This is Part 2 of a three-way conversation (at the moment) among Richard Seltzer in Boston, Deane Rink in Antarctica, and Jonathan Loschi in Idaho. To see Part 1, click here.
1. Slam Dancing and Antarctic Bars
We have a community of 1000 in McMurdo, the main staging base for deep field parties, and lab headquarters for science down here in general. Community is composed of maybe 150 scientists and grad students, who are commonly known in Antarctic slang as "beakers'" because of the glass tube that mad chemists cook up their experiments in. But beakers down here is not a perjorative term, just a descriptive one, and since it was created by the scientist's literate inferiors, it is usually spelled "beekers.
The lab in which I sit to tap out these messages sits on a piece of gravel called Beeker Street. The rest of the support personnel enable the scientists to do their work: 40 people in the galley cooking for 1000, fork lift operators, and mechanics, supply clerks and Navy crewmen from VXE-6, the squadron that runs the Hercs - the C-130s that transport everyone to deep field and South Pole. Helicopters are now private, first year of this, and do local commutes, 50-75 miles across McMurdo Sound to the Dry Valleys, up Mt. Erebus, etc. The community has three sociological bases: tweedy scientists and NSF administrators, young military types fulfilling the Navy's decreasing role here, and sociopathic recluses who may have a skill, but probably not social. It makes for an interesting miox, people that wouldn't operate in the same worlds in the USA depend upon each other for life down here, and tolerance is generally pretty good. The binding liquid and the only thing to do off hours is drink and cruise the three bars: Erebus, a smoker's bar, where the old-timers puff away and listen to country stomping music; Southern Exposure, which has Karaoke nights and Disco slam dances (see earlier), and the Coffee House, once a bar reserved for Navy officers, but now a folksong hangout that only serves wine and Cokes. Most of the beekers don't hang out anywhere, just stay in their labs all evening. Same is true of NSF officials; the rabble live for their time off and dominate the bars, but every once in a while (see Hallowe'en story) a group event knits the entire community together.
Holidays are big here, because nothing else resembles home. Even I, who hate the formulaic pomp of ritualized table manners, enjoy Thanksgiving and Xmas here.
2. Thom Pynchon: this character went to Cornell a few years before me, and cruised through the English major with the highest academic average ever achieved. Rumor was that he was offered an instant professorship upon graduation, but turned it down to sell vacuum cleaners in Guadalajara. His writing teacher was Walt Slatoff, same as for me, and Slatoff tells a story about a desultory class in which Thom was enrolled. Slatoff tried to light a fire under them one day by writing a random sentence on the board and asking everybody in class to start off with that sentence and write for the whole hour. Pynchon refused to turn his paper in at hour's end, but walked across the hall to the English Dept. office and continued to scribble away for another hour. He finally turned the story in: it was subsequently published in Epoch as "Under the Rose" and was anthologized in the Best Short Stories of whatever year that was. Pynchon had written it off the top of his head. [See correction in the next letter. The story was "Mercy and Mortality in Vienna," not "Under the Rose".]
The novel in which Benny Profane appears is V., his first published, but actually written second after THE CRYING OF LOT 49. It won Faulkner Award, and he took ten years off writing, before coming up with GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. The Rainbow has Tyrone Slothrup as main character, an individual who gets an erection whenever a V-2 rocket streams over his head. The allies put him in London as a rocket detector, and Pynchon uses this absurdist set-up as an excuse to look at the unrecorded history of World War II, blaming I.G.Farben and Krupp Steel for the war machines as much as Hitler and the Nazis. The Rainbow is not an easy read, but that can be said of ULYSSES.
I have the Rainbow down here for re-read on my boat trip across the Drake Passage later next month. I like Pyynchon's demented humor, but he hit the lowest end of the bucket with VINELAND years later. I should have resonated, as they say, with a book about Northern California dope growers, but I found it flat. The Pynchon mystery is fairly interesting, though, and VINELAND triggered rumors that he resides in Mendocino and writes the Anderson Valley Newspaper under some assumed Polish woman's name.
3. Alger Hiss was a refined gentleman whom I worked for one summer after my first year of law school, as he endlessly tried to clear his name. I believe he was innocent of the Whitaker Chambers' charges, but that he probably did perjure himself in front of Congress committees because he was such a patrician that he did not want to admit that he had arranged for his wife to have an illegal abortion back in the 1930s. He was a "dangerous FDR liberal" who believed in one world government and probably was familiar with CP goings on, but that is about it. He was scapegoated by an ambitious CA. congresman, Nixon, because Nixon wanted someone to be the stepladder for his own rise. Anything anti-Communist in the 1950s was automatically all right in Nixon's circle, so by attacking left-over FDR liberals in the State Dept, folks who had softer ideas about the Soviets because we had been allies with them against the Nazis, Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, and other unscrupulous "scoundrels" in the guise of patriots, found their way to flourish.
Gotta go eat galley food and engage in obstreporous conversation.
The short story I cited as being written ad lib by Pynchon in my hastily composed letter of this afternoon is incorrect. The right story is "Mercy and Mortality in Vienna," not "Under the Rose." "Mercy...." was published in Epoch in the Spring of 1959.
"Mercy . . . . ." has not appeared in any of his books, according to a website devoted to him maintained by Pomona College. But it is reproduced there: http://www.pomona.edu/pynchon/uncollected/vienna.html though my damn browser wouldn't take me there when I asked it.
Richard, please make substitution in Pynchon section of last letter before posting it. Also, actively looking for your comments too.
By the way, in two days, I go for six days where computers do not follow, to seek messengers from Mars in the blue ice of the Allan Hills in 40 knot winds, camping out all the way, going from place to place on snowmobiles. If I return unfrozen, I'll continue peppering it all out till 12/9, when I leave for Chile and Palmer Station, where I fear the computer networking abilities will be severely delimited.
"But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed once or twice - guessed and refused to believe - that everything always, collectively, has been moving towards that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprises, no second chances, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and white bad news certainty, as if it were the Rainbow, and they its children" (p. 209)
Check the Web site. I finally (momentarily) caught up with your voluminous correspondence. I'll soon have to create a second file (Part 2) -- you're over 100 Kbytes, and AltaVista only indexes the first 100 K of any file, and I want this indexed.
By the way, Deane, you mentioned that you were writing something on Ginsberg and other authors. I haven't received them yet. Did something get lost in the email or have you just not had time to get to it?
This is great stuff (starting to feel a bit like a book -- something along the lines of an on-line epistolary somethingorother, or a dialogue between the baby boomer and Generation X generations on literature, life, and the nature of the universe...
No Ginsberg yet, maybe tomorrow before I leave. But the author anecdotes are slowly being teased out of me. Mailer and Pynchon being the two most recent examples, and Jonathan's casual mention of Alger Hiss triggered a memory from synapses gone by.
Glad to see our page is progressing, and when I Alta Vista-ed GRAVITY'S RAINBOW last night to get the parabola quote, Voila! My name in the same lights at Tom Pynchon's. Cheap thrills!
Keep up the good work. Next issue is, why only 73 hits? Are the bibliomaniacs becoming rarer than Martian rocks?
It will take a while to build the hits. I'll mention it my newsletter (which is taking me forever to finish), and as AltaVista indexes the stuff that will bring others. Also, I think word of mouth will get it going -- this is good stuff. Keep in coming.
By the way, I ain't no boomer. Boomer is defined as post-WWII, I believe, and I was born on 5/11/45. I like to point out to my younger friends that I was born before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, therefore have not suffered the radiation damage that obviously affects the Boomers.
Okay. Well, I was born 2/23/46, just nine months later, am I'm definitely a full-fledged boomer.
Ah, Yes, the inflammatory buzzword. I have not met a breed of cat yet that had no opinion on the subject. As an Undergrad, I took an innocuously titled class called SIGNIFICANT BOOKS IN WESTERN RELIGION thinking that we would be reading philosophical treatises on Religion and anything else of that ilk. But, to my pleasant surprise, we read religiously themed books. This was the class where I ran head first into Flannery O'Connor. It was also modeled after the Great Books program out of U of Chicago which made for very energizing class discussions. I also remember the class being composed of an eclectic bunch. We had an orthodox Jew, a bohemian nihilist, your standard Bible thumpers, et al.
I remember one book entitled BROTHER TO A DRAGONFLY by Will Campbell (??). He was a southern preacher that a comic strip at one time was modeled after. I believe the strip was called KUDZU. Good book, primarily autobiographical, dealing ostensibly with author's brother, a dentist, who was the family disappointment due to a lifelong addiction to painkillers. But, Campbell, was vilified, reviled, maligned for quite some time among his religious brethren because during the turbulent civil rights atmosphere of the sixties, he ministered to the KKK rather than the blacks. He was accused of being a sympathizer, etc. His justification (correct, I think) was that the racism of these KKK characters didn't just spring full blown and ugly out of the middle of their foreheads like rhino horns but was nurtured because of the economic disparity between the North and the South. To a degree, you could call Campbell a sort of regional racist. His rationale being that the economic colossus of the North controlled the textile mills, manufacturing centers, etc. to which the raw products of the South were sold to be transformed into their eventual end products. So these farmers, planters, etc. saw the North's rabid anti-slavery, anti-discrimination sentiment as another example of economic leverage being used against them. Rid the Southern illuminati of their cheap labor and thereby deplete their already comparatively thin profits.
I'm not sure how much I agree with it all, but it's an interesting take.
We also read a book called OLD GLORY by Jonathan Raban. The author rode a dinghy down the entire length of, I think, the Missouri River and used his narration and experience to explore some of his own religious ideas. And, perhaps the oddest, and most interesting read, was a small, small book put out by the Church of Christ (again, hazy on the facts) written by one of their preachers. It was entitled, IN HIS STEPS. In it, a preacher one day decides to spend the rest of his life acting based on his answer to the question, "What would Jesus do in this situation?" So, a decision comes up, he asks himself the question, and acts accordingly. Of course, he nearly gets lynched by the townspeople.
I haven't thought about this class in years, and it suddenly popped into my head this morning. I remember at the time thinking that I really wished I had gone to the University of Chicago if this indeed was the structure of their English classes.
Are you familiar with the topic of "fuzzy logic"? I started a book once by either that name, or the name "fuzzy thinking" by a professor at USC named Kosko, and it was very intriguing. It's kind of the principle behind "smart" technology....video cameras for instance that can "read" their environment and adjust accordingly, etc...I'm not sure if this would be up your alley or not, but you're obviously a computer whiz, so I thought you might be the man to ask. If you know anything about this, or a related topic, can you recommend something to read that is fairly manageable...written more for the layman than the technogeek.
Also, any history book recommendations that aren't too dense, or statistical????
I have heard of "fuzzy logic" but have never read anything about it. (I'm not really a technology expert. I use the stuff; I don't design it.)
I'll get back to you on the history question in a few days. Right now I'm at a conference in Pittsburgh -- my mind is engaged on other things, and I don't have my library around me to take a look.
I have, however, found some time to read on planes, etc. and just finished The Good Husband by Gail Godwin -- absolutely first rate (fiction). I recommend it highly.
As you may know, I have been travelling the better part of the last two weeks, getting to the rather isolated location on the Antarctic Peninsula from which our live broadcasts will emanate. Unfortunately for my inner ear, five or six days of this was aboard an ocean-going research vessel, the Polar Duke, and crossing the world's roughest waters, the Drake Passage at South America's southernmost tip, does not for comfortable reading make. But I have knocked off two rather entertaining books in spite of all that, and I'll briefly note my reactions now.
THE BROTHERS K by David James Duncan Any novel that has as its main themes intergenerational conflict, baseball, 60's draft resistance, the search for enlightenment through Hindu and Buddhist study, and family tragedy, all set in a mill town (Camas, Washington) where I once had the distinction of having an outstanding warrant issued against my person if I ever re-entered Clark County for organizing an illegal rock festival, can't be all that bad. In fact, this one of those books I wish I had written, or can imagine myself having written, because it touches on so many themes that have informed my evolution. Duncan's description of the rebellious brother drifting up to Seattle's U-District and getting involved in anti-war organizing and hippie literary endeavors, reminded me of my one year in Seattle; if this guy had really existed, I would have known him, and probably shot a few games of pool at the Blue Moon and toked a few roaches with him. Duncan has penned a real American epic with this one, and I'll probably now be inspired to read his earlier book, THE RIVER WHY, because of this.
That novel has been sitting around my house for years but somehow I had prejudged it as too New Age, too sensitive for me. Funny how the cover art and blurbs can prejudice one on reading choices.
Which leads me to BLUEFEATHER FELLINI IN THE SACRED REALM by Max Evans. This is a novel I would have never found had it not been for my being bored one night in McMurdo, and ergo combing through the rather pitiful Navy-run Morale, Welfare & Recreation Library there. The selection in this haven for sailors trying to keep out of the bars is pretty standard and predictable: warfare in space novels, official histories of the Navy's role in every major American war, tough crime novels, books on how to manage one's personal finances, GED high school diploma primers, Danielle Steele for the women and Tom Clancy for the techno-men, that kind of stuff. Among all these poor excuses for the destruction of more trees, I came across a novel I had never heard of before, by an author I barely knew, but sporting a fascinating collage of Southwestern images. Thinking I might have stumbled on a second-rate Tony Hillerman, I picked it up and, weeks later, on one of six never-ending airplane flights, started perusing it. To my surprise, it was better written than Hillerman, for the first hundred pages, as it described the life and times of a half-Native American, half-Italian roustabout, referred vaguely to other experiences he had had in Max Evans's earlier BLUEFEATHER FELLINI, and created a kind of romantic tension between Bluefeather and the adopted daughter of his nemesis, a mega-rich plutocrat who reminded me of Auric Goldfinger or other Bondian villains. Evans has a way with words, creating cynical metaphors with Southwest imagery, but about one-third of the way through, Bluefeather and Marsha lead an expedition underground in search of unquantifiable riches and discover an alternate universe down there, complete with imaginary monsters, a race of subterraneans, and more gold than Croesus. What Evans terms the "sacred realm" quickly placed this book into that eerie category of quasi-science fiction, and the realism of the opening third gave way to the surrealism of impossible fantasy. I dutifully ploughed ahead and did end up enjoying a tremendous cartoon fantasy, but the wistful insight of Hillerman and the sadness of his Native American detectives was nowhere to be found. For a brief moment, I thought the Navy library had either made a mistake or transcended itself, but no such luck. Water does seek its own level, especially water displaced by gunboats.
Now that I am safely on land again, and can read more convoluted sentences without having to run to the fantail and heave, I have started a book I have wanted to read ever since seeing the movie made from it ten years ago. SOPHIE'S CHOICE by Wm Styron will not disappoint, I'm pretty sure. Only one-tenth of the way through, I am already slowing down to savor instead of skim, to gasp at the assurance of a real writer, to be astounded by how specifically the Stingo character is Styron himself, not by inference, but by direct admission as Stingo narrates the events of the novel from a later, more decorated perspective.
Richard, on a personal note, thanks for sending me a copy of your ALTA VISTA REVOLUTION. I regretably left it at home, as Palmer Station is nowhere near as Internet-accessible as McMurdo was. We can log on for about three hours a day, but with limited machines, and a great demand, I will not be able to surf through the night as I was in McMurdo. Rarely will I be able to surf at all. I'll hit ALTA VISTA upon my return to civilization, when I can read with one hand and surf with the other.
All the best in literary endeavors to both of you for the about-to-come New Year.
I hope everyone had a great holiday season. I've just returned from a family visit to the overly caffeinated east coast, and am none too glad to be back in sleepy Idaho. The Northwest, as you may or may not know, is doing its regional best to bring on the Apocalypse with absolutely incessant rain and snow, and thus, tons of flooding. So, I've been reading, and staying in.
I read one very good book over the holidays. It was given to me by my sister, and is entitled ALIAS GRACE by Margaret Atwood. She's the author of the more popular HANDMAIDENS TALE. She's a canadian writer and this is her newest novel.
The storyline is factually based on a murder that took place in the area of Toronto in the 1880's. The story centers around Grace, who has been imprisoned for the murder. It speaks interiorly via Grace's thoughts. Most of the action centers around her exchanges with a fledgeling psychiatrist (back in the infancy of psychiatry) who's trying to study Grace in order to present a monumental study, or some such output, that will earn him enough support to start his own mental institution. The story of the murder, and trial in themselves are very interesting, as is the dialogue between the Dr. and Grace as per what is actually said between the two, and what Grace is thinking.
I won't go into too much detail to ruin the story for you. I do recommend it though. Very well written, and painstakingly researched.
Now I'm starting on Richard's book, and in addition, MANUFACTURING CONSENT by Chomsky, so hopefully I'll have more to report later.
I just finished the third of three novels, all published in 1996, dealing with the possibility of finding some kind of "missing link" in today's world. The first one I read, ALMOST ADAM by Petru Popescu, placed the missing species in Africa and featured two anthropologists, a man and a woman, with diverging scientific viewpoints yet an inevitable romantic attachment. It also featured a subplot about the evil machinations of the intelligence community that didn't want the secret of man's lineage let out. The second novel, NEANDERTHAL by John Darnton, placed the newfound species in the mountains of Turkey or Afghanistan, and featured three anthropologists, a mentor who goes "native" and a man and a woman, both ex-students of his coming to rescue him, with diverging viewpoints but the inevitable romantic attachment. It featured a subplot about the CIA and KGB piggybacking the scientists to claim the discovery for its own. The last one, perhaps not yet published in America (I found it in New Zealand), is ESAU by British writer Philip Kerr, and it places the ape-man, or yeti, in the Himalayas and features two ex-lovers, a world-class mountain climber and a Berkeley anthropologist, thrown back together in the quest to make history. This also features a CIA mole who accompanies the expedition with his own twisted motives paramount.
Now, all of these three were pretty good reads, and all taught me some things about paleo-anthropology that I hadn't known before, but that were certainly worthy of knowing. Two of the authors, Popescu and Kerr, had written earlier books I had admired (I still don't know whether Popescu's AMAZON BEAMING is fact, fiction, or faction.) The similarity of plotlines indicates one thing to me: that these works were written for ultimate sale to Hollywood, where stock formulae almost always win out at the box office over true originality. So it should come as no surprise that all three have been optioned. Time Magazine did a dual review of Popescu and Darnton back in the summer of 1996 mentioning that these both had been auctioned to various studios, and both Darnton's book, and Kerr's, proudly announce on their jacket that they are upcoming movies. (If I were Darnton, I'd probably trumpet Steven Spielberg's involvement too. Will Darnton be the next Michael Crichton? Ugh, all the way to Fort Knox.)
None of these writers rival Cormac McCarthy or Vlad (the impaler) Nabokov as stylists, but for Rashomon-like treatment of a subject that has more intriguing aspects than wild West violence or middle-aged pedophilia, served up in a (somewhat) non-linear context and not hamstrung by the demands of strict refereed scientific reality, these three novels fill the bill. I won't even attempt a ranking, as I read these months, and continents, apart, under differing conditions of duress.
Five recent books by five favorite authors of mine have a common characteristic -- they aren't just standalone stories. They are much more rich and enjoyable when read after the authors' previous works. And they at the same time illuminate those other earlier writings.
In Amnesiascope by Steve Erickson, the main character is a novelist, with some characteristics in common with the author. And you hear occasional eery echoes of characters and situations from his earlier novels.
In Galatea 2.2 Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers, the main character is a novelist named Richard Powers who has written the same books as the author and, in passing, comments on them in their life context.
In Love Warps the Mind a Little by John Dufresne, the main character is a struggling short story writer, whose background parallels that of the author.
Raising the Dead by Richard Selzer presents itself, at first as autobiography -- recounting the author's near-death experience. Only at the end do we find out that key elements are "fiction."
Trying to Save Piggy Sneed by John Irving isn't really a novel. Rather it's a collection of long and short stories and autobiographical and critical essays. And each element is preceded by a commentary by the author putting that item into the context of his life, and in so doing putting the rest of his work into that context as well.
Each of these books is to some extent self-referential -- talking about the act of writing, hinting at incidents and personality characteristics of the author (perhaps fictional and perhaps "real"), either alluding to or directly commenting about his previous works. While telling its own story, it reminds you of the author's other works and makes you think about them differently, makes you see them not just as stories but also as events in the author's life. While a story itself exists out of time and beyond motality in a realm of its own, this book puts the act of writing that story into a human, finite, mortal context, hence giving it a new layer of meaning.
Thanks for forwarding that on to me. I have neither written nor read anything in a while (except, of course, if you count droll legal texts). I read PIGGY SNEED by Irving over x-mas, and enjoyed it very much. Irving's intros put a much different spin on the story since I think the habit is to reference stories either to yourself or something else you've read, but when an author puts something in the context of his own life, it's entirely different.
This dredged up for me a book I read about 8 years ago called WATERLAND by Graham Swift. It was ... interestingly tied to the local geography---a very wet part of England called, I believe, 'the Fens'--and local history. It was a book that was very much a complete little universe in and of itself.
Also, I'm reminded of THE DEATH OF ARTEMIO CRUZ by Carlos Fuentes. A dying man narrates his own life, and when recounting his successes he speaks of himself in the first person, and when recounting his shameful moments, he fractures into the third person...as if observing someone else. It's been a while since I've read the book, so I may be a little off, but I also believe chapters are separated by his son (I think) recounting the same events from his point of view.
I thought I was done...and maybe now I'm painting everything with a broad brush...but I also see a little of all this in ABSALOM, ABSALOM by Faulkner. Two college students sitting in a dorm room fleshing out a story that they have very few concrete details about into several and myriad versions coming from all different points of view.
Ugh. I'll stop now. I'm on summer vacation in 3 weeks, and I can't wait to read a damn book again. Thanks for reminding me how enjoyable and valuable they are, Richard!
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundati Roy is a minor linguistic marvel.
I finally read Genius by James Gleick. Yes, it's excellent. Thanks for the recommendation.
Also, I just added a Web page with my list of Top Recent (post-1969) Non-Fiction. It's at http://www.samizdat.com/readnon.html
What are you guys up to? And what are you reading?
Hey, I just got back to school after my summer internship. I read a few books this summer. I really enjoyed a non-fiction work by an author to be named later called "INTO THE WILD". Very interesting. It's about a privileged kid who graduates from college, forsakes his family and friends, and hitchhikes across the country and ultimately dies trying to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. It's a very good example of how someone got way too much Thoreau and Emerson, and ran blindly with it.
I also read EAST,WEST by Rushdie....short stories...some were good, some were bad. I am currently starting OTHELLO.
Notes on a few books....I just slogged through AMERICAN PASTORAL by Philip Roth. TIME had it as one of the best of the past year so I picked it up. It was interesting but I didn't like the style too much. I found the story, the scenario, compelling but I didn't like the point of view from which it was told. It was told from the "interior dialogue" perspective of the author and I found it sort of cumbersome.
I also read THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Roy and I concur with Deane in all his comments.
I'm not too into literary dissection, so I hesitantly recommend the Cormac McCarthy homepage (http://www.cormacmccarthy.com). I just re-read THE CROSSING and enjoyed it immensely and thought that I would like to get involved in some sort of forum on McCarthy's books. But instead I found email chains beating to death "deconstructionism", "reductionism", "quantum metaphors", etc. in the works of McCarthy. Lots of scripture being quoted and lots of Ph.D.'s tossing snooty insults back and forth.But the rest of the page has good info about the author should you care to venture there.
My next venture is COLD MOUNTAIN. I've been trying to get hold of a copy but I may just break down and buy it.
Keep up the good work,
Good to hear from you.
Sorry I'm so slow to reply -- the holidays were wild, with my son home
from NYC where he works for Boston Consulting Group, my daughter in from
London where she's doing a junior year abroad, my two other kids (ages
17 and 8) running wild, and visits from my sister, my parents, and all
my wife's relatives. Just now putting the pieces back together and getting
ready for a trip to Zimbabwe in a couple weeks (where I'll be speaking
about the Internet for Digital Equipment). I'm way behind in posting notes
about reading, but will get yours up shortly.
Surprisingly, I read more books last year than I had in any year since I got out of college -- 104 of them.
I'm interested if either of you read COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier, and what you thought. After all the hype and pub, I borrowed a copy and read it. What I found was a story that became tedious in a few places...a whole lot of walking. I also found a pretty good first novel written by an author with lots of potential, but I don't think what I read was that great of a novel. I felt like I had read the story quite a few times before. All in all, Frazier was a good phrase turner, but I wasn't too sold on the book.
I just read THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx. I'm trying to import more female authors into my reading. I started recently discussing books with a very well read female friend of mine, and after a bit, realized we hadn't read too many of the same books. The reason for the dichotomy seems to be that she reads almost exclusively female authors, and I just naturally gravitate towards male authors. THE SHIPPING NEWS was an excellent book. It's the story of a sort of 'beaten' character who goes back to his ancestral homeland of Newfoundland and basically tries to get it all together once again. Proulx does a really good job of maintaining a theme of 'maritime knots' throughout the book that plays well with the story she's telling.
I don't know if I ever emailed after reading it, but I read THE BONE PEOPLE by Keri Hulme. It's the only book she's written (as far as I know) and it's tremendous. The authors command of language is staggering. The story she tells is also pretty riveting. The main character lives in a tower in New Zealand..a female who, for reasons in her past only lightly alluded to, prefers the company of no one to someone. She eventually befriends a mute boy who was found shipwrecked on the island, and is being raised by a local man. The kid is all messed up but nevertheless lovable. His guardian is extremely loving of him, but also extraordinarly violent. The author brings in quite a bit of history concerning the native people (Maoris) and their beliefs to sort of explain the interplay going on. If you've ever seen a film entitled ONCE WERE WARRIORS there's a lot of similarity in themes. Both portray native New Zealanders who are straddling the cusps of the native Maori cultures and that of their great white conquerors. Both have central characters who are extraordinarily violent.
I finished THE BONE PEOPLE a while ago, but my immediate reaction was that it was one of the best books I'd ever read.
REPLY FROM RICHARD
Right now I'm at Internet World in Los Angeles (connecting from a hotel room). I have a copy of Cold Mountain with me, but still haven't opened it. I expect to soon. But right now I'm on a Mark Twain kick -- just read Innocents Abroad and Connecticut Yankee. And now I'm halfway through Roughing It. And I just splurged and bought four more of his books.
Re: Shipping news -- fine novel. Incredible hero. She takes a man who at first seems feeble minded and hardly competent to survive in the modern world; and she succeeds in letting him grow into a sort of modern "natural man" -- well-equipped with common sense and insight; his only incompetence being his lack of vanity and lack of desire or ability to deceive others.
I read Bone People a few years ago and enjoyed it; but don't remember it in anywhere near the detail that you do. Made me want to visit New Zealand.
As for books, I seem to be in a submarine and parallel universe rut: the last two n-f books that I enjoyed were The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas (about the successful rescue of 33 submariners that sank in the Squalus off Portsmouth, N.H., in 1939), and Blind Man's Bluff by S. Sontag and C. Anderson, an account of submarine intelligence operations during the Cold War. On parallel universes, a good s-f book and a not-so-good one: The good one in Einstein's Bridge by John Cramer, and the other in Parallelities by Alan Dean Foster. I have just embarked on Bryce Courtenay's trilogy on the founding of Australia: The Potato Factory, then Tommo and Hawk, then Solomon's Song. I don't even think these are published in USA, which is a mistake. I picked them up in Sydney on my way back from the South Pole, where I was for the Millennium celebration (I produced the South Pole feed for WGBH and WABC in their consortium roles.)
Earth and Planetary Sciences, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, New York 10024
1) THE RIVER by Edwin Hooper - traces the possible origins of AIDS to the Congo in the 1950s when polio vaccines were being tested after having been manufactured through use of monkey tissue cultures; this thesis has been attacked by the polio pioneers, but it's compelling anyway. Even if Hooper's thesis is wrong, the reckless way records of vaccine production were kept and the destruction of samples that could have settled the issue, along with the scientists use of litigation threats to attempt to silence Hooper and others, doesn't speak well for men of science. Instead they seem, at the twilight of their careers, to be more interested in protecting their saintly reputations that in figuring out what happened so that future public health initiatives will not suffer the same revenge of unintended consequences.
Reading THE RIVER led me to A CONSPIRACY OF CELLS by Michael Gold, a book published in 1986 about the mishandling of HeLa cells and the probable invalidation of millions of dollars of medical research back in the Sixties when contamination of cell lines occurred with frequency. Suffice to say I was primed when I heard of-
2) BETRAYAL OF TRUST by Laurie Garrett - an account of the collapse of public health programs over the last few years, country by country, and an assessment of how greatly public health programs are responsible for longer life spans, etc. The world seems to be moving backwards in this area, most egregiously in Russia, where the collapse of the Soviet Union has led to a stunning decrease in life expectancy in less than a decade. But the USA is not without its slippages as well, and the prospects for disease containment get worse as microbial resistance to wonder drugs accelerates.
Anyway, each of these tomes weighs more than three pounds and makes lugubrious subway reading, but possess more interest to me than the political bleatings of the perpetual candidates or other newspaper fodder. s
Reviews by Deane
Book reviews by Richard Seltzer
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