jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Jack Kerouac "Heaven and Other Poems" (Grey Fox Press)

The poems in this volume includes a series of his blues poems - San Francisco Blues; MacDougal Street Blues; Orizaba Blues; Orlando Blues - and a letter on his theory of jazz poetry. It includes two short autobiographies and a series of letters between Kerouac and a publisher.

The latter gives real insight into his writing: "I would like everybody in the world to tell his full life confession and tell it HIS OWN WAY" from a letter; or his essentials for modern prose which includes "telling the true story of the world in interior monologue" and " remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition".

A couple of interesting quotes from "Heaven":

"The Church? Earth's dogmatic mistakes have nothing to do with Heaven"

"For we all go back where we came from, God's Lit Brain, his transcendent Eye of Wisdom / And there's your bloody circle called samsara by the ignorant Buddhists, who will still be funny Masters up there, bless em."

A short book but well worth having if you are a Kerouac fan.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
A. Alvarez "Night: An Exploration of Night Life, Night Language, Sleep and Dreams" (Vintage)

Alvarez brings a kind of journalistic quality to a subject that he apparently devoted four years to bring to fruition in this book. He looks at it from a bunch of different angles. The book takes on - dreams and nightmares, the fear of the dark, night shift work, the history of lighting, night motif's in painting and literature, and soon.

As a critic he analyses and reflects on what artists have had to say on the subject. The book starts with the poem, Acquainted with the Night, by Robert Frost and ends with a quote from Krapp's Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett. Many pages have passages from writers such as Stevenson, Freud and Coleridge, with Alvarez using them to examine a subject like the connection between dreams and surrealism.

The photographs and paintings that Alvarez chose to accompany his text are particularly haunting. One in particular: an untitled photograph by Roger Parry shows a dark room with a dull beam of light streaming in through a half-opened door. The photograph was taken from inside the room and a few objects can be dimly seen: a daguerrotype propped upside-down against the dark wainscoting; a length of rope that might be fastened into a noose. Alvarez has this to say about the photograph: "I no longer remember how I populated the darkness, but I remember the fear itself, particularly of the darkness that shrouded the upper floor, where I slept."

I found this a fascinating book.He's serious but playful, has a casual sophistication, a curious and sceptical mind, and a direct writing style.

Well worth seeking out.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Julian Barnes "The Noise Of Time"  (Vintage)

Shostakovich and his struggles to maintain his artistic integrity in the face of the sometimes urgent, sometimes insinuating pressures of "Power" are brought to life beautifully in this short novel. As he gets older, Julian Barnes seems to need fewer and fewer words to get across what he needs to, and this novel is short but intense, and primarily about Fear.

In this telling, Shostakovich is primarily driven by fear and the seeming inevitability of being crushed by Stalin's apparatus of repression - always referred to as "Power". The lasting image from the book is of the scared composer, standing every night outside his apartment by lift, with a small suitcase, waiting for the secret police to arrive (so that they don't disturb his wife). And yet, they don't come for him, whereas they do come for many of his peers. The paranoia of being one who remains, seems almost worse than being arrested (but of course, not actually worse).

Shostakovich is not portrayed as a hero, not even as a courageous man, although he does his best to stand up to Stalin in a telephone call where the Man himself smoothly persuades (but what choice does he really have?) the composer to join a cultural delegation to London. Its both a brave, pathetic and utterly futile resistance. Is he compromised - undoubtedly yes, both personally and artistically. In my opinion Barnes lets him off a little easily here but his point is to show the gradual assimilation of the composer and is ultimate submission to "Power"
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Iain Banks "Stonemouth" (Abacus)

A long time ago i read his The Crow Road and before that The Wasp Factory. his is the first of his non science fiction books i have read for a considerable number of years. This one is a gritty drama played out in a small insular Scottish town, named Stonemouth. Stewart has come back to Stonemouth after five years away. The reason for his absence and the reason behind the local's reaction to his return are slowly divulged over the weekend. Through the use of flashbacks and Stewart's introspective thoughts of the events before his departure we gradually are drawn to the dramatic conclusion of the book. In other words,a highly recommended read.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)

Hunter S.Thompson - "The Proud Highway: 1955-67, Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman" (Bloomsbury)

This is the fist installation of the Fear and Loathing Letters and hence is known as volume one.

I read a majority of this book during my travels over the last six months and often people around me thought I was crazy because of how often I would laugh out loud at his writings. It reminds me of the best of Spike Milligan's humour in many ways.

It was pure Hunter, same style of writing as his journalism, but with a more personal feel and added insights to what was going on in his life. I also felt like it took forever to finish, but I tried to view it as a marathon, not a sprint.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Patti Smith "Just Kids" (Ecco Press)

This is the second book on music i have read within the last few weeks,but like Coltrane, Patti Smith is one of my favourites, and her story i guessed would be a fascinating one. I was not wrong. This autobiography is about her enduring relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and their development as artists during the 60's and 70's in New York City. It is as much about their special bond as it is about their work and how they came to be well known as well as how hard it was for them in the beginning. Often broke with insecure jobs and having to find money to pay for rent which was almost ninety per cent of their income, even in a low rent area of the city. Mapplethorpe eventually went to San Francisco but came back a changed man having had gay relationships, with his art taking a darker tone,and the relationship with Patti fracturing yet remained friends.

In a nutshell it is about how they found each other haphazardly. They shared apartments, studio space, and their souls with each other. The reader follows along on their paths of discovering their artistic callings and themselves as humans in the modern world. There are creative highs and lows - many examples of the "starving artist" are found in these pages - but together they weathered them all. Their deep friendship outlasted their romantic relationship and they kept in contact up until Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS in the late 1980's.

While the memoir is incredibly heartfelt and moving, the way that Patti Smith chose to transcribe it is what makes it truly memorable. Each sentence has a power and emotion behind it, so that the writing is not only powerful but powerfully poetic. You share in the tragedies and triumphs, and really feel their world. I am now looking forward to reading her next memoir "M Train".
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Ben Ratliff "Coltrane: The Story Of A Sound" (Picador)

Ratliff's stated goal in this book is to not focus as much on standard biography, but to chart the evolution of Coltrane's music. It's a short work, broken into two roughly 100 page segments, the first being a just-the-facts-ma'am recounting of the evolution of his music, and then the second part the story of how the music he created has influenced others.The book ends by charting Coltrane's influence amongst younger jazz players, who are a generation or two removed from direct influence. An interview with the saxophonist Marcus Strickland is particularly revealing, showing how Coltrane's music is viewed in today's jazz environment.

I enjoyed this book as a long-time fan of Coltrane. Ratliff is a clear and lively writer, who traces Coltrane's stylistic development in a lively and easily understood prose. Of course the reading is greatly enhanced if you have access to the work he discusses, so prepare for lots of good listening. There is enough discussion of critical reception and excerpts of interviews with Coltrane's colleagues to flesh out the musical story of a man not given to talking about himself much. This is not a straight biography, rather more of a popular work of critical assessment.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Dan Falk "Universe On A T Shirt" (Penguin Canada)

I was rather disappointed with this book assuming that it would be at the cutting edge of what we know about the universe or at least speculate on it.As such, it is mostly a rehash of the history of science, from Galileo to Bohr.However, it does include a few dozen pages on current efforts such as string theory but there is not enough meat on this to get the intellectual juices excited. I was hoping it to be better, and hence you cannot always judge a book by its cover.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
James Baldwin "Blues For Mister Charlie :A Play"

Inspired by the case of Emmett Till, an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 at the age of 14, this is a dramatic look at southern small-town race relations at the mid-century point. As a play, though, it doesn't capture the usual power of Baldwin's prose. I don't think a reading can do it justice especially with the many characters on stage. Now,if only i could see a staged version of the play,then i would go back to re-read this paperback.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Of course, whilst i was in Eastbourne the last shop i visited just had to be right next door to a Waterstones bookshop .I succumbed ,and having read one book on Thomas Cromwell from a historian who seemed to put all the blame on Thomas rather than the King (Henry VIII),this book is a more up to date revisionist account.

jazzy_dave: (Default)
Robert Hutchinson "Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII's Most Notorious Minister" (Orion)

This was an intriguing, easy to read account of the career of Thomas Cromwell, notorious chief minister to Henry VIII.

Robert Hutchinson sets out the main events of Cromwell's life and times without going into much detail. . Hutchinson brings to life the Tudor court in all its madness and corruption, illustrating how easy it was to fall foul of the king and meet a gruesome end. Some of it being very gruesome so i recommend reading without eating food in front of you.

This is really just a primer and he does write in an engaging style and hence this book would be a good starting point for anyone interested in Henry VIII's world or that of the Tudors in general.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Ted Hughes "Poetry In The Making" (Faber and Faber)

This is a student friendly discussion of what Ted Hughes calls "imaginative writings" and are drawn from The BBC program"Listening and Writing". He selects various writings from contemporary modern poets to illustrate his essays and thesis,and in particular - Larkin, Dickenson, Eliot,Plath and himself, to convey a sense that poetry can be made by beginners and how to go about it. As a primer on how to write poetry and improve the creative process, this short book of 128 pages is ideal. It is also an effective introduction to his work and that of other poets who have influenced him.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Pierre Bayard "How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read" (Bloomsbury)

This is a surprisingly thoughtful rumination on books.

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read,  by a hip French literature professor named Pierre Bayard,; because make no mistake, this is not exactly a practical how-to guide to faking your way through cocktail parties, but more a sneaky examination of what it means to "read" a book anyway, if by "read" you mean "understand, relate to, can recall details of, and can discuss with others."

After all, if we read a book as a child and then completely forget its story as an adult, do we still get to count that as a "read" book?

Bayard gets into all kinds of interesting questions like this, ultimately arguing that the most important thing we can do as readers is understand the entire time period that book is a result of; in the goal of accomplishing that, then, he argues that it's perfectly okay to just read the Cliff Notes of famous huge books you know you're never going to get around to actually reading, perfectly okay to discuss a book at a cocktail party you're familiar with but haven't actually sat down and scanned each and every page. This is how we learn, he argues, how we grow as both humans and patrons of the arts; every Wikipedia entry we read, every conversation we fake our way through, every BBC adaptation we check out, ultimately helps us understand the full-length books we do sit and closely read from the beginning to the end, which is why we shouldn't be ashamed of any of these activities but rather proud of them.

Funny, smart, and very French; a very fun afternoon of reading.
jazzy_dave: (Default)

Hanif Kureishi "Intimacy" (Faber and Faber)

The narrator was a repulsive character, and the topic is supposedly semi-autobiographical; however, the writing is quite good.

Jay, like the author, is a London playwright who has decided to leave his partner, who he has never married, and their two young sons, who he loves dearly. However, he is bored in this loveless relationship, and sees no hope that it can be salvaged. He is most happy when he is with his current girlfriend, a young woman who excites and challenges him sexually, though she is not his social or intellectual equal.

This short novel, set in London in the early 1990s, describes the mind set of one restless but decent urban professional approaching middle age, who is not ready to settle into a monogamous, steady relationship. I found Jay to be quite superficial, self-absorbed and immature; however, his desires and attitudes remind me of those of a cousin of mine, and couple of former acquaintances, and are spot on with their views. This book may not be for everyone, but it is a well-written, accurate work,
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
George Orwell "Books v Cigarettes" (Penguin)

This collection of essays was published by Penguin UK a couple of years ago as part of its Great Ideas series. It consists of two long and five short and humorous essays, including the title essay. In "Books v. Cigarettes" he determines that his yearly cost of buying books is less than the amount he spends on cigarettes and alcohol, and argues against those who claimed that the cost of reading was prohibitively expensive for the average working man. Other short essays include a hilarious look at the life of a book reviewer, and his barbaric treatment in a Paris hospital.

The two longer essays make up the majority of the book. "The Prevention of Literature" is a critique of left-wing postwar orthodoxy, which at that time strongly favoured Soviet communism and limited intellectual freedom. "Such, Such Were the Joys", which chronicles his experiences in a boarding school in late childhood, comprises over half of the book. His middle class parents are unable to pay full tuition, and he is allowed to attend the school at reduced fees, due to his academic promise and the expectation that he will gain a scholarship to a prestigious private school—or so he claims. He and the other lower tier boys are constantly tortured and belittled by the headmaster, his wife, and the older boys in the school. He has nothing good to say about anyone there, and you can't help but think that it couldn't possibly have been that bad. His experiences at St. Cyprian's appear to be the genesis for his interest in social justice and anti-totalitarianism, as he expounds upon the lessons he learned during that time at the end of the essay.

This would a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Orwell.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
John D. Barrow "The Book Of Nothing" (Vintage)

He may use flowery language to convey his thesis on the aspect of nothing and that to some he tried to cover so much stuff that it never lingered anywhere but when you are dealing with the vacuum of space in a non technical way to lay readers then you have to take time (in both senses of it as well as spactime) to convey such complex cosmological information. It may be heavy going at times but i did enjoy this book.

Perhaps not the best book to describe such things as the vacuum state,inflation, black body radiation , the cassimir effect or the value of the cosmological constant (lambda), so with this caveat i would suggest other books to read first.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Stephen S. Lundsburg "The Big Questions" (Free Press)

Steven E. Landsburg’s The Big Questions is an intriguing foray into the use of non-typical sciences to look at macroscopic philosophical questions. The questions in questions range from why is there something rather than nothing, is there a God, is logical disagreement a sign of inherent meaninglessness, can we really know everything, and so on. These are indeed interesting and challenging questions. Looking into philosophy using physics and economics is kind of fun and gets one thinking laterally and not directly, which on the whole is a good skill to have.

Landsburg’s tackling of these questions is in many ways logical and rich. There are indeed mathematical bases for following both morality and human perception of color (as well as other things in the universe). His main premise is that once you have math, everything else follows. One of the very mind-boggling assertions me makes is that almost no one is deeply religious because crimes are committed on a fairly regular basis and acts of martyrdom are not. That part makes for fun reading. And for the most part, Landsburg’s theories are engaging, flow well, and get you to think a little more critically about the larger picture.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Julian Barnes "Levels Of Life" (Vintage)

This a short and beautiful book as well as an honest and forthright book on grief.

Julian Barnes became a widower in 2008 when his wife died of a brain tumour at age 68 . Pat Kavanagh was a brilliant and well respected literary agent. They had been together, off and on but mostly on, for over 30 years. In this auto biography Julian Barnes has used his considerable writing skills to portray the ongoing depth of his loss... and depth of his love. His writing is restrained and contained, harnessed to to give us the merest glimpse into his pain. Not easy.

That covers the third part of this book. However the first two parts are about ballooning. He conveys his passions such as France, photography and Ballooning. These parts are written with gusto, and they are exhilarating. The stories touch on many themes and motives that are known to have fascinated Barnes, and can be found throughout his life and work. They cover a 19th century French portrait photographer, a British balloonist,Fred Barnaby, who falls in love with Sarah Bernhardt and then he brings this altogether in the final touching sad and profoundly intimate exploration of grief.

This is an ibncedible book which i found deeply affecting.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Wilfred Owen "Anthem For Doomed Youth" (Penguin Little Black Classics)

Poignant,harrowing and just beautiful.. these poems from the Great War (1014 - 1918) will melt your heart and reminds us of the futility of war. Contained within this slim volume are 37 poems by the poet who,was killed just a week before Armistice Day.

This is the poem that gives the book its title. For just 80 pence these little black books are terrific value for money.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Sun-Mi Hwang "The Dog Who Dared To Dream" (Abacus)

Wow - what a great little book and not just a shaggy dig story (pun intended).

The Dog Who Dared to Dream tells the story of Scraggy, the odd one out of the litter of pups born to a mother who’s life has been series of pregnancies. Scraggly slowly sees her family disappear for various reasons until one day there is just her left. Alone she sets off to see the world outside the gates of her home. We follow her as she encounters other animals and humans, and grows up with her owner Grandpa Screecher.

The novel shows the trials of life through the eyes of Scraggly, grief at losing loved ones, the importance of friendship and the cruelties that can lay at the hands we trust the most.

This is a charming and moving tale about the relationship between man and dog. The symbiotic relationship and the often times cruel one that can exist. It is also a sad tale, one of the loneliness Scraggly faces as her family leave her.

It is a parable about the vagaries of life, of hardship, sacrifice and love. Scraggly’s children leave, some dying, others sold, never to return and she pines their loss equally. I was soon caught up with Scraggly’s tale, pulled along by the narrative, and oddly moved by it.

This is a short novel, only 160 pages in length but it packs a lot of story into those few pages. There is a fairytale like sense to the book, helped not only by the canine lead character but by the translation, which I always find tends to lend an aura of magic to a story. It opens on the door a little on a different culture, one perhaps unknown and therefore a little mysterious offering a stunningly evocative description of Korean culture and village life, while keeping the world small and self-contained.

I finished this in a day it was that enchanting!


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