A Voyage Long and Strange

A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony HorowitzA Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horowitz

A history of early American exploration organized around Horowitz’s travels to the places where the explorers set foot to ground. The history is interesting and lightly done. I enjoyed these parts. But the personal narratives were unbearable. The long central chapters focus on Columbus’s voyages, and Horowitz frames them with stories about his travels in the Dominican Republic. He hates the place for reasons that seem patronizing and chauvinistic. It’s just hard to buy into an American tourist lost in worlds different from his own who blames others for his difficulties. Annoying.

April 2011

Chant d’Amour

I showed Jean Genet‘s Chant d’Amour to Big D and The Beav. Twenty-five minutes of experimental queer cinema, and they watched without being bored for a second. And when the film was over they had questions:  When was this made? Who are these actors? Listening, I wondered how many films are ever that successful?

I hadn’t seen the film in over five years. So watching it on the spur-of-the-moment, I was caught off guard by how beautiful and how shocking it is. Big D kept saying that the film was ahead of its time and couldn’t be shown today. My sense is that he’s right, and it’s because it’s erotic rather than pornographic. Which makes it much more difficult to dismiss.

A happy rediscovery.


An American Childhood

An American Childhood by Annie DillardAt which point in your memoir does common decency require you hint that your awesomeness—or at least the opportunity to cultivate it—might be a product of your WASPy, very upperclass childhood? I ask because I stopped reading Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood at page 120 in a stew of class resentment. If there’s a turnaround, I needed to know because I was killed by smug.

April 2011

A Sand County Almanac

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo LeopoldA Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

I was sent to this book by a blog a friend linked to, and I’m glad I found it. Most of the nature writing I find is preservationist or even worshipful. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but it does tend to romanticize an already romantic approach to the natural world. It’s easy to wind up with an “isn’t it great I’m so sensitive to the world around me” pudding: tons of details and careful observation that together seem more about the author than the place.

This book is interesting because it’s conservationist, a middle-ground voice that I don’t seem to hear very much today. I think it’s probably been killed by double-speak: to many public figures hiding nefarious plans inside their opponents’ language, maybe on purpose, maybe because they’re being used and are too out-of-touch to realize it. Whatever the case, conservationist language just seems like a lie nowadays. Talk reasonably and nobody will trust you.

The Almanac is old enough so that the conservationist voice still rings sincere. In these pages, there is man and there is nature together. Not man in awe of nature. Not man afraid to touch nature. Here he moves gently through the world, touching and being touched. I loved Leopold’s talk about trees, especially the pines that are his favourite and the way the bugs that attack them attack only the new growth that sits in the sun. The closing section on banding birds is glorious. No other word for it. And the essay on leisure time and hobbies is excellent.

This is a book I’d like to teach someday.

April 2011

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the WindThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Brad Delong of all people raved about this book on his blog. I hadn’t read a fantasy novel in a long time and thought, what the hell. And it was actually really good. Solid writing, complex story, and interesting characters that experience emotions that seem real. And most important of all, there are no groan-worthy moments to make you embarrassed for reading the thing. A rarity in fantasy novels.

…so now I’m caught in series hell waiting for the second book to come out in paperback and after that for the third to come out at all.

March 2011

White Tiger

White Tiger by Aravind AdigaWhite Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I read a few books about India while I was getting ready for my trip. This was a deceptively smart one. It reads like a page turner, but is very ambitious. There’s a great story told in a great voice, but there is also a bitter satire, a comedy of manners, a pretty damning social critique and an elaborate allegory of modernization and capitalism. But it’s all so well done, that you could ignore everything and just enjoy the story if you wanted.

Oddly enough, this book also turned out to be the one that was most connected to my experience of daily life while I was there. To make sense of geography, I had to talk about “the Darkness.” The pattern of animal names was connected to the Hindu symbolism I was seeing everywhere and reading about in my history book. Even the exasperated-admiring-resigned stance toward caste and class was true to the impossibilities of street life in big cities. The accuracy of the details just went on and on: the attitude of the rickshaw drivers, the odd disconnect of opulent-yet-tacky shopping malls in slums, and the contrast between the front and back of things.

As we were leaving Chennai, I think I saw a new novel by Adiga in hardcover in the window of a bookstore I couldn’t go back through security to visit. I’m looking forward to reading it.

March 2011

Delhi Is Not Far

Delhi Is Not Far by Ruskin BondDelhi Is Not Far by Ruskin Bond

I read this one night after talking about India with TW. I remember thinking it was fine, a nicely done, small story. But I can’t remember one single thing about it now. That says something about it.

March 7, 2011

Blogging as Time Capsule

Right now as you read, some idealistic computer nerd may be running an algorithm, trying to save a copy of what was on the web right here, right now so that someday if somebody wants to see what we were up to back in the day they can.

Well what if by some mistake in the algorithm my posts look like something interesting and get swept up? If they do, then someday, if there are in fact curious far-off souls digging through that archive trying to figure out who or what there was to see in the distant past of the twenty-first century, well then, those curious souls will know that Kilroy was here, reading and watching and doing.

It’s kind of exciting.