Dasein, Red Elephant.

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Book Reviews category.

Bagombo Snuff Box

Kurt Vonnegut, by Jeff Nicholson.

Kurt Vonnegut's Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of his first magazine stories from the 1950s is a book I've been planning to read. From the snippets I've read online at Maurice Institute Library, the book seems pretty enjoyable. Judging from Vonnegut's principles of creative writing, the stories are going to be the equivalent of a Hollywood blockblaster.

In the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, Vonnegut describes his contentment with writing stories that satisfied ‘uncritical readers of magazines’:

I was in such good company with a prospectus like that. Hemingway had written for Esquire, F. Scott Fitzgerald for The Saturday Evening Post, William Faulkner for Collier’s, John Steinbeck for The Woman’s Home Companion! Say what you want about me, I never wrote a magazine called The Woman’s Home Companion, but there was a time when I would have been most happy to. And I add this thought: Just because a woman is stuck alone at home, with her husband at work and her kids at school, that doesn’t mean she is an imbecile.

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Barthelme and Porcupine Balloons


Donald Barthelme. In my opinion, the best short story writer ever. Every single one of his strange rendevous with prose should be made into a movie and played endlessly, looped through a projecter on the impassive face of brick wall of an abandoned building. Midnight to dawn. Let the zombies watch. Let them enjoy it while eating breakfast with careful fringe tucked behind their ears.

The epiphany was never done better, except in Bartheleme's stories. Words created through the terrific pride of a blind trapeze act. Stories develop from a whirlpool narrative that is hidden from view, centrifugal symptoms of which are perceived from the surreal incidents that occur. A long division from numbers that range to infinity and come up right in your face, in the form of a camera obscura or an exploding banana. He looks like my father, with that kind twinkle in his eye.

"Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how.... The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.... The not-knowing is not simple, because it's hedged about with prohibitions, roads that may not be taken. The more serious the artist, the more problems he takes into account and the more considerations limit his possible initiatives."

--Barthelme, from the essay "Not-Knowing"

Don't even bother going to read his stories here.

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Elephant Links: History of Art


New York Times article on the revision of "Janson's History of Art", a traditional text used to teach art in U.S colleges and high schools. (tags: reviews)

American Jewry, Philip Roth


redelephant: Just noticed a rather interesting review in Azure of Philip Roth’s 2005 novel, The Plot Against America. Samuel G.Freeman, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism examines Roth’s fictional alternate universe, where Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election and begins a nation-wide campaign of anti-semiticism. Freedman writes:

Some critics attribute the book’s impact to a concern among Americans, and especially Jews, about the emergence of jihadist terrorism around the world. Others contend that the book serves as a deft and devastating parable of the America led by George W. Bush, who in their view is simultaneously an intolerant boob and a cunning, nascent dictator.While these two arguments have merit, I nonetheless think both miss the essential point. Whether by intent or accident, Roth’s novel speaks to a fundamental part of the American Jewish psyche: Insecurity.

What Roth has actually accomplished--and it is an immense literary achievement, indeed--is to make palpable for American readers the paralysis, anxiety, helplessness, betrayal, and fleeting, ill-fated resistance of European Jewry, particularly German Jewry, during the 1930s and 1940s. By setting all the events in a familiar American context, while holding fast to eternal truths of human nature and Jewish character, Roth has given us, all these decades later and a continent away, an acute answer to the terrible lingering questions of the Holocaust. Why didn’t more Jews flee? Why didn’t more Jews fight? Why didn’t they see the doom descending until it was too late?

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Simon Reynolds and Post-Punk


redelephant: While we are on the topic of music criticism.. The NY times has just published a review of Simon Reynold’s latest book Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Reynolds, an Oxford trained historian, is an influential British music critic, who is particularly known for his brainy writings on dance music and for coining the term “post-rock” in an 1994 issue of The Wire.

It’s easier for a critic to attack than to praise, but Reynolds takes more pleasure in expressing passion for the music he loves than in putting down what doesn’t fit his program. The author finds his perfect subject in the one-named Green, the Marxist leader of Scritti Politti. Describing Green’s lyrics, which sound like the stuff of conventional love songs on first listen, Reynolds is overwrought: “On closer inspection, though, they turned out to be pretzels of contradiction, with an aporia (the poststructuralist term for voids in the fabric of meaning) lurking in the center of every twist of language, sweet nothings that could wreck your heart.” ..Naturally, Reynolds keeps it real by dropping in expletives between references to Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida.

Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad


The Austinist has a short review of Margeret Atwood’s latest novel The Penelopiad. I haven’t been keeping up with Atwood’s work but after watching her read Oryx and Crake at MIT, i’m really looking forward to reading this one.

Atwood’s latest “novel,” The Penelopiad, one of the inaugural stories in the Canongate myth series, is a retelling of the Greek classic, The Odyssey, from Penelope’s point of view…In the traditional tale, while Helen and Odysseus were off having various adventures and affairs, Penelope was the ever-faithful wife, keeping the home fires burning for more than 20 years despite being besieged by more than a hundred eager suitors, whom she staved off with various tricks. Odysseus eventually returned home, killed the suitors, and—for good measure—hanged twelve of Penelope’s maids.

But was Penelope really so faithful? And why did Odysseus kill those twelve maids? Those are the questions that led Atwood to revisit the story, with Penelope narrating from Hades.

Scorpion and Other Poems


Can a poem be as simple as this? A nursery rhyme, a half-remembered phrase and pure emotional instinct. No big words and delicate meter structures. No sentimental gushing of heart torrents, only childishness and dreamy insouciance with words that are sung in a million variations of feeling. Yes, Scorpion and Other Poems is as simple as that. I've recently finished reading this extraordinary volume of poetry by Stevie Smith, published a year after her death in 1971.

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A little introduction & a review of My Dateless Diary

Dateless DiaryHello there, people. I'm kosherjellyfish, but I'm anything but kosher. Chinese actually. After much procrastination, I've finally joined my online friends, redelephant & girlanacrhonise, in this literary blog – one way of salvaging my terrible reading habits. Perhaps only through this means I will finally develop the discipline to stick to one book at a time, and actually finish reading it by the end of the day.



And my review today would be R.K. Narayan's My Dateless Diary : An American Journey. Was introduced to a short story of Narayan back when I was a literature stude Continue reading this entry »

Portraits of War: Photography and Protest


First published in Germany in 1924, Ernst Friedrich's great anti-war classic War against War! features an extremely gruesome montage of war photographs, collected as a protest against World War I. Juxtaposed with propagandistic pictures of military regimes and labeled with ironic, sarcastic captions, these photographs revealed the brutal reality of war and its horrifying consequences. Beginning with pictures of toy soldiers, toy cannons and concluding with haunting pictures of military cemeteries, pages are filled with images such as the dead on battlefields, destroyed buildings, ravaged forests, skeletal Armenian children, starving civilians, army executions, and a grisly section titled 'The Face of War', showing 24 close-ups of soldiers with shocking facial wounds..

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American Vertigo: Democracy in a Road Trip


Algerian-born French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy (BNL), has just released his latest book, American Vertigo, a story about his road trip and experiences in America. According to the recent review in NY Mag, BNL has stated that the book aims to uncover America’s “crisis of identity.", its inability to recognize itself because of trauma and neurosis. In his road trip, BHL checks out the Vegas showgirls, Dallas, Michigan and even meets with John Kerry and Sharon Stone.

Sounds like an OK read to me. BNL has suggested that the book is a philosophical gesture or "a philosophical work in spite of being journalistic, comic etc" It might even turn out to be as entertaining as Baudrillard's America, a work of unintentional hilarity.

I still remember Baudrillard's obsessive journal entries about joggers in America:

…You stop a horse that is bolting. You do not stop a jogger who is jogging. Foaming at the mouth, his mind riveted on the inner countdown to the moment when he will acheive a higher plane of consciousness, he is not to be stopped. If you stopped him to ask the time, he would bite your head off. He doesn't have a bit between his teeth, though he may perhaps be carrying dumb-bells or even weights in his belt (where are the days when girls used to wear bracelets on their ankles?). What the third-century Stylite sought in self-privation and proud stillness, he is seeking through the muscular exhaustion of his body.

If that wasn't funny enough for you..

Decidedly, joggers are the true Latter Day Saints and the protagonists of an easy-does-it Apocalypse. Nothing evokes the end of the world more than a man running straight ahead on a beach, swathed in the sounds of his walkman, cocooned in the solitary sacrifice of his energy, indifferent even to catastrophes since he expects destruction to come only as the fruit of his own efforts, from exhausting the energy of a body that has in his own eyes become useless. Primitives, when in despair, would commit suicide by swimming out to sea until they could swim no longer. The jogger commits suicide by running up and down the beach. His eyes are wild, saliva drips from his mouth. Do not stop him. He will either hit you or simply carry on dancing around in front of you like a man possessed.

Baudrillard also has an remarkably..um original conception of running attire. Joggers should act in Jean Cocteau films, yah?

All these track-suits and jogging suits, these loose-fitting shorts and baggy cotton shirts, these 'easy clothes' are actually old bits of nightwear, and all these relaxed walkers and runners have not yet left the night behind. As a result of wearing these billowing clothes, their bodies have come to float in their clothes and they themselves float in their own bodies.



Jean Baudrillard, America. Translated by Chris Turner.
Verso; Reprint edition (October 1, 1989)


Eros, Dogs: Byron goes to Africa

Recently read JM Coetzee’s Disgrace, the 1999 Booker Prize winner.

Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, a 52-year-old professor in Cape Town, South Africa, who seeks refuge at his daughter’s farm after refusing to apologize for an impulsive affair with a student. A savage and disturbing attack brings into relief faults in the relationship between father and daughter. Pitching the moral code of political correctness against the values of romantic poetry, Disgrace examines dichotomies both in personal relationships and in the unaccountability of one culture to another.” [University of Chicago Chronicle, Vol 19:4, 1999]

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Trout Fishing In America

I'm almost done with Richard Brautigan's anthology of Trout Fishing In America, The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster and In Watermelon Sugar.367px-TroutFishinginAmericaBrautigan.png

Trout Fishing in America is a series of collected prose in which the title ectoplasms as either a character, a place, a sensation, a story, an activity or even as spontaneous and whimsical as the phrase itself in word, Brautigan inspires a sense of child-like wonder as Trout Fishing In America transcends the facade of matter chapter by chapter and leaves you wondering as to what other guises will our hero here takes on the next time you encounter him.

In In Watermelon Sugar, a nameless narrator shares about his world in which the sun shines a different colored ray every day of the week and they make watermelon sugar to the color of the day the watermelons are harvested. He also talks about his stay at the ridiculously-named iDeath, (which i believe is an isolate for crazy people-shy intellectuals) where books are seldom written, and where he is constantly prodded by his peers to do so- his relationship with a girl named Pauline and where the Tigers are feared.

The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster is a collection of over fifty short randomized poems with the title piece going:

When you take your pill

it's like a disaster.

I think of all the people

lost inside of you.

Heart is a Lonely Hunter

I'm currently reading Oprah-approved Carson McCuller's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I'm about 50 pages through it and am pretty excited about getting into the whole Southern Gothic movement. The only other American Gothic literature I've read was Shirley Jackson's famous short story The Lottery.

Ah that story! What a twist at the end.. it'll make Old Boy look like a wet snail.

Anyway here are some reasons why I think Carson McCullers is an interesting person.

  1. She looks like a sensitive soul.
  2. She wrote Heart is a Lonely Hunter when she was 22. We are ashamed.
  3. She suffered throughout her life from several illnesses such as rheumatic fever, strokes.
  4. Female writers are usually really good

Updates on the book soon. John Singer has made me more quiet in the room.

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