of the future in an ideal state might look like.
For all of you who are interested in more detail, I am going to write a few sentences to each text separately (still trying to keep it short), but if someone simply wants a final conclusion, feel free to jump right to the last paragraph of this post right below the picture.
Thomas Morus – Utopia
This is THE utopian text, I mean it is eponymous for the whole genre and by far the longest and most elaborated one. Utopia starts out alright, but soon goes downhill, because what ideal state depends on slaves? Or what ideal state has the need to train even children for battle and actually send them into combat? What ideal state has to limit the freedom of travel for it’s citizens? And so on. The more you think about Utopia, the more of a nightmare this state becomes.
Tommaso Campanella – The City of the Sun
This is the most radical communist state I have ever read about. Everything is shared here. Everything. The funny (or creepy) thing about this text is the extend of Campanellas theory about reproduction and how men and women are matched to produce the best offspring possible. These parts were weird to read, but when I found out that Campanella was actually a monk, it started to make sense, because he obviously had only a very slight idea what he was talking about here.
Francis Bacon – New Atlantis
This is probably the worst state I can possibly imagine; it is only a fragment though, because Bacon died before he could complete his notion of the ideal society. Basically, New Atlantis worships science and this goes so far as building automats and artificial humans (whatever that exactly meant I am not sure), but the thing is, that knowledge is strictly limited to a small elitist group of people and no one else has access to it. New Atlantis has a lot of science, but a complete lack of humanities. Remember that picture from the internet?
All in all it is quite hard to imagine the perfect society in the perfect state, because it seems that for every positive quality, you have to sacrifice a part of your personal freedom. From our modern perspective, all of these three states seem absolutely inhumane and unjust (for instance talking about privilege of higher classes – why would you even need classes in an ideal state?) – and you definitely do not want to be a woman living in any of these communities (surprise).
By stripping the population of their individuality, privacy, families and every means of communication with the outside, the state basically forces them to be happy with what they’ve got. If I learned anything from reading these three texts, it is that I can now no longer clearly distinguish between an utopian and a dystopian state, because the line between those two is a very blurry one.
Alright, so far I read two out of three utopian stories in this book – The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella and New Atlantis by Francis Bacon and to be honest they sounded absolutely terrifying to me.
Both of these ideal states are way worse (and more sexist btw) than anything Huxley, Zamjatin or Orwell ever wrote or imagined.
Thomas Morus, I have some high hopes. Here we go.
Since October was my month for dystopian fiction, I hereby declare November as the month for early utopian writings!