But we’re reasonably well into 2013, you (who check my Goodreads account religiously) say! And you finished To Have and Have Not weeks ago! And what’s this new mention of Mao II? How does it have anything to do with anything? What’s the deal?!?
Well, I’ve been busy. Or maybe I haven’t been busy, but I’ve been otherwise occupied. I certainly have lots of things with which to be occupied, so we’ll call that my excuse. But, anyway, here we are in a fresh new year, and I’m still wrapping up the old one, with two books I barely remember. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but now do you see why I combined them?
First up is To Have and Have Not (don’t worry: I’m not going to talk much about either of these). As you probably know, I’m a huge Hemingway fan, and I’m slowly discovering his many (many!) books that aren’t normally assigned in college classrooms. To Have and Have Not is classic Hemingway: it’s a Manly Novel that talks about Manly Things. (Which is what this novels has in common with Mao II: all of DeLillo’s novels that I’ve read are Manly Novels. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that I seem to be in the mood for parenthetical asides today.)
It’s about Harry Morgan, a Manly Man with a fishing boat in Cuba. Or at least that’s where he starts. After a fishing trip goes south, he’s forced into shuttling black market alcohol from Key West and other unsavory activities because he has to support his family. And Things Happen. I will provide one warning: there is a bit of a sex scene that involves a “stump” where an arm used to be, and it’s GROSS. Yes. All-caps gross. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’ve only met one Hemingway novel I don’t like: The Old Man and the Sea, which, funnily enough, is the one most people have read and liked. (I have the same problem with Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five, though upon a second reading, I don’t hate it nearly as much as I used to.) What’s funny is that this novel starts with one of those long marlin-fishing scenes, but it ended eventually, so it didn’t bother me. And that’s about all I have to say about To Have and Have Not. I really liked it.
On to Mao II, which I’ve read before and posted about before. I read it sometime last year, just before I got sick, because I was working on my thesis, and the last chapter is about that novel. Then, of course, I got sick and didn’t write the chapter, and now, it’s been so long that I’ll probably have to read it again when I finally do. Ugh. That said, it’s not a bad novel, but it’s your typical DeLillo (which is what my thesis is about), and I’m certainly not going to rehash it here. The end.
I know it’s been a long time since my last book post, but I’ve been busy. This time, I make no apologies. If you’d like to see what I’ve been doing lately, have a look over here.
I finished reading The Names a few days ago, but I’m so unenthusiastic about it that I’ve been putting off writing this post. In a fit of, I don’t know, insanity, I decided it would be a good time to try another DeLillo novel. I think I read something about this one in an article I was reading for my thesis. It involves a cult, and it’s mostly set in Greece. Sounded like a non-formula DeLillo novel to me. I was intrigued.
But, of course, it is a formula DeLillo novel. It’s just that they guy who’s running away isn’t the protagonist. You might argue that Bill Gray isn’t really the protagonist of Mao II, but that novel isn’t narrated in the first person by an entirely different character. DeLillo went all Nick Carraway on me.
So what, you ask, is this guy running away from? Language. The Names is all about language. And it’s not subtle at all just like TV isn’t in Americana, music isn’t in Great Jones Street, and literature/the publishing industry isn’t in Mao II. Once again, DeLillo beats you over the head with it.
I got so annoyed with this book that I skimmed most of the last third of the novel. I just wanted to find out what was going on with the cult. I didn’t care about the talking heads part. And that’s most of it.
Here’s enough of the plot. There’s a cult moving around eastern Europe that murders people based on similarities between their names and their locations. There’s no real explanation for it – they just do it. And the main characters talk about it.
The more I think about this book, the more I dislike it. I’m tired of DeLillo’s formula, and The Names certainly isn’t one of his best novels, anyway. This is the second one I’ve disliked from the beginning: the other was The Body Artist. I’ve been planning on giving that one a second chance because I didn’t see how it could be that bad (especially since I like Great Jones Street, widely considered to be his worst novel.
That’s all I have to say about The Names. I was disappointed. I’ll get back on the thesis soon, and I’m hoping that being so annoyed won’t make me lose interest again.
I don’t even wanna talk about this one.
I hadn’t read a DeLillo novel in quite a while – we’re faaaar away from the glory days of the DeLillo Binge. While I was working on the Thesis Monster (which I still have to finish), I read most of his novels and realized that he’s just writing the same novel over and over with different characters and settings. Once I saw that, I lost all interest in DeLillo and all interest in the Thesis Monster. Which is why I haven’t worked on it in a while.
Here’s the plot of every DeLillo novel I’ve read (except, maybe, of Underworld, which I didn’t finish): A guy (always a guy: DeLillo writes Man Novels) experiences some sort of postmodern angst related in some way to the media. He runs away from his life or otherwise destroys it. Sometimes he attempts to return and is unsuccessful in reintegrating himself.
There. I’ve just told you the plot of Cosmopolis. And Americana, Great Jones Street, Mao II (the three novels included in the Thesis Monster), Libra, White Noise, Point Omega, Falling Man, and all the others I’ve read. That’s right: all of them.
Really, Don DeLillo? I thought you were better than that. Or at least a bit more creative.
I still say I’ll finish the Thesis Monster, and now I have a wee bit of incentive. Next August, I want to start Librarian School, which means another master’s. Which also means I need to finish the one I’m “currently” working on. I only need thirty more pages, and I have until early April to do it. I need to get my shizz together.
This is the third time I’ve read Americana. I really need to work on the Thesis Monster, and it had been a year since I’d read the book, so I figured rereading it would be a good start. I loved it the first two times: it was probably my favorite DeLillo book (hovering there with White Noise). This time, though, I was bored out of my mind. Michael Douglas narrated it in my head (a la Wonder Boys), and he just droned on and on.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my love affair with Don DeLillo is permanently over. The turning point is when I was researching the Thesis Monster and realized that he just writes the same book over and over: some dude with postmodern angst is running away from identity-creating media to find his own identity. Okay, that’s not exactly the case with all of DeLillo’s novels, but they’re all basically about the same thing.
So much for the DeLillo Binge.
As much as I didn’t enjoy Americana this time around, there are things about DeLillo that I still do love. His language is beautiful. If I could make myself sit down and write a novel, I’d want it to sound like his.
Literature is what we passed and left behind, that more than men and cactus. For years I had been held fast by the great unwinding mystery of this deep sink of land, the thick paragraphs and imposing photos, the galop of panting adjectives, prairie truth and the clean kills of eagles, the desert shawled in Navaho paints, images of surreal cinema, of ventricles tied to pumps. Chaco masonry and the slung guitar, of church organ lungs and the slate of empires, of coral in this strange place, suggesting a reliquary sea, and of the blessed semblance of God on the faces of superstitious mountains. Whether the novels and songs usurped the land, or took something true from it, is not so much the issue as this: that what I was engaged in was merely a literary venture, an attempt to find pattern and motive, to make of something wild a squeamish thesis on the essence of the nation’s soul. To formulate. To seek links. But the wind burned across the creekbeds, barely moving the soil, and there was nothing to announce to myself in the way of historic revelation.
DeLillo’s style is beautiful. It’s just that I’ve become as jaded as the characters in his novels. David Bell would have no interest in reading Americana.
So. On to the Thesis Monster. Now, as reconnected with the novel as I can be, I have no excuse not to write. My outline is done: all I have to do is fill in the blanks between quotes. Because that’s what the Thesis Monster is: a series of quotes. The postmodern problem.
I’ve made a schedule of sorts. On weekday mornings, I work on the Thesis Monster, and that’s that. I’ve never been good for much after lunch, so the afternoon is mine. If I can be productive in the mornings, it’ll be done soon, and I’ll never have to look at it again. I’ll also be done with academia, which is another – much scarier – issue. But I have some time left.
This afternoon, I’ll ride my bike up to Palmer‘s, water some plants, and try to tackle The Moviegoer. I hated it when I read it at least ten years ago, but I change my opinions of books pretty frequently. The weather is nice, and I’m looking forward to propping my feet up and giving Walker Percy a second chance.
In other news, the Shreveport Library Book Sale was last Saturday. I usually don’t buy much of anything since everything is so disorganized and it’s so crowded. Here’s what I got this time:
I discovered once I got home that I already had The Poisonwood Bible, so I donated my copy to Charlotte. I haven’t read any of them.
“Why are you driving when you can fly?” she said. “Don’t you love to fly? I love it. It’s the sexiest thing there is.”
“This is a religious journey,” I said. “Planes aren’t religious yet. Cars are religious. Maybe planes will be next.”
“Planes are sexy.”
“That’s right, the way cars used to be. But cars are religious now and this is a religious trip.”
The thing that sucks about increasingly long, more…academic(?) posts is that I’m beginning to have to psych myself up to write them. So this one’s gonna be short since I’m almost done with the next book in my DeLillo Binge, and I’ve been putting this one off.
I just finished End Zone a few days ago. I liked it more than I thought I would. This was my first impression:
I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. There is, though, a really long description of a football game, which almost bored me to tears, except that in introducing it, DeLillo made it just a bit more palatable:
(The spectator, at this point, is certain to wonder whether he must now endure a football game in print – the author’s way of adding his own neat quarter-notch to the scarred bluesteel of combat writing. The game, after all, is known for its assault-technology motif, and numberous commentators have been willing to risk death by analogy in their public discussions of the resemblance between football and war. But this sort of thing is of little interest to the exemplary spectator. As Alan Zapalac says later on: ‘I reject the notion of football as warfare. Warfare is warfare. We don’t need substitutes because we’ve got the real thing.’ The exemplary spectator is the person who understands the sport as a benign illusion, the illusion that order is possible.) (111-112)
And he goes on and on. I like that he self-consciously acknowledges the reader. While I was reading the ridiculously long account of the game, I kept thinking of this little interlude-of-sorts, and it made me feel better. (Okay, so it’s not that long, but that thirty pages seems to take forever.)
This novel is really interesting in that it goes back and forth between vast, detailed descriptions of football and postmodern theory. After practice, the players sit around and have “real” discussions about not-football, like this conversation about a course one of the team members is taking:
“People keep bringing up that course you’re taking. The untellable. I keep hearing about that course. Nobody talks about it but I keep hearing.”
“So do I,” Ted Joost said.
“There’s not much I can say about it,” Billy said.
“You can tell us what goes on.”
“We delve into the untellable.”
“How deep?” Bobby Iselin said.
“It’s hard to tell. I don’t think anybody knows how deep the untellable is. We’ve done a certain amount of delving. We plan to delve some more. That’s about all I can tell you.”
“But what do you talk about?” Howard said. “There are ten of you in there and there’s some kind of instructor or professor. You must say things to each other.”
“We shout in German a lot. There are different language exercises we take turns doing. We may go on a field trip next week. I don’t know where to.”
“But you don’t know German. I know damn well you don’t. I’m your damn roommate. I know things about you.”
“Unfortunately I’ve picked up a few words. I guess that’s one of the hazards in a course like this. You pick up things you’re better off without. The course is pretty experimental. It’s given by a man who may or may not have spent three and a half years in one of the camps. He doesn’t think there’ll be a final exam.”
“Why things in German?” Ted Joost said.
“I think the theory is if any words exist beyond speech, they’re probably German words, or pretty close.” (181).
There are lots of conversations like this one in End Zone, which is why I think I like it so much. It’s definitely Thesis Material. So far, if I can get my act together, I’ll probably use White Noise, Americana, and End Zone. Using five novels would probably be easiest since I can write a chapter on each, but I think it might be overkill, and when I get to the revision phase and people are actually reading it, I might find my thesis expanding exponentially, which I really don’t want to happen.
Since this is supposed to be a short post, I’ll stop now. I’m almost finished with Great Jones Street, and I’m pretty sure I won’t have much at all to say about it, though it’s not too bad. At least it’s not about Lee Harvey Oswald.