Friday, January 3, 2014

"Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs" by Hunter S Thompson (1966)


This is a gripping, controversial piece of journalism. It bends the concept of journalism, into a piece of immersed non-fiction, raked with witty writing and episodic chapters. Hunter S Thompson was famous for his "gonzo" journalism, where the writer was ingrained in the creative process. He transcends journalism, in a sense. He did a great job of making every chapter entertaining. It moves progressively, and you gradually learn more and more about this outlaw gang. He often negates the standard press, juxtaposing his thoughts with actual press-clippings from the time, to educate the reader on the true nature of this outlaw group. He is a counter-cultural icon, and this 1966 piece was one of his first endeavors. The gang is controversial for public sex (even accused of rape), rowdy drinking, disregard for the police, fast driving, dope, and Nazi paraphernalia. That aside, even their use of marijuana and LSD were extremely controversial to Americans in 1965-66, when cultural change was on the horizon. These outlaws reject society and society rejects them. Again, the actual journalism from the time is much different than Thompson's, as he progressively documents the group. He was known to socialize with the Angels, to mixed success. He made a name for himself, with this immersed journalism, and it's a timeless piece of American literature.

Vocabulary:
Chancres, impasse, erstwhile, ubiquitous, convivial, lurid, hokum, edify, harangue, quorum, egalitarian, wanton, lieu, cudge, zenith, foist, screed, sop, pique, nadir, fracas, abutment, perfidy, staid, argot, lascivious, flotsam

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"When the Emperor was Divine" by Julie Otsuka (2002)




A concise, moving piece of historical fiction, about the World War Two Japanese internment camps. These camps existed from 1941-1945 in the United States of America. From the outset of the novel, the lead female character is immersed in American culture. She knows the man at the store by his first name, she has American books in her home, her children have American toys, and there is nothing that stands out about her... other than Japanese descent. This novel realistically follows her family's experience... with the different chapters being told from the perspective of different family members. Recommended for any America, to educate themselves on the humanistic side of a dark chapter in our country's history.

The family's English and their cultural exposure are an interesting point. They talk as-if they are white children, which is to be expected in America, for their are equals existing in a secular society with emphasis on liberal arts education. The daughter can play the piano and the son loves the radio programs. It's part of their appeal... at first, the entire ordeal barely effects their spirits. It gets worse as the novel progresses, but their disposition is admirable and you can't dislike them.

Vocabulary: 
Venetian, aria, vagrant, beguine, daub, repudiate, sullied, swath, bivouacking, saboteur

Monday, December 23, 2013

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" by Tennessee Williams (1955)



This is a play about sexuality, in a failing relationship (among other topics). The entire First Act is mostly between Maggie and her husband Brick, in the bedroom of a Mississippi Delta plantation. It is set in the 1950s. Brick is a drinker. He responds indifferently, for most of the scene, until he his confronted about someone else. He does not heed Maggie's complaints, as talkative as she is, or the cancer of his father. It takes something else to draw emotion from him, but I won't spoil that for you. This is a Pulitzer Prize winning play, great entry-level literature for people new to reading plays, as I was. The first time I read it, a few years ago, I was captivated by William's work, and was more than happy to read it again now.

Vocabulary:
Balustrade, veranda, remittance, contrapuntal, antipathetic, lech, cardsharp, boudoir, pantomimic, precocious, sashay, chiffon, jag, scruple, mirth, dilatory, whelp, mendacity, subsidize, disavow, evanescent, facile, palpable, fatuous, laurel, recitative, burlesque, vilification, sordid, avarice, remittance

Sunday, December 22, 2013

“Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller (1949)



I'm sure you can guess how this play ends. In the waning days of his life, Willy Loman is full of anger and regret. This strange piece weaves the present and his prized past together, within the works of stage-direction. This masterpiece illuminates his character, as someone delusional and angry, before his ultimate demise. He lives in New York City with his two sons (Happy and Biff) and wife. His opinion of his sons is fluctuating. He wants them to begin to pave their way in the world, which is not turning out the way they had planned. The scenes of the past indicate their ignorance, or arrogance...for example, when Biff is supposed to be studying for the state exams, but focuses on hetero socialization and his amateur sporting matches. Miller does an excellent job in this regard. The past scenes are not traditional flashbacks, like in a Hollywood movie...they are live-in-color, characters on the stage's set. This play is a masterpiece, my second time reading it, and I'm sure this time will not be my last. He captures the American culture's perception of the American Dream, from the early-to-mid 20th century, with ease.

Vocabulary:
Mercurial, simonize, anemic, rollicking, imbue, fob, valises, elegiacally
“The Poor Mouth" by Flann O'Brian (1941)



This is another story about abject poverty in 20th century Ireland. My copy is an English translation, and this novel is often considered one of the best Irish-language novels of that century. The boy is born in a dirty old home, playing with soot like a toy, amid cow and pig feces. In fact, they live with these farm animals to stay warm at night. Very quick read, enjoyable too, recommended for Irish-Americans especially. The plot centers around the narrator's adventures, from childhood to adulthood. This novel is very satirical and the hyperbole drips off the page, with timeless wit. The lack of technology is a key point, in his satirical description of the Gaels... an automobile is a shock to them, and so are marks in the road left by people wearing boots.

"A real writer with the true comic spirit." - James Joyce

My edition had illustrations by Ralph Steadman. These caricatures enhance the comedy behind the writer's words, and hopefully your copy has them as well.

Vocabulary: 
Tempestuous, bedad, gradient, progeny, cudgel, sempiternal, portent, languid, taciturnity, recompense, feis, amanuensis, soccour, ardent, firmament, indolent, middling, carousing, rakish, comely, variegated, hirsute, vehement, porcine, ruminative, domicile, delineated, procure, moiety, venatic, emesis, sudorific, genial, pliable, spoor

Saturday, December 21, 2013

“Exile" by Padraic O'Conaire (1910)



The story of an Irish man who loses his arm and leg in an accident. The conflict initially centers around his existential need for money. After a night of drinking, he signs up for a traveling freak-show, seemingly selling himself out for money. His first show takes place in the city of Galway, his home-town where nobody recognizes him, dressed up comically for the freak-show as "The Wild Man", who is claimed to have "killed 8 men in Germany" (untrue, he's Irish). The novel progresses with simple and vibrant storytelling, centered around the motley crew. This Irish translation is a quick and easy read, in English. I recommend it for Irish-Americans, or any speaker of the English Language.

One of the main themes of the novel is exploitation, and the emotions of those who are exploited. In fact, this is probably the central theme. Much of the novel centers around the protagonist's need for money, which he needs for immediate survival in the harsh world he encounters.

Vocabulary: 
Tress, sprat, feint, altruism, gainsay, comicality, dissension, simper, inexorably, redress, disabuse, disparage, blithe, stratagem, bemuse, galvanize

Thursday, December 19, 2013

“Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy (1985)



This novel fluctuates between violence and peace, poverty and wealth...depending on the locale. This trend frightened me, and made me think about the American West in a new way. Nothing is permanent, they stumble across bone-strewn ruins more than once. Set in the bloodshed of mid-19th century Mexico, the characters travel across epic terrains, for the mercenary job of killing Native Americans. The scalps of their victims are welcomed in the towns as trophies of war, as even the children celebrate their victory. The distinction between Mexicans and Natives is prevalent. There are scenes with extensive Spanish, and despite 6 years of schooling in the language, some of the words/phrases left me in the dark. I took this as part of the experience, because the "kid" (who the story centers around) doesn't understand Spanish either. It's a very dark Western novel, with no remorse for the disgusting acts of violence perpetrated by the small group of men. The judge stands out as the break-through character. Without spoiling it, Chapter X illuminated him into a deity of sorts, as if he was a wizard in the classic trilogy "The Lord Of The Rings". The kid becomes immersed in a culture of evil, killing for scalps, and barely wanted to sign up in the first place. There's scenes of unadulterated gore, quickly described by the narrator without qualms.

Vocabulary:
Divest, coiffure, garish, truculent, abrogate, accruing, apostate, inimical, tantamount, elision, crenellate, suzerain, falstaffian, squalid, dolorous, tawdry, concomitant, importunate, scurrilous, clemency, thespian