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DeLillo Binge, part 4

I finished the second of my three term papers yesterday, a day ahead of schedule, so I declared today a Mental Health Day and spent a good chunk of the day at Starbucks finishing Libra, the fourth novel of my Don DeLillo Binge. I had a hard time getting through this one because it’s a historical novel, and I don’t like historical novels. It’s about Lee Harvey Oswald and conspiracy theories and things (as Jacob says, SPOILER ALERT: he dies at the end). Lots of FBI and CIA people lurking about. It’s not exactly my kind of novel.

DeLillo is a brilliant novelist, though, and even though I wasn’t interested at all in the subject matter, his writing is fantastic, and that makes up for a lot. Here are a couple of snippets I particularly liked:

Spy planes, drone aircraft, satellites with cameras that can see from three hundred miles what you can see from a hundred feet. They see and they hear. Like ancient monks, you know, who recorded knowledge, wrote it painstakingly down. These systems collect and process. All the secret knowledge of the world…I’ll tell you what it means, these orbiting sensors that can hearus in our beds. It means the end of loyalty. The more complex the systems, the less conviction in people. Conviction will be drained out of us. Devices will drain us, make us vague and pliant.

Well, that’s about it. Libra definitely isn’t White Noise. But he did call Bossier City “a place where you could get a social disease leaning on a lamppost” (!) and Dallas “the city that proves God is really dead.” Those were the best two parts of the whole damn novel. And there’s the disturbing description of Jackie Kennedy crawling over the back of the car in which her husband has just been shot trying to recover a piece of his skull. Every time I mention that description, someone tells me it really happened. I know.

And that’s about all I have to say about Libra. It’s not bad or anything – I just didn’t like it. I think it’s better-written than Falling Man. Next up is Americana, DeLillo’s first (published?) novel. I have no idea what it’s about, and that makes me happy. I’m going to do my best not to read the blurb on the back. I’ve decided to tackle the rest of the novels in the order they were published, though if I get too close to the end of the summer before I get to Underworld, I’ll skip to that one because it’s so damn long.

Oh, how I love Don DeLillo.

What I found in an article about Mao II

I found this quote in an article by Joe Moran called “Don DeLillo and the Myth of the Author: Recluse,” and it makes me happy:

“There is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” – Susan Sontag, On Photography

That is all.

(And yes, I’ve branched out into critical articles. This DeLillo binge is getting out of hand.)

DeLillo Binge, parts 2 and 3

So. Remember when I talked about going on a DeLillo binge? Well, that’s what happened. I finished Point Omega and couldn’t stop. And I still can’t stop. I went to Marshall, TX, last weekend and bought a lightly-used copy of Falling Man from a little bookstore called Prospero’s. Falling Man is the novel DeLillo wrote just before Point Omega, and it’s about 9/11. I’m not a big fan of historical (or historically-based) novels, so I wasn’t too enthusiastic. Turns out it’s pretty mediocre. It’s short and about what happens to a family post-9/11. Post-trauma, etc. The second half is much better than the first. This isn’t a review, so I’ll stop there. Here’s the paragraph on which I stuck a post-it note:

But that’s why you built the towers, isn’t it? Weren’t the towers built as fantasies of wealth & power that would one day become fantasies of destruction? You built a thing like that so you can see it come down. The provocation is obvious. What other reason would there be to go so high and then to double it, do it twice? It’s a fantasy, so why not do it twice? You are saying, Here it is, bring it down.

That’s Falling Man, and it was acceptable, though I have almost nothing to say about it.

You’d think a mediocre experience like that might make me wander off to another author, at least for a while, but no! I’m obsessed and insatiable. So, before I even finished Falling Man, I ran off to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy of Mao II, which I thought was supposed to be a historical novel, which explains why I hadn’t read it already. This one is fantastic, a relatively close second to my beloved White Noise. It’s about a reclusive writer, his assistant, his assistant’s girlfriend, and a photographer who takes photos of writers. And Beirut. And a few other things. It’s incredibly DeLillo in all of his listing, sometimes flat ways. I loved every second of it. A couple quotes:

Sitting for a picture is morbid business. A portrait doesn’t begin to mean anything until the subject is dead. This is the whole point. We’re doing this to create a kind of sentimental past for people in the decades to come. It’s their past, their history we’re inventing here. And it’s not how I look now that matters. It’s how I’ll look in twenty-five years as clothing and faces change, as photographs change. The deeper I pass into death, the more powerful my picture becomes. Isn’t this why picture-taking is so ceremonial? It’s like a wake. And I’m the actor made up for the laying-out.


The novel used to feed our search for meaning…It was the great secular transcendence. The Latin mass of language, character, occasional new truth. But our desperation has led us toward something larger and darker. So we turn to the news, which provides an unremitting mood of catastrophe. This is where we find emotional experience not available elsewhere. We don’t need the novel…We don’t even need catastrophes, necessarily. We only need reports and predictions and warnings.

I’ve stopped writing in books and started putting little post-it notes over paragraphs that stick out of the side of the book just enough to be detected. I don’t know where this aversion to writing came from, but it started last semester in a modern fiction class when I was reading White Noise. I just couldn’t bring myself to write in it. I don’t think I’ve ever written in a DeLillo book, which is strange because I tend to write everywhere. I’ve even been known to pencil notes into the margins of library books, and I sometimes forget to erase them. But that’s neither here nor there.

Speaking of the library. Just after I finished Mao II, I shut down the Writing Cave for a few minutes to run to the library and pick up Libra. They also had The Names, so I grabbed that one too. I couldn’t decide which to read first, so I chose the former since that was the original plan. They’re both historical novels, and I’m already having a hard time reading Libra, which almost immediately involves CIA and Cuba and other Historical and Political Things I Don’t Really Care About. But it sounds like DeLillo, and, I think, in the end, that’s all that really matters.

ALSO: As a brief interlude between novels, I read a lovely short story DeLillo wrote called “Midnight in Dostoyevsky” that was published in last November 30’s issue of The New Yorker. It’s about two college boys who basically make up the life of an old man they see walking on the street nearly every day, kind of like the game Grady Tripp and Terry Crabtree play with Vernon in Wonder Boys. (As a side note, can you imagine if DeLillo had written Wonder Boys? It would have been even more fantastic. Seems like his kind of novel.)

Spring Break and Don Delillo

My favorite thing about Spring Break is that it’s a little glimpse of the more substantial vacation just four or five torturous weeks away. It gives me some much-needed time to lie on the sofa or sit at a coffee shop, my legs propped up, and read books I haven’t been told to read.

Yesterday, I picked up Don Delillo’s Point Omega, which I’d been wanting to read since I saw a fantastic review a month or two ago. It’s super-short, and I read it in only three or four hours. And I read slowly. This isn’t a book review (I don’t write book reviews), so all I’m going to say is that it’s fantastic. The whole thing is basically a slowing down of time:

It’s all embedded, the hours and minutes, words and numbers everywhere, he said, train stations, bus routes, taxi meters, surveillance cameras. It’s all about time, dimwit time, inferior time, people checking watches and other devices, other reminders. This is time draining out of our lives. Cities were built to measure time, to remove time from nature. There’s an endless counting down, he said. When you strip away all the surfaces, when you see into it, what’s left is terror. This is the thing that literature was meant to cure. The epic poem, the bedtime story.

I liked this novel in the same way I liked White Noise – it’s the same kind of cultural critique that makes you feel a bit empty at the end. Makes me want to go on a Delillo binge, though I have a feeling I’d somehow emerge disappointed.

A couple of notes on Faulkner’s Sanctuary

Before (and shortly after) I started reading Sanctuary, I had a lot to say about it. I’d heard it was very unlike the rest of Faulkner’s work, and I knew about the rape part. I was expecting quite the scene, but it’s not there, and I think that’s why I have so little to say: the first third, or so, is really engaging and scary and frustrating, but then it gets boring. Here’s a short synopsis that probably leaves most of the important plot points out: A wayward teenager runs off with her boyfriend, and he gets drunk and strands her out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by men who can’t control themselves, she’s raped, someone else is killed, and another guy ends up facing a death sentence. The girl runs off with a creepy old man and stays in a whorehouse for a while, and some other craziness happens, and another guy gets killed. Then more of the like happens. The end. It’s like a pulp novel.

That said, parts of it are beautifully written. Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter 16:

On the day when the sheriff brought Goodwin to town, there was a negro murderer in the jail, who had killed his wife; slashed her throat with a razor so that, her whole head tossing further and further backward from the bloody regurgitation of her bubbling throat, she ran out of the cabin door and for six or seven steps up the quiet moonlit lane. He would lean in the window in the evening and sing. After supper a few negroes gathered along the fence below–natty, shoddy suits and sweat-stained overalls shoulder to shoulder–and in chorus with the murderer, they sang spirituals while white people slowed and stopped in the leafed darkness that was almost summer, to listen to those who were sure to die and him who was already dead singing about heaven and being tired; or perhaps in the interval between songs a rich, sourceless voice coming out of the high darkness were the ragged shadow of the heaven-tree which snooded the street lamp at the corner fretted and mourned: “Fo days mo! Den dey ghy stroy de bes ba’ytone singer in nawth Mississippi!”

I love it! The end is really nice, too.

Besides the first third and the occasional nice language, Sanctuary seems pretty forgettable, unlike Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying – even Absalom! Absalom! is more interesting, and I didn’t particularly like that one. That said, I have a similar relationship with Faulkner as I have with Whitman: I outright hated him for a while, but then I reread Sound and the Furyand really liked it.

I think I liked the beginning of Sanctuary because it’s so un-Faulknery in that I can see the first half of the novel happening in Haughton or some other terrible little place around here, and that was fascinating. The rest, though, seemed removed in the same way something like the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird – like it couldn’t happen now. Maybe I got confused about how time works in Sanctuary, or something, but it kind of just turned me off. It could also that it took me almost a month to read it because since the semester started, I’ve usually only been reading just before bed.

Speaking of bed, I’m glad I finally finished it: I had a terrible dream last night. I don’t remember the whole thing, but I had to go to the doctor, and the two ladies in the whorehouse were deciding when I was going to go, and it was somehow terrible. I was half awake, staring at my clock for a good ten or twenty minutes before I finally convinced myself that I don’t need to go to the doctor and that they have nothing to do with my life. I really hate dreams like that, and it took me a long time to get back to sleep.

Okay. I realize that in all this talk, I haven’t really said much about Faulkner or about his novel, and I think it’s because, at this point, I’m almost entirely disinterested. I’m forgetting it already. It could, of course, have something to do with the fact that I read the last hundred and fifty pages or so in a codeine cloud (it was cough syrup!), and now, I’m really really tired.

A few things about Haruki Murakami

PinballI just read Pinball, 1973, by my very favorite author, Haruki Murakami. It was the first book I read on my super-cool new Kindle. If you search the name on Google, followed by pdf, you’ll find a long list of files to download because it’s so expensive. For whatever reason, Murakami doesn’t want it published in the States. He doesn’t think it’s good enough.

Pinball, 1973 is Murakami’s second novel and a sequel to Hear the Wind Sing, which has also never been published here for the same reason. The copy I have was published in Japan for people learning to read English. Pinball, 1971, from what I understand, was published by the same people, and I have no idea why it’s so relatively rare.

Anyway, it’s fantastic. Almost difficult to grip, but fantastic. Like many of his other novels including Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Kafka on the Shore, it alternates perspectives between chapters. Unlike those two novels, though, there is very little connection beyond theme in Pinball. Which is fine.

This isn’t supposed to be a book review. It’s supposed to be a few things about Murakami.

I’m not exactly sure why I like him so much, though it might have something to do with how weird most of his novels are without falling into scifi or fantasy – or maybe it’s his fondness for cats, which have at least a small role in every novel of his I’ve read and at least a mention in every short story. He also likes wells. I have noticed that I like translations by Alfred Birnbaum best and Philip Gabriel least, though one of my favorites was translated by the latter. I’ve read all of his novels that have been translated into English except Dance Dance Dance, which is the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, which comes rather loosely from Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. A Wild Sheep Chase is quite possibly Murakami’s most popular novel – and my least favorite (this has happened before: Slaughterhouse Five is my least favorite Vonnegut novel, and I really like Vonnegut). That’s not exactly true: I really didn’t like After Dark either, but I’m not sure why. I like not having read Dance Dance Dance if only because there’s still something of his in English that I haven’t read. His new novel, 1Q84, won’t appear in English until September, 2011, and that seems forever away. There are short stories I haven’t read either, but I never like them as much as his novels. The longer his work is, the more I tend to like it. Case in point: my favorite three novels (I can’t choose one!) are Hard-Boiled Wonderland, Kafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – three of his longest novels. From what I hear, 1Q84 is long too, so I’m particularly excited. Keep in mind that I generally hate long novels because I’m not good at finishing them.

Murakami has also written some nonfiction stuff including What I Talk about when I Talk about Running, which I read a couple of months ago and loved. It’s about running, and I run. Go figure. There’s also Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, which I haven’t read. He’s published a bunch of essays that have been translated, too.

I’ll stop now.

I guess I might have exceeded the “few things” I wanted to talk about, especially considering that I didn’t mention what I’d originally planned to say, which is that I like how Murakami handles sex. I dislike explicit sex in books – it’s annoying. With Murakami, you know it’s going on, but you don’t get many details. The most explicit scene I remember is in Kafka on the Shore, and I don’t remember it being bad. I need to reread that novel.

How White Noise changed my life…when I was 14

white_noise.largeI spent a week reading White Noise for my modern fiction class. This book was why I signed up for the class in the first place, and I was terribly excited. It’s totally different than how I remembered it.

I read White Noise the summer after my freshman year of high school. Before summer break, I asked a teacher who I idolized what books I should read over the summer, which I would be spending in the no man’s land of Minden, LA. She gave me three suggestions: Hard Times, A Handmaid’s Tale, and White Noise. I read and adored all three, but White Noise was, by far, my favorite. It also changed my life by filling my head with crazy (and reasonable) ideas.

Here’s one that occurs very early in the book. Throughout my childhood, just before I’d fall asleep, I’d jerk awake because I felt like I was falling. It was terrible. It happened almost every night. One of my very first memories was lying in my Strawberry Shortcake-themed bed at my dad’s house, trying to sleep, and being jarred awake. I couldn’t have been older than three or four. Of course, I kept it a secret, as so many kids keep secret anything they think is wrong with them. For a long time, I was convinced that I had a disease. And here’s what White Noise has to do with my problem: it explained what it was and how it happened. I’ve never bothered actually looking it up, but, according to the novel, it’s called a myoclonic jerk, and it’s a “more or less normal muscular contraction.” That’s all I’ve ever found out about it, but it’s enough for me. It hasn’t happened often since I was a kid, but every time it does, that phrase goes through my head. I’d forgotten where it came from.

Life-changing bit number two: I idolized Heinrich. I wanted to be just like him: brilliant and brooding. And I think I might have pulled it off for a while, though that’s another post.

And number three: I don’t remember, but my airplane phobia must have been exacerbated by the terrible near-crash description. This is only part of it:

The plane had lost power in all three engines, dropped from thirty-four thousand feet to twelve thousand feet. Something like four miles. When the steep glide began, people rose, fell, collided, swam in their seats. Then the serious screaming and moaning began. Almost immediately a voice from the flight deck was heard on the intercom: “We’re falling out of the sky! We’re going down! We’re a silver gleaming death machine!” This outburst struck the passengers as an all but total breakdown of authority, competence, and command presence and it brought on a round of fresh and desperate wailing.

Here’s a story: When I was little, having divorced parents, I used to fly alone a lot. A lot. I was generally okay with it until, when I was eight or nine, my dad put me on a plane from New Orleans or Baton Rouge to Shreveport. It was terrible. It was a little puddle-jumper from an airline that doesn’t exist anymore, and we were flying behind a 757. It flew through a thunderhead, and, for whatever reason, the pilot of my plane decided that it would be a good idea for us to go through it too. Once we got into it, though, we started falling. Like two hundred feet at a time, which took seconds. After each fall, we would climb back up and fall again. I, of course, was alone, and I was surrounded by adults who were screaming and crying and holding hands and praying. How could I not be traumatized? For years after that, I gripped the armrests and said rosaries through whole flights, convinced that I was about to die. When I turned eighteen, I got a car, and I SWORE I’d never fly again. And I didn’t for six years, when I was faced with a free trip to Disney World. It was a phobia: I would have nightmares not about planes crashing, but about being forced to board them. I can deal with planes now, I think, only thanks to a combination of NLP and a book called Flying without Fear.

ANYWAY, I’m sure you can see how the description in White Noise might affect my fourteen-year-old psyche (after reading Cat’s Cradle, I wanted to be a Bokononist!). I remember sitting in an airport sometime around then, watching several people exit a plane with IVs and casts and the like. I think I assumed that something terrible had happened on the plane, but now, of course, I realize that planes probably don’t carry IV or cast-making supplies.

And, finally, there’s the athiest nun at the end. I won’t explain the circumstances for the benefit of those of you who STILL NEED TO READ THIS NOVEL. This includes you, Charlotte. I know that, being fourteen, I took that part way too seriously. In fact, I didn’t think White Noise was a funny novel at all. I’m especially amused that I only remembered the first half of it – I guess I was just too young to understand what in the hell was going on.

Martin Amis is fantastic, too.

n4815.jpg About a week ago, I declared my love for Philip Roth. Now, he is not alone. Because Martin Amis is fantastic, too.

I’m terrible about remembering books I’ve read, even just a couple months after I’ve read them. I figure this might help a bit. Or, at least, it’ll amuse me for a few minutes.

So, in a few quotes, here’s why I like Martin Amis so much. I qualify this declaration like I qualified my love for Philip Roth: I’ve only read one of Amis’s books. So here we go:

Like writing, paintings seem to hint at a topsy-turvy world in which, so to speak, time’s arrow moves the other way. The invisible speedlines suggests a different nexus of sequence and process. That thought again. It always strangely disquiets me. I wonder: is this the case with all the arts? Well, it’s not the case with music. It’s not the case with opera, where everyone talks backward and sounds god-awful.

Brilliant! By the way, the events of the novel are told backward, but the narrator doesn’t know. It’s fantastic.

You can see the stars, now, in the city, or everybody else can, and not just an attractive smattering here and there. No: the inordinate cosmos. Most people behave as if the stars have been visible all along. To them it’s no big deal…To me, the stars are motelike, just twists of dust. Yet I feel their fire. How the burn my sight.

Oh, God!

Now and then, when the sky is starless, I look up and form the hilarious suspicion that the world will soon start making sense.

This stuff is absolutely beautiful. Not all of it is, though, if that’s what you’re beginning to suspect. The sentence directly before this little clip is “He dreams he is shitting human bones.”

And, finally,

How fortunate that I am unkillable. Unkillable, but not immortal. What happened to our manhood?

Ahh! (Remember, here, if you’re confused, that the story goes backward.) How I love Martin Amis! Entirely differently, of course, than I love Philip Roth. I sure as hell wouldn’t volunteer to be Amis’s Herta.

Why I’m in love with Philip Roth

portnoys_complaintSo, you say, maybe you shouldn’t declare your love for an author when you’ve only read one of his books. And maybe I shouldn’t. But I am.

And here, in a series of quotes, is why. I sure as hell hope my mother doesn’t read this.

The bus, the bus, what intervened on the bus to prevent me from coming all over the sleeping shikse‘s arm – I don’t know. Common sense, you think? Common decency? My right mind, as they say, coming to the fore? Well, where is this right mind on that afternoon I came home from school to find my mother out of the house, and our refrigerator stocked with a big purplish piece of raw liver? I believe that I have already confessed to the piece of liver that I bought in a butcher shop and banged behind a billboard on the way to a bar mitzvah lesson. Well, I wish to make a clean breast of it, Your Holiness. That – she – it – wasn’t my first piece. My first piece I had in the privacy of my own home, rolled round my cock in the bathroom at three-thirty – and then had again on the end of a fork, at five-thirty, along with the other members of that poor innocent family of mine.

So. Now you know the worst thing I have ever done. I fucked my own family’s dinner.

Oh God, my eyes were tearing up as I read that. In the writing lab. EM#4 (the good one, if you have any idea what I’m talking about) asked me what was so funny, and I couldn’t tell him. I just couldn’t. He had, incidentally, asked me if I believe in God only two days before, and I had already disappointed him once.

On to #2. And this one’s especially terrible! Here’s the setup: Lina, the prostitute, has just had sex a few times with Alex and his girlfriend, The Monkey. Here’s what happens afterward:

So Lina – not a person overly sensitive to interpersonal struggle – lay back on the pillow beside me and began to tell us all about herself. The bane of existence was the abortions. She was the mother of one child, a boy, with whom she lived on Monte Mario (“in a beautiful new building,” The Monkey translated). Unfortunately she could not manage, in her situation, any more than one – “though she loves children” – and so was always in and out of the abortionist’s office. Her only precautionary device seemed to be a spermicidal douche of no great reliability.”

Okay, I know it’s not funny. Except it is. Except I can’t help myself.

Only two more. You can make it! Be a trooper!

I’m not even going to explain this one:

“Sarah, the best safeguard against asphyxiation is breathing. Just breathe, and that’s all there is to it. More or less.”

Just one more. I won’t explain this one either, though it’s not too difficult to figure out:

“As it turns out, you can’t stick tapioca pudding into anything.”


And there you have it. This, dear readers, is Why I Am in Love with Philip Roth. And what might it say about me, you ask? No comment. I would volunteer to be his Monkey, but someone would get the wrong idea…

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