Well, well, well.
A lot was happening for me in the past weeks, so reading for fun was taking the back seat, but I think I am getting back on track now.
Italo Calvino is always worth reading in my opinion and so is Invisible Cities. The minimalistic story which forms the framework consists of dialogues between Marco Polo and the Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan during which Marco Polo describes the various cities within the Khan’s kingdom. But by doing so, he is actually creating them, only to tear them down again soon afterwards.
Every city (there are 55 of them) is an allegorical image of a certain aspect of our own way of life and their consequences. The further the story goes, the darker and more cheerless the cities become. Elegance, gracefulness, symmetry and even sublimity make way for endless mountains of garbage, violence and ruthlessness, up to the point when people are unable to determine whether they are still living or already dead, because the dead seem to be more alive than the living.
Oddly enough, Inivisible Cities is also about the impossibility of describing any city, because no description can ever be like the actual city, maybe in the end all the cities are just like Venice and basically the same anyway.
Invisible Cities was definitely an unexpected, experimental read, even quite confusing at the beginning, but it got better and better. Even though you get descriptions of 55 different cities in 200 pages and it is impossible to distinguish them all, there are a lot of beautiful metaphorical images which I think will stick with me for a long time.
"Lie to me by the moonlight. Do a fabulous story."
…and what a fabulous story The Offshore Pirate is!
…and this time we are talking revolution!
The Buffalo – or Zeta as he now calls himself – continues on his journey to figure out, who he is and what he is destined to do when he discovers his inner Cockroach.
Cutting back on drugs (pot doesn’t count) at least temporarily, he somehow stumbles right into the middle of the Chicano civil rights movement and soon becomes the spokesman and lawyer for everyone else involved. Although he is absolutely overwhelmed as well as overextended and hates the law like no lawyer before of after him, he holds his head up high and viciously goes right for the establishment’s throat.
The best parts of the book are in fact the many scenes at court. You get to experience the Buffalo in all his glory and in full action as the incredible lawyer he was, trampling down judges and jury alike, which results in him, the attorney, getting thrown into jail on a regular basis. He must have been a pain in the arse indeed! A disrespectful lawyer by day and a Molotov cocktail throwing, pipe bomb preparing radical beast by night – no wonder, he had so many enemies…
If this man didn’t go down in law history books, I don’t know what we write them for.
No other lawyer has ever cross-examined a hundred judges. There is no precedent, nobody to show me how to do the job. So, as is my custom, I decide to go right for the throat of those dirty old men who sit over us in judgement. If they won’t give us back our lands, at least we’ll have a drop of their blood for our trouble.
I’m billed as the only revolutionary lawyer this side of the Florida Gulf. And it’s true: I’m the only one who actually hates the law. The rest are just jiving. I’d rather spit in a judge’s eye than stick a pig in the heart.
Poupelle of Chimney Town is a really sweet children’s book / comic from Japan with amazing graphics (I say graphics and not drawings, because they were 3D modeled rather than drawn – incredible lightsetting, though).
It is a story about friendship, love, trust, loss, prejudices and self-sacrifice – all packed in a pretty bilingual edition and printed on fancy paper. The only reason I have for not giving Poupelle all 5 stars is the language.
As mentioned, this is a bilingual edition (Japanese/English) and since I unfortunately do not speak, let alone read Japanese, I can only judge the English translation. And this translation is mediocre and doggerel, not to say simply bad. I had the impression that the goal of the story in terms of narrating was minimalism, reducing the language as much as possible. So, in general, you do not have many sentences per page to work with, but having to read so many repetitions of words and having to deal with weird comma placement really took a lot of fun out of reading it.
But in the end the graphics and escpecially the story itself really make up for the failed translation and make Poupelle an enjoyable and touching experience after all.
What happens when a group of intelligent, but ruthless men (because women merely exist here to show off cleavage for the men to gaze into) decide to take over the US government and establish an ideal state following Plato’s Πολιτεία?
By creating several germ crises the group of eccentric intellectuals around Paxton Superstoe cause nationwide terror, so the population is frightened enough to cry for a „strong leader“ and elect the candidate supported by Superstoe and his entourage as the new president. After a couple of „accidents“ opposition is silenced and they hold power completely in their hands. Now they can start to shape the USA according to their ideal and force the rest of the world to roll with it.
Superstoe is a political satire mainly about manipulating and taking advantage of the masses and about the things that humans are capable of doing – no matter if they are ordinary or highly intelligent men. Often the laughter gets stuck in your throat though, because some things Borden imagined in 1967 actually became true or are at least very realistic by now.
The author touches on many interesting questions like: is it justified to terrorise your own population to get elected, because you know, that you are the better candidate and you honestly want to work for the greater good of everyone? Are certain strategic attacks, killings or even wars justified to be able to achieve a worldwide disarmament and world peace? Is it in general justified to kill a few for the greater good of the world? And what happens, when the ideal state is finally realised? What happens, if the ordinary men and women are extinguished through planned breeding with only the best of the best remaining? What happens in a state where everyone has the same education and equal possibilities? Is such a state really going to be better or is it just going to be the same (if only on a different intellectual level), because of some basic inherent human characteristics and/or needs?
Unfortunately only very few of these questions are actually followed through, I think because Borden focuses too much on portraying the eccentricity of his characters instead of the story and those underlying questions. Also, I honestly was a bit confused about who is who, and I could not always distinguish them, because although 10 protagonists are not that many (considering I somehow managed to distinguish most of Tolstoi’s characters in War and Peace), but the fact, that they sometimes addressed each other with their first names, last names, nicknames or code names made it hard to follow.
Just a side note – if you want to google this book, don’t get confused about the title, because in 9 out of 10 cases, you will probably find it under the name of Superstore (I have no idea why no one bothers to list the correct title).
I know this is a politcal satire, written in 1967, but it is kind of creepy, because quite some things became true and on top of that, there are some really unfortunate choices of names, especially from today’s perpective.
…for example the name of the Inspection Service:
Furth remarked, "Paxton looks as if he’s had an orgasm."
"An idea," said Adams.
"It’s the same thing," said Furth.
Superstoe waved his fork in the air. "We're going to take over the world!"
…I like where this is going!
What do you expect from the autobiography of a man who called himself the Brown Buffalo? A man who ate the hottest hot sauce in the world for breakfast and chose A Whiter Shade of Pale as the theme song of his life? Regardless of what you might expect, you will be surprised, but not disappointed.
This is the most unapologetic account of one’s life I can imagine. Acosta is not afraid of giving honest descriptions of his childhood, his acid trips, his genitals, his fears, feelings, actions or anything else – because he didn’t give a shit about how other people perceived him. Neither his ulcers nor any amount of blood in his puke could stop him. As the true artist he believed himself to be, he took everything he could get his hands on and transformed it into art – even the contents of his stomach.
In his autobiography he takes you on a wild journey to the centre of his mind – quite literally beyond the seas of thought, beyond the realm of what, across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not. And for an attorney, Acosta really knew how to tell a story!
One can only imagine what this incredible Buffalo must have been like in real life, but if I were to picture him on his quest in discovering his own identity, I see a fierce, but peaceloving beast, stomping along his path with the Amboy Dukes singing in the background.
But please realise
You’ll probably be surprised
For it’s the land unknown to man
Where fantasy is fact
So if can, please understand
You might not come back.
You probably have to be on acid to write such dialogues, but you definitely can appreciate them nevertheless.
“Oh, fuck! We’d better take him out to King’s. Mike told me Gerri turned him on to peyote for the first time two days ago.”
“Is Gerri back in town?” I asked.
“So you do know Gerri, you rotten prick!”
“I used to know a Gerri. She worked in a Mexican restaurant.”
“No, he’s talking about Michael’s Gerri, from Ketchum,” Bobbi said.
“My Gerri belongs to no one. She’s part Samoan.”
For some reason Herman Melville intrigues me and I cannot seem to part with him. I was fascinated by the story of Moby-Dick since I was a kid, when I would look at the illustrations in my older brothers edition and I was thrilled when I saw the movie adaption in 1998. But ever since early this year, when I wrote a paper on the comparison of different translations of Moby-Dick and therefore was really diving into Melvilles writing, I cannot let go of him.
I wanted to know how Melville lived through the process of writing this incredibly leviathan of a book – and what better way to find out, than to read his correspondence. But I got way more out of his letters than that.
This was a journey through Melvilles life, beginning with the earliest (surviving) letter to his Grandmother at the age of 9 and ending with the last (again, surviving) letter in the year before he died. And in between those two you get to follow him through his whole life – you experience the beginning of his career, when he writes like a humble young man who is very happy, that his work gets published at all, then you reach a somewhat mean and cocky phase in his life, when he believed himself to be a world class author until you get to a point when he is settling down and becomes a content family man who likes good company and never refuses a drink or two. That nice, happy fellow is the Herman Melville we know and love today.
My personal favourites were his letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne – what a dream-team! Melville expresses such a deep understanding of Hawthorne and their friendship, I cannot explain it any differently than they being soul-mates. Those letters are much more intimate and tender than any of the letters I found, which he wrote to the members his family.
A few words to the „genre“ of letters. In general, I always feel a bit weird when I read someone else’s letters or diaries, because this is an extremely personal form of writing. Basically, these letters were never intended for anyone else to read than the addressee. There is a sort of intimacy in a letter, which I think we have lost completely in our writings nowadays.
But, me feeling weird about it aside, it was fantastic to experience a time, when there was no haste in communication. Melville knew, that it would take a letter to his publisher in London approximately one month to get there and because the same goes for the answer, you could probably expect an answer after two to three months.
By the way, this is a very nice edition, you immediately see, that the scholars put a lot of effort in it. And now, ending with Melvilles own words:
Much more might be said, but enough.
I don’t think I have ever read anything more beautiful and touching than Melvilles letter to Nathaniel Hawthorn in June 1851:
"If ever, my dear Hawthorne, in the eternal times that are to come, you and I shall sit down in Paradise, in some little shady corner by ourselves; and if we shall by any means be able to smuggle a basket of champagne there (I won’t believe in a Temperance Heaven), and if we shall then cross our celestial legs in the celestial grass that is forever tropical, and strike our glasses and our heads together, till both musically ring in concert, – then, O my dear fellow-mortal, how shall we pleasantly discourse of all the things manifold which now so distress us, – when all the earth shall be but a reminiscence, yea, its final dissolution an antiquity."
What does Melville say?
"I don’t know how it is, but people like to be private when they are sleeping."
With this and the fitting picture by Matt Kish, I wish you a good night!