Month: June 2011

2011 Book #30: Cannery Row

n17137.jpegI waited too long to write this one, so I don’t have much to say. Cannery Row is a very short novelabout, well, Cannery Row in California around the Depression. It starts off with a description of the town’s grocery store owner and how he influences the community, then moves on to other characters, like a series of vignettes. Eventually, though, Steinbeck settles on some guys who rent from the grocery store owner and do occasional work for a doctor (they call him doc) who supplies medical parts, mostly in jars. The men want to throw him a party, and they accidentally cause lots of damage in his lab. They try again, and Doc finds out about it first, so he makes preparations, but windows get knocked out and the like, too. There are some fun fights and dealings with the local brothel madam. And that’s about it. It’s short.

I love Steinbeck. He’s one of my very favorite authors. Many years ago, I read Travels with Charley and Of Mice and Men, and, more recently, I read The Grapes of Wrath. I enjoyed all of them immensely, just as I did Cannery Row. My favorite was The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden is on my to-read list. Next up, though, is Sweet Thursday, which is a sort of sequel to Cannery Row, and the liberry happened to have it. I have a few of his other novels in one of my bookcases, and I think I’ll be moving through them pretty quickly.

2011 Book #29: The Savage Detectives

A-The-Savage-Detectives.jpegThe Savage Detectives is kind of a hard read. It’s also really, really long. It’s also worth getting through. I’m not sure how I came across it, though Roberto Bolaño‘s 2666 has been on my radar for quite some time. I haven’t tackled it yet because it’s even longer than this one. Until recently, I’ve never been a fan of long books, probably because I was conditioned in college to read short ones quickly. Longer books, though, like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, are steadily growing on me.

The Savage Detectives is split into three parts. The first is somewhere under two hundred pages, and it’s a nice, easy read. It’s generally about this early college-age kid, Juan Garcia Madero, who fancies himself a poet and joins a sort-of movement in Mexico called the visceral realists. He meets other people, some of whom are poets and others who pretend to be poets, and Things Happen. The most important of these other characters, we figure out later, are Ulises Lima and Arturo Bolano. They end up running off withe Garcia Madero and a prostitute named Lupe. Then we get to the second part, the bulk of the book, told by lots of narrators. All of the stories at least mention Ulises and Arturo, but some only tangentially. Wikipedia (I know) has a good list of the various characters telling the stories. Ulises and Arturo went to Europe for a few years, then back to Mexico, and got into mischief. They kind of turned people off. They didn’t seem to write much poetry. Finally, we reach the third part, which is a continuation of the first. After leaving town (they were all trying to hide Lupe from her pimp), they drive to the Sonora Desert to search for the founder of visceral realism, Cesárea Tinajero, and Things Happen.

I really loved this novel, though it took me forever to read. It seems like the kind that you need to reread and study: it’s really complex, and working on wrapping your head around all of it would probably be rewarding. That said, I’m not going to reread it – at least not in the near future.

For a novel about poets, there’s very, very little poetry in it, and we only get to see one official visceral realist poem by Cesárea Tinajero, which is basically a series of drawings. It’s interesting that we don’t hear anything from Ulises Lima or Arturo Bolano themselves, that it’s all stories surrounding them. Even Garcia Madero, to my knowledge, only appears in the first and last parts.

A funny bit: At some point while I was reading, I tweeted that Bolaño shares Don DeLillo’s love of lists, even that he puts DeLillo’s lists to shame. Then, toward the end (page 574), Bolaño talks briefly about DeLillo, calling him a “phenomenon.” That gave me a chuckle.

It would actually be pretty interesting to compare Bolaño to DeLillo. The Savage Detectives fits pretty squarely under the Postmodernism bracket (vague as it is), and there are lots of Deserts and unhappiness and motels. Bolaño almost makes DeLillo interesting again.

2011 Book #28: My Life in France

juliachild.jpegMy original plan for this blog was 50 novels in a year, but a friend recommended and loaned me Julia Child‘s My Life in France. It sounded interesting enough, and though I’m usually not one for nonfiction, I figured I’d give it a try. My Life in France is an “autobiography” about Julia Child’s years in France when she decided she loved cooking and went to the Cordon Bleu, etc, etc. I put “autobiography” in quotes because her nephew, Alex Prud’homme, actually wrote the book. From the forward, written by Prud’homme:

For a few days every month, I’d sit in her living room asking questions, reading from family letters, and listening to her stories. At first I taped our conversations, but when she began to poke my take recorder with her long fingers, I realized it was distracting her, and took notes instead. (x)

Yeah, that’s not autobiography, and after I read the forward, I almost decided not to read the book at all. But, even though it’s written by someone else, I really enjoyed it much more than I imagined I would. There’s something exciting about it, and after seeing Julie and Julia, which I also liked immensely, I wanted to hear the real story. It seems that lots of the bad stuff was glossed over, like tension between Julia and Louisette when the latter wasn’t really helping with the cookbook, and Julia had her name removed as an author. That said, My Life in France is an inspiring look into Julia Child’s life that made me want to drink more wine, at the very least – and keep a diary (at which I’m generally terrible) because it’d be nice to look back after many years and remember little things, like fantastic meals, that I enjoyed.


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