Liquor (REREAD) – Poppy Z. Brite – 339 pages – Finished reading 3/4
Another reread, this one on the trip back from New Orleans. Fast read—all one day—probably because much of the book seems to be written in skits or vignette-style scenes, which I’m not sure I noticed reading it before. Definitely a new thing I noticed was a degree of new-found familiarity with some of the “landmarks” (e.g. street names, Abita beer) mentioned throughout the book.
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam—Karen Armstrong—460 pages—Finished reading 3/16
I like how even in quasi-thematic chapters different motifs jump, recur and mesh, and she makes no apology for it, even pointing out how some apparently contrary categories, e.g. mystical vs. rational thought, are actually complementary and should be utilized concurrently, or coordinately. That seems to be the vision of God—a subjective internal one—that she advocates we adopt for our contemporary situation, while acknowledging its difficulty since we’re very objective and realistically, externally focused—our heirloom from Latin Christianity, which evidently has this big issue with imagination that didn’t so hugely affect Eastern Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.
Bellocq’s Ophelia—Natasha Trethewey—48 pages—Finished reading 3/16
I don’t often read poetry, but I do think that it’s something good to mull over at least on occasion. “Ophelia” is the imagined identity of a mixed-race prostitute from Storyville, New Orelans’s old red-light district, who appears in several different photographs taken around the beginning of last century by a guy named Bellocq. (If anyone’s seen Pretty Baby, he’s that guy.) No one knows Ophelia’s real name or who she really was, or what happened to her later, but Trethewey draws from her own experience growing up as a mixed-race woman in the South, and gives Ophelia a past; observations on her life in the present, from taking tea to customers to walking around the French Quarter with Bellocq and a camera; and alludes to some future beyond Storyville. “April 1911” and “March 1912” are my favorite poems from this collection.
Chopin’s Funeral—Benita Eisler—230 pages—Finished reading 3/21
The actual funeral’s at the beginning of the book; the rest is Chopin’s life, and more specifically Chopin’s life in France, especially with George Sand. Some of the best portions of the book relate to describing different examples of Chopin’s pieces, and the amount of creativity and detail that Eisler uses in relation to these pieces makes me suspect that she herself has at least some form of a musical background.
Naked in the Marketplace: The Lives of George Sand—Benita Eisler—308 pages—Finished reading 3/26
George Sand and Chopin were together for about ten years (how many of those years were spent sexually is up for debate), so I sort of sped-read portions of this book in the middle where it pertained to their relationship, as much of it is (by the author’s own acknowledgment) recycled, sometimes with minimal if any alteration) from Chopin’s Funeral; but George Sand survived Chopin by another few decades, so the “what happened after” part of the book (I maintain that her funeral, while I think smaller, was more impressive than his), as well as of course the account of her life pre-Chopin—an emotional triangle with her estranged mother and her paternal grandmother, and her launching her literary career and shifting from Aurore Dudevant to George Sand, for examples—are all quite fascinating.
Modernism: A Short Introduction—David Ayers—153 pages—Finished reading 3/31
“Introduction” may have been a choice of word that was wanting, but the book was comprehensible even if most of the essays in it understandably pertained to works that I have not read (“The Waste Land” and “Ulysses” are recurrent examples). There were things I liked and disliked about most of the ideas discussed. For example, while I don’t believe in a written work having one ultimate truth a la biblical fundamentalism, I do think that some authorial details are relevant (though not necessarily required) to comprehension and enjoyment of the piece. And while I can see the argument that an author may not necessarily be the creator of the work written, I would argue that s/he is at least a preexisting vessel that does not begin and end where the book/poem/whatever does, and that s/he has to have some residual effect on the work by way of generation. But that’s just my opinion that I kept experiencing while reading some of the chapters (T.S. Eliot was a frequent culprit for eliciting such). Ayers focuses on English-language and especially British-written works, but towards the end he does have some interesting comparative essays looking at the ideas expressed in literature and how they relate to ideas being espoused around that same time by the Frankfurt School in Germany and the post-structuralists in France. (Um, all else said, this is probably a book you read less for pleasure and more for being a nerd.)