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review 2016-12-12 19:24
Another Brooklyn
Another Brooklyn: A Novel - Jacqueline Woodson

The story is good, but it's really the writing that makes it magnificent.

The book is written in a wistful sort of way and kind of rambles sometimes and keeps the reader in that feeling of being in her stream of consciousness. Its poetic in the way that it discusses some of the harder topics, like the denial we can experience in childhood about what's going on in the world or that hides truths we can't handle yet. I loved the way her mind wandered sometimes from one thing to another and how it effected the way that she remembered things.

Most of all, I love that it was a true story of the lives of girls. Each girl is different, but they all go through those things that all girls go through. They deal with those things that we deal with and Woodson uses that poetic style to include these things without dwelling on them or having to describe them in unnecessary detail. Her writing lets you really feel the story in a way that is unusual. I appreciate writing in a way that walks the reading through that feeling of things we remember rather than life as it happens. I also enjoyed this way of writing with The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness.

The path of each girl wasn't unexpected, though I didn't know which would go which way and there were several others to choose from. This is just the way of things, down to the ways they drifted together and apart. This will be one of those books that could easily be used to describe the way of life at the time it is set. I wouldn't even say specifically for the place that it was set because the lives of the girls are relatable to just about every group of girls I've ever known. It's late 20th century America in the city. There are some truths that may keep it out of high school classrooms, but I could easily see it brought into the college American Literature class. I would certainly use it. This and her memoir written in poetry, Brown Girl Dreaming.

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review 2016-12-12 12:26
The Birth of Modern America
On the Road - Ann Charters,Jack Kerouac

One of the main reasons that I decided to read this book, other than the fact that it happens to be a modern classic, is because I was reading an article in a Christian magazine that was complaining about how this book, and the motor car in general, is responsible for the promiscuous, permissive, and licentious society in which we now live. Mind you, this particular magazine pretty much made me want to puke, especially when you came across an article by some guy (and it was usually a guy, never a girl) who carried on about how bad he was, and he got so bad that he landed up in a huge amount of trouble, but then he found Christ and all of a sudden his life was turned around. Okay, some might be asking why, if I happen to be a Christian, am I trashing this particular magazine – well, because it happens to be a complete load of rubbish.

 

 

Anyway, enough of the reason as to why I ended up reading the book (and the other reason was because I wandered into a bookshop in Paris looking for a copy of Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast, and upon discovering that there wasn't a copy of that particular book, or in fact any book by Hemmingway, I decided to get this one instead, particularly since upon seeing it I was reminded of that incredibly annoying article that I read) and onto the book itself. Well, as it turned out the person that wrote the article probably didn't read the book at all because firstly it isn't about a single roadtrip, but about four, and also the main character (which happens to be Kerouac) doesn't own a car but rather relies either on buses, on his friends, or simply hitchhikes to get form point A to point B.

 

However, what this book does happen to be is a road trip – in fact it happens to be the original road trip. Sure, Willy Nelson might have written a song about a road trip, however the theory is that if it wasn't for this book the multitude of road trip movies (such as Thelma and Louise, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and of course Easy Rider) would never have come about. Mind you, I personally believe that is rubbish namely because if Kerouac didn't write this book then somebody else would have come along and written something similar, it is just that Kerouac managed to beat all of the other authors to the punch with his classic story of how he travelled from New York to Los Angeles and back again, from New York to San Francisco, and from New York to Mexico City where he landed up with the Mexican version of Dehli Belly, and was deserted by his friend (though this particular friend didn't seem to be the most honourable of people, especially since he seemed to have multiple wives and girlfriends).

 

 

On the Road is apparently the book that thrust the Beat Generation into the lime light, though interestingly enough the Beat actually refers to a group of writers as opposed to a generation as a whole (such as the Baby Boomers, or my generation, that being Generation X). I also suspect that the Lost Generation, that is the Generation of Hemmingway and his cohorts, was also a literary generation as opposed to a generation as whole. However it is interesting how people of an older Generation do tend to have an influence on those of a younger generation – Kerouac was influenced by Hemmingway, who in turn had an influence on the Baby Boomers despite the fact that he was of an older generation. Mind you, when I was young it was the Baby Boomers that had an influence on me, though more the celebrities than my parents. However, we should also remember that writers such as Lewis and Tolkien were from the 'Lost' generation as opposed to the 'Beat' or even the Baby Boomers (of which artists such as David Bowie were members).

 

 

One thing that stands out from this book happens to be how it seems that it was the beginning of the America that we now know, that is the America of the automobile and of the sprawling suburbs. In a way what the car did, or more specifically the cheap car that could be bought by the average punter (though it sounds as if Kerouac and his friends bought the 1940s equivalent of the old bomb and used it to travel about America). The interesting thing is that this is an America before the interstate highways, an America that is still developing and trying to find its feet and its identity. Sure, it had just emerged victorious from the Second World War, and had also emerged as the superpower after Britain was effectively bankrupted (and also saw its colonies, bit by bit, claiming independence), but it still hadn't really developed the identity that it eventually developed by the sixties and the seventies. However, what it also did was effectively became a car culture, which is a culture of individualism – having a car meant one have freedom, freedom to do, and go, wherever one wants to go, however there was a problem, namely that this place never seemed to exist – Kerouac travels from New York to California a number of times, spends his days in Denver, which seems to be the centre of the United States, and then frees himself further by going South of the Border and dreaming of going even further beyond – having the ultimate freedom to travel as far as the tip of South America.

 

However these dreams seem to be stunted – he ends up with Dehli Belly, and is deserted by his friend, Dean, a number of times. However it also seems that Dean seems to drift from woman to woman, from place to place, and from friend to friend, not having any real roots. We see the same with Kerouac as well, especially when he begins to settle down with the Mexican woman in Los Angeles, but then decides to dump her and return to New York. This is a new time, a time where people can pull out their roots and travel where-ever. Before then people rarely, if ever, travelled too far beyond their home. Yet, the interesting thing is that when one travels, when one pulls out their roots, it is very hard to put them back down again. I discovered that when I moved cities, that the roots that I pulled up had a lot of difficulty being planted again – sure, I have made new friends, but there are times and elements that I do not understand because I have not been around. There is a Website – Adelaide Remember When – that sits in my heart because I grew up in Adelaide, yet a similar website for Melbourne, Sydney, or even London and Paris, wouldn't have the same effect on me. Well, okay, London and Paris might be a little different, but I never grew up there so I don't have a personal connection with the past of any of those cities.

 

 

In a way what Kerouac is exploring, even if he it being intentional, which I suspect he isn't, is how we are beginning to become disconnected from place. Sure, he lived in New York, but in reality he come from abroad. However, what the car has done is that it has made it even easier from him to pull up his roots and to travel about. I have been on road trips myself, the longest going from Adelaide to Brisbane via Melbourne and Sydney, and back again. There is something liberating about letting go of life and jumping into a car and simply driving, even if one doesn't even have a destination in mind. In fact piling your friends into a car and going on a roadtrip is a bonding experience, as I have discovered on numerous trips to Melbourne and back again. However, things have even gone further with the advent of the commercial airline – now we can simply jump on a plane and simply anywhere we wish (though of course there are some restrictions, particularly when it comes to obtain a visa to enter certain countries, particularly if you happen to be from a country where the passport really has little, if no, power whatsoever).

 

Anyway, what better way to finish off this post than with a picture of a place where Kerouac seemed to finish off his journeys: Times Square.

 

https://imgs.6sqft.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/21012940/1949-NYC-Times-Square.jpg

 

The Real Hipsters

The funny thing is that after I had posted this review I suddenly realised that there was something that I forgot – the hipster. In a way it is really amusing reading about hipsters in a book written over fifty years ago. Well, that probably shouldn't be as odd as I think it to be namely because hipsters seem to be very retro in character to the point that retro is the new cool. Mind you, the hipsters of Kerouac’s generation weren't the retro lovers that the millenials are namely because the scene itself simply didn’t exist. In a way what the hipsters in Kerouac’s day were doing were setting the trends for the future – they were the members of the Beat Generation that laid the foundations for the sexual revolution and the era of flower power.

 

 

I have to admit that this whole retro hipster move is interesting in and of itself, and there are a lot of aspects about it that I really enjoy – the second hand clothes, in fact the second hand everything, which probably has a lot to do with them living in ridiculously overpriced innercity housing. However, it isn’t just the second-hand fascination that drives it, but also the coffee and craft beer craze and the smashed avocardos and eggs benedict (which is my breakfast indulgence of choice, though I can't stand avacado). Oh, there are sliders as well, but I think there was a time when you wouldn’t get anything like that on a breakfast menu, and people were happy with instant coffee (if you wanted good coffee you would get plunger coffee) – now you can buy your own coffee machine.

 

Yet this wasn’t the hipster movement of Kerouac’s age – they were bohemian, which is a sophisticated way of saying poor. Okay, not every poor person is bohemian since bohemians also tended to be artists, or wanted to be artists but never actually got a break. Even though Kerouac did get a break it wasn’t until at least ten years after he finished his book, and eventually died of alcohol poisoning pretty shortly after. However, the bohemian artist seemed to be driven by their art, but not only that, they also lived the poor lifestyle, as we encounter in this novel. Here Kerouac basically scabs lifts and when he runs out of money panhandles (otherwise known as begging) to get some more, even if only to get home. Mind you, it isn’t as if he is destitute, he still earns a stipend from the government for his military service, so it is enough for him to be able to live the artist’s lifestyle (which certainly isn’t the case today – if you try that you would be labelled with the term dole bludger and the like).

 

While Kerouac may not have introduced the hipster, or more precisely ‘Ned Kelly’ beard, there is one thing that this book has taught me – how to wear a tie and still look cool (not professional, cool):

 

Jack Kerouac

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1824214422
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review 2016-10-01 07:26
The Tragedy of a Man Who Loves his Books
Stoner - John Edward Williams

 

When you discover that this book is about the life of a university lecturer you may automatically think about a certain movie in which a certain music teacher has a dream of creating a fantastic piece of music only to find himself trapped in a high school teaching music until his retirement to then discover the impact that he has actually had on all of the students that had passed through his class – and you would be wrong. Or, you could think about a high school chemistry teacher that discovers that he has cancer and to provide for his family decides to start cooking meth and, well, you would be wrong again. Mind you, with a title like Stoner (and the fact that is was written in 1965) you might end up thinking the the book is about somebody like this:

 

 

A Stoner

 

and, well, I guess you would be wrong again, though one sometimes wonders if the fact that William Stoner is actually a university English teacher then he must have had the occasional smoke, but in all seriousness the only drugs that appears in this book is a glass of whisky and a half-empty bottle of Sherry that is so old that one ought to throw it out (despite the fact that it probably will give you hallucinations).

 

 

However, I should say something about this particular book, and in a way it actually feels as if it is one of those feel good books, namely because upon reading it you feel somewhat relieved that your life is nowhere near as bad as Stoner's. Look, there are a couple of things I envy about the guy (okay, one, other than the name, and that is the fact that he is a lecturer in the liberal arts, and gets to have sex with a heaps intelligent post-grad, even though it is only an affair), however when you consider what has gone wrong with his life I guess one's envy of the fact that he is a lecturer pails in comparison.

 

 

It is not that his life started off bad but it appears that he made some choices that set his life on a course of what one could consider to be ordinary, though I would suggest that an ordinary life would be much better than the life he had. For instance, after taking a dislike at a poser of a post-grad (and as I think about it, he did give this particular post-grad a lot of chances) and basically seeing through his rubbish, he earned the eternal enmity of another lecturer (who seemed to stick up for this particular student to the point that makes you wonder if there were some shenanigans going on behind closed doors) which resulted in his career going nowhere. Mind you sometimes the idea of climbing the corporate ladder can result in a lot more burn out than simply being content with the job one currently has, though the problem with the world in which we live is that rewards seem to be commemorate with how high up the management ladder you are, and some of the good jobs can only be obtained if you have actually held a management role. However I digress.

 

 

Then there was that nightmare of a woman that he ended up marrying. I'm not really sure about this Edith woman, and sometimes I wonder if this particular woman was unrealistic because I find it very hard to believe that such a person could actually exist in real life. I'm not even sure if I could blame Stoner for making the wrong choice because it seemed like it was only after the wedding vowels that Edith began to show her true colours. In a way, if the saying 'behind every great man is an equality great woman' then maybe this book is suggesting that 'behind every rank failure is a bitch of a wife'. That's probably being a bit harsh, but then the picture that Williams paints or, or should I say tar and feathers, Edith, I sometimes wonder if he has a rather nasty misogynistic streak running through him.

Anyway, I want to finish off by looking at some of the ideas that comes out of another review that I read a while back, and that is what I will refer to as 'The Death of the American Dream'. It was something that I never really thought about until my American History lecturer one day began to ridicule the whole idea of the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness. It is not so much that it is such a vague concept, but it does not necessarily define what happiness is, and suggests that if one is not happy then there is something wrong with them. However it is not so much an American thing but in many cases an Anglo thing. Yet consider the fact that depression is literally running rampant in our socirty, which makes us wonder whether this whole idea of happiness is actually working, or whether the American experiment has failed. Or what about the rights of others to be happy – what happens if your desire to be happy ends up forcing others into depression, and if you cannot do what you want to be happy then you are forced into depression. As for Stoner we cannot even consider whether he is happy – he seems to persevere against struggles that mere mortals like me would cave under, yet one wonders if, at the end, he dies happy – I don't think so, but I guess I will throw that open to a debate because while I have my own opinion, I really can't be bothered using the spoiler tab at this point in time.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/899123666
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review 2016-09-01 07:42
Memories of Paris
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway

I have to admit that I have now discovered one of the major disadvantages of reading something on a smartphone. After finishing Snows of Kilimanjaro and still having three Hemingway pubs to visit, I wanted to read some more Hemingway, and what better book to read while one is in Paris, drinking wine at a Hemingway pub, than A Moveable Feast. Well, the problem is that nobody actually knows that you are reading this particular book. In fact, if you are just staring at your smartphone people either think you are playing Pokemon Go, or checking your Facebook status. However, the problem was that when I wandered into an English language bookshop I discovered that the one Hemingway book that they didn't have was this one. Mind you, I did end up finding one, at Shakespeare and Company of all places (though they make sure that there is always a copy available), and within half an hour of wandering through the streets of Paris somebody saw the book in my hand and said 'A Moveable Feast – Awesome book!”.

 

Well, as it turns out this particular book is incredibly popular here in Paris, but then again I'm not at all surprised since it is about somebody living in Paris. Mind you, as I was sitting down at a cafe having lunch I noticed that I wasn't the only person who makes a habit of reading a book associated with the city, or country, in which I am visiting. Some guy sat down at a table near me and immediately pulled out a copy of [book:Down and Out in Paris and London], a book that I myself would love to read, however I am unlikely to read it anytime soon as I already have my London book set aside (Mrs Dalloway), though if I manage to get through that one I might grab a copy once I hit London and visit one of the famous bookstores there.

 

Anyway, what I might do is suggest the best way to read this book. Okay, I know that not everybody is able to go to Paris, but if you do happen to land up here before reading the book visit each of the Hemingway Pubs, sit down and have a drink of wine while reading something of Hemingway (who else would you read while sitting at a cafe that Hemingway drank at), and maybe ask the waiter where Hemingway used to sit (the waiters at Brasserie Lipp and Le Select showed me, while the waiters at La Closerie des Lilas really didn't care that Hemmingway used to drink here and basically told me 'somewhere inside'). Once you have done that, go to Shakespeare and Company, buy a copy of A Moveable Feast (and ask them to stamp it), and then go to Le Jardin du Luxembourg, find a statue that you really like, grab a chair, sit in front of it, and start reading.

 

The reason I say that is because you have pretty much visited all of the places that Hemingway talks about (though Shakespeare and Company has moved since Hemingway used to visit the place and is just across the river from the Notre Dame), and it creates a much better image of what Hemingway is writing about. Mind you, make sure that you have got a bit of coin on you because those six cafes are not cheap. In fact Le Dome is now an incredibly expensive seafood restaurant and unless you are dressed like you have money (which I never am), then they will treat you like the vagrant that they think you are (by the way a main course will cost you something like fifty eight Euros, and a simple glass of pineapple juice will set you back ten euros, as well as the indignity of being treated like a piece of rubbish by the waiter).

 

As for Paris, well, it has its moments, and there is certainly an awful lot of things to do here (that doesn't involve sitting at Le Select drinking wine at the bar where Hemingway used to sit, getting drunk, and then stumbling home, where-ever that may be), and even five days simply won't allow you to really experience the true nature of the setting (particularly if that experience involves sitting the the Luxembourg Gardens, in front of a really cool statue, and reading a book for four hours, though don't walk on the grass). Mind you, even sitting in the courtyard of my hotel near Gare St Lazare listing to the trains roaring past has this really romantic feel about it – where else on Earth can the rattle of trains be romantic?.

 

Mind you, Paris does have it's fair share of dodgy people, but then again it is a major city. For instance a rather amusing thing happened to me as I was dragging my luggage around Gare du Nord. I needed to catch a cab to St Lazare and this guy came up to me to ask me if I wanted a cab. Well, anybody coming up to me offering me a cab is going to set off a lot of alarm bells, but he then tried to convince me that all of the cabs leaving the cab rank only went to the airport, and proceeded to point to a sign that also said taxi (despite the fact that the sign actually said taxi drop off). Mind you, this joker was really persuasive (or should I say pushy – actually I think that is the better word because he didn't persuade me at all), and dragged me down to the car park. Well, not really, because when he went into the rental car area and opened an unmarked door, I proceeded to swear at him in German, and went off and caught a real cab (which, as it turned out, took me to St Lazare).

 

As for this book, well, the one thing it does is that it shows us that writers don't exist in isolation. It is very easy to think that writers exist in a void of their own, but Hemingway drops so many famous names it is not funny. Here we will encounter Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein among others (or, I can't forget T.S. Elliot, and how he used to work it a bank which mean writing really difficult for him, until he got rave reviews for The Wasteland). Mind you, it isn't a story about how Hemingway sat in cafes in Paris and gets drunk (if you want that you should read A Sun Also Rises but it does give us an insight into his time in Paris, and an experience that he will take with him for the rest of his life.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1743142703
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review 2016-08-30 08:01
The Last Thoughts of a Dying Man
The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Ernest Hemingway

Well, there I was, sitting on a train on the Paris Metro heading towards the first of the cafes (I would call them pubs, but they are not strictly pubs in the Anglo sense of the word) were Ernest Hemmingway would spend his time getting drunk with his literary mates. At the time, I was reading Satre's Men Without Shadows but a part of me felt that if I was going to have a drink at the six cafes that Hemmingway frequented then maybe Hemmingway would be a much more appropriate author to read than Satre, though the problem was that I hadn't brought any Hemmingway with me. Fortunately the internet saved me because not only had I been wanting to read The Snows of Kilimanjaro for quite a while, but the text was also available for me to read. So, when I sat down at Les Deux Magots I grabbed my smartphone and began to read this incredibly engaging short story.

 

Before I begin I have to admit that the three cafes (Les Deux Magots, Cafe de Flore, and Brasserie Lipp) that I visited were incredibly expensive. In fact the price of a drink would be around ten euros. At the first one I ordered a beer but then I realised that I was supposed to be doing an Ernest Hemmingway so when I went to the Cafe de Flore and the Brasserie Lipp I decided that I would go for some wine (red of course since I am not a big fan of white wine). As I was sitting at the Brasserie Lipp I then struck upon the idea that I should mention to the waiter that I was doing a project on Ernest Hemmingway (which I'm not, but the word project always seems to get people to assist) and he proceeded to show me where Hemmingway used to sit. Still, I do wonder if these cafes were as expensive in Hemmingway's time as they are now. Anyway, before I continue, here is a photo of where Hemmingway used to sit in Brasserie Lipp:

 

Hemmingway's Spot

 

 

Well, it seems that I have been waffling on about Hemmingway's drinking habits and not actually talking about this short story. Well, needless to say it literally blew my mind. The story is about a man named Harry who is dying of gangrene, namely because he suffered a wound and it was not attended to fast enough. Mind you, this was not an uncommon occurrence at the time as I have since found out that penicillin wasn't discovered until after World War I, which meant that if you were seriously wounded then your chances of survival, especially if the wound became infected, were slim. This story, however, occurred after World War I, though it is clear that Harry was involved in the war. When the war finish, instead of returning home Harry decided to stay and travel around the region, which is why he ended up on the plains of Africa.

 

The thing about this story that struck me is that it is about the lost generation, the generation and fought in, and survived, World War I. I have been confronted with the realities of World War I while traveling about Europe, in particular visiting the Musee d'armie in Paris and the Flanders Field Museum in Ypres, and I have to admit that it is incredibly emotional. In fact if they have to build anything in any of the areas where the war was fought they have to bring in the bomb squad because there is still live rounds buried in the ground. I was actually taken to a spot where they were building a road and the number of shells that had been pulled out of the ground one hundred years after the war was incredible.

 

Recovered Shells

 

 

Okay, I know that I have probably gone off topic a bit, but the thing is that with me, being four generations away from those who fought in the war, visiting these sites still had a significant impact upon. In a way this generation, the generation that fought in World War I, seems to be reflective of my father's generation, those who went to Vietnam, and returned to a world where they struggle to be able to connect to those who never experienced life on the battlefield. In a way it is probably why people like Hemmingway didn't return to the United States because for him, and for the other American veterans of the the First World War) the actual fighting was so far away from home, and when one returns home one literally returns to what is in effect a foreign land. In the end many of them ended up like Harry, dying in a foreign land, never having managed to realise their dreams.

 

30 August 2016 - Paris

 

 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1742302379
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